It's cold, it's pouring and the allure of the couch is calling. Yes, even fitness guru Michelle Bridges finds it hard to keep motivated during the winter months. Here, she shares her top tips for keeping fit - rain, hail or shine.
Why is it that we find it harder to get motivated to exercise in winter?
Because it’s colder, generally darker and gloomier and wetter – and it’s a human reaction to prefer to stay warm and dry and snug! So our natural first response to the cold, dark, wet circumstances we find ourselves in, is to stay in the warm dry, snug state we’ve built around ourselves instead. That means going outside to train, or to get to a gym goes against our natural hibernating instincts. Even the thought of getting out of our warm, cosy status quo non-exercising state to exercise inside is less appealing.
With most of us exercising less in winter, why do you believe that's a mistake?
I’m a huge believer in exercise not only for physical health but also for mental health, and winter, with its colder, darker, gloomier months, can make us feel down in the dumps mentally. Exercise is known to bolster our mental health, it’s like a boost of sunshine to help counter the depressive effects of winter.
Also, exercise gets the blood pumping and makes us feel more energetic which again helps to counter the natural tendency to slow down and ‘hibernate’ in winter. While it’s important to take time out and not always be 100 percent pedal to the metal, it’s also not great to take your foot off the pedal completely. Lots of people find they go into complete hibernation mode and take their foot off the pedal for all the colder months, and that leads to weight gain and all its associated health issues, so exercising through winter helps avoid this trap.
So is winter actually the perfect time to get moving?
I don’t think there’s any perfect time of year to get moving, rather the perfect time is when you have the okay from your health professional to start doing exercise. Winter can be great in terms of that old saying “Summer bodies are built in winter”, in that you can really work on building a consistent, effective training habit (along with positive nutrition habits) through winter so that by the time summer rolls around, you’ve stripped your excess weight off, built your strength and fitness base and are feeling confident to get outside and make the most of the sunshine!
What are your top tips for getting your motivation back in winter?
I always say motivation is like a bad boyfriend, never there when you need him! So don’t rely on motivation, regardless of the season. Instead hang your hat on preparation, planning and consistency.
1. Prepare and plan your training
Check out the different exercise options available to you, and choose what appeals to you and will fit with your lifestyle (time available, budget etc). Group sports are great any time of year, but especially in winter for the ‘must not let my team down’ factor is a powerful push to keep you consistently turning up.
2. Winter sports are also great
Take up tobogganing or ice skating. The fun of trying something new keeps you on track throughout the cold months/
3. Have inside options
Either inside your own home (get some exercise DVDs or stream workouts online like you can with my 12WBT program) or join a gym. If your budget will stretch to a Personal Trainer, having regular PT sessions at your gym is again a powerful persuader to get you out of the house and into your training – they’ll be on you like glue to make sure you show up for your sessions.
The mornings are darker now. How can you trick your body into still getting up for an early morning jog?
Consistency is key. Build your early morning wake up habits in summer when the light is still around early. By the time winter comes, your body will be trained to waking up early and it won’t be such a challenge to try and start it as a new habit in the dark.
Also as soon as the alarm goes off, hit the light switch. Flooding your eyes with light helps wake your brain up. Natural light is best, but in the winter when you are up before the sun, light from electrical sources is the next best thing.
What are some good winter activities we can still do outdoors?
Group sports and activities are great because you’re part of a team so it makes you a) more likely to show up because you don’t want to let your teammates down and b) more likely to enjoy the experience by having your team around to encourage and enthuse you.
Try actual winter sports – skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are so much fun! Also rugby, league, AFL, soccer. These are all played through winter (and are all team sports) so they’re great for keeping up your exercise outside over winter too.
Are short bursts of exercise better than none?
Yes! Any exercise is better than none. Short bursts of exercises are great because you don’t have to try and carve out great chunks of your day to train – and in today’s society, it’s really challenging to find big blocks of time you can just devote to exercising. The Tabata protocol is one of my absolute favourites, it’s 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 8 rounds. Choose whatever exercise you like (burpees, sprints, push ups etc) and then for 20 seconds you go as hard as you can (100 percent effort) doing that exercise (while keeping good technique of course, so you don’t injure yourself), then rest for 10 seconds. If you really give it 100 percent for each 20-second block, you will be an absolute wreck by the end of the four minutes, and you'll get really rapid physiological change.
Is incidental exercise something we should be looking at doing more in the cooler months? And what sort of things do you suggest?
Incidental exercise is always awesome, regardless of the time of year, but absolutely if you can increase your incidental exercise during winter, it can only be a good thing. Things like:
- wall sits while you brush your teeth.
- push-ups or tricep dips against the kitchen bench when you’re waiting for the jug to boil.
- walking lunges down the hallway.
- planks whenever there’s an ad break on TV.
- take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- walk up the escalator instead of waiting to be carried up.
If the weather is really inclement, what can we do to stay fit indoors?
Exercise DVDs are awesome, and I always recommend to my clients that they have some as part of their training toolkit. I’ve got a bunch that I’ve produced, The Project Series is my most recent and covers you for strength and cardio so is a great choice.
You can absolutely create a smashing workout using just your own bodyweight, but if your budget can stretch to it, some basics like a barbell with weight plates or some dumbbells or kettlebells, a skipping rope and some resistance bands can give you even more options for building a badass indoor workout. My MB Active fitness equipment range, available exclusively at BIG W has everything you need!
What are the latest winter fitness gear trends we can get excited by?
Layering is great, think long sleeve tops layered over vests to keep you toasty warm. My latest range available exclusively at BIG W has a long sleeve top with a funky cut out back detail that I’m just loving, and I’ve also got an update to my favourite perennial puffer vest that is coming into stores really soon that I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Textured fabrics are also really on trend this winter and I’m super excited about the sassy mesh panels that feature in my full-length leggings, I’m totally going to be wearing these outside of the gym!