My Winter Workout Strategy

I grew up in Florida where I only saw movies about what it was like in the winter. I was envious of the coats and scarves and snow boots. I have since discovered, I like the fashion of winter … not winter itself. I know, I know. I live in North Carolina. It’s not like I’m shoveling the driveway to get the kids to school. But, it’s tough for this girl accustomed to consistent sunshine to thrive on weeks of gray days. 

Through the month of December, I promised myself to get out the door and spend at least 30 minutes moving outside. Walk, run, pickleball, yoga in the backyard … the movement doesn’t matter as much as being outside. Even on a dreary day, I get a boost by getting fresh air, seeing some nature, and a little sunshine if I’m lucky. 

And, let’s face it, movement is like medicine for me. 

To keep me from hitting the snooze button my fitness routine until the trees blossom or Taylor Swift releases another album, I like to (surprise, surprise) plan ahead. When developing this strategy for the winter months, I always stick to these four guidelines keep me focused and well, from top to bottom:

Set a new goal for a familiar workout.

If you find motivation hard to come by during this time of year, try building on a workout you already enjoy. Challenge yourself with more reps, a longer distance, or a new class. You’re more likely to stick with it if you’re familiar with the technique and know what you’re capable of going into it.

My go-to form of exercise is running. While gyms were closed, I reconnected with my love of getting outside for a run with a playlist or a podcast in my ear. Now that I’m back in the groove of running regularly, I decided to give myself a goal this season, and that’s to shave some time off of my mile. Not an easy task at my (awesome) age. So I’ll need to train regularly to meet my goal. To help get me there, I’ve started looking for races to sign up for. Having a race on a set date gives me a deadline.

Create a schedule I can live with.

Just like you need to be realistic with your goals, so too should you be realistic when scheduling your workouts. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are Olympic lifters, so don’t jump into training like you’ve got a medal and a Wheaties box on the line from day one.

So with my running goal in mind, I’ll sit down with my calendar and look for the best days to carve out time for training. I like to progress gradually to avoid injury or burnout, keeping everything else I have going on in mind so I don’t overload my days. That said, exercise is essential for managing my mental health, so I look at it as an appointment I can’t miss.

Right now, I’m running three times a week. I do cycle classes on my peloton twice a week, then I add at least two strength sessions to those workouts. 

Support my health from the inside out.

Your workouts will only go so far to keep you well if your diet is less than stellar. Think of it as walking with just one shoe on — getting where you want to go will be harder and you’ll always feel out of balance.

Because winter is prime cold and flu season (not to mention Covid-19 is still very much present), I need my diet to give me enough energy for my workouts, nutrients for recovery, and support for my immune system, which can be extra taxed this time of year. I like to adhere to the 80/20 rule as best I can, eating clean, whole foods the majority of the time while enjoying my favorite treats in moderation. That means plenty of grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein. And chocolate. I really work that 20%. 

Check in with my mental health.

There’s a strong case to be made that succeeding at any physical endeavor is primarily mental. Sure, you need endurance, lung capacity, muscle strength, and coordination, but if your head isn’t in it, you won’t get very far.

I know I need regular exercise to help me feel my best, but if I take it too far with my training or let other tasks pile up, it can negatively impact my mental health. It’s a balancing act and all of us have different limits. So I check in with myself as often as I can. How am I sleeping? Have I had any changes in my appetite? Have I felt angry or sad lately? Do I need to check in with my therapist? If I suspect I’m feeling off (or Penn notices), then it’s time to step back, reevaluate and take care of myself.

How do you change up your workout strategy during winter? Share your tips with us in the comments.