Winter workout motivation: 3 women from cold countries on how they keep exercising

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Fitness experts from Iceland, Canada and Sweden explain how they stay motivated to train during the cold and dark winter months. 

Brits are notorious for not handling the cold weather well. A sprinkling of snow has been known to bring our public transport to a halt, and many people whack the heating on come the first shiver in October. We love to complain about the weather and we do it well, which means the winter season gives us plenty of excuses to miss a workout. 

Was your New Year’s resolution to run more? The sub-zero temperatures makes it virtually impossible. Were you finally going to make use of your gym membership? Not if it means slipping and falling on icy streets on the way there (not to mention all fitness centres are closed, thanks to lockdown). Decided to get into morning yoga? Hiding under the covers seems a better idea when it’s pitch black outside. 

While you can’t dial up the temperature, force the sun to stay out, or get around coronavirus restrictions, you do have the power to change your mindset. To help, here are three women who live through winters much more extreme than the UK – with temperatures as low as -50ºC and just four hours of daylight. Strong Women asked them how they stay motivated to train in arctic conditions – let their answers be a source of motivation for your own workouts

“Make workouts as fun as possible”

Freyja Mist Ólafsdóttir, five times Nordic Crossfit Champion based in HafnarfjörðurIceland, says: 

“In the winter, the weather and temperature varies and you never quite know what to expect – it can go from sunny to snowing in less than a minute. I’d say we usually experience temperatures around or below zero, and we only get around four hours of daylight in December. We’re up to around five hours in January now. 

“I’m a Crossfitter and weightlifter, so I usually train inside all year round, but I do like running and try to run outside as much as I can until it gets cold and the sidewalks are icy.”

How do you motivate yourself to workout? 

“I often have to force myself out of bed. A good warm-up is essential, as my muscles feel stiff and sore most of the time because of the cold, and also to get in the right mindset before training. In the winter, my warm-ups are usually longer than the training session itself.

“Due to coronavirus, the gyms in Iceland have been closed for some time, so I’ve had to continue my outside running for longer than usual. When the weather doesn’t allow me to go running, I train at home using a pair of dumbbells and a yoga mat that have become a part of the living room furniture. 

“To stay motivated for those, I try to make the workouts as fun as possible. I will either programme a partner workout so we can motivate each other, or choose a selection of exercises that I enjoy and make the workout up on the spot set to really good music. I find it’s often easier to follow videos and have someone working out ‘with me’ than to train by myself in the living room, so I’ll follow videos when motivation is low.

“I am usually goal-orientated and find chasing a new PB is really motivating, but I’ve realised that training these days is not about getting better at my sport. Instead, it’s about maintaining my mental and physical health during these difficult times. That is what will get me out of bed.”

“Set an appointment with yourself”

Sousanh Chanthalangsy, personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Yellowknife, Canada, says: 

“Temperatures in Yellowknife can range from -10ºC to -50ºC with the windchill. Right now, it’s unusually warm for us as temperatures are at -10ºC. During the winter, we have six to eight hours of daylight. Because I’m a powerlifter, my workouts don’t change in the winter – I get into the gym in shorts all year round.” 

How do you motivate yourself to workout? 

“I actually find winter more motivating than summer. When the weather is warmer, things are so busy around here with lots of people working out and visiting Yellowknife for outdoor activities. Winter is when I can really train hard without distractions. 

“My attitude towards motivation is to just get up and do it. Moving, particularly in the winter, always makes you feel so much better. Even just 15 minutes of exercise makes a big difference to your motivation and mental health. Walks are as good as any workout, so simply getting outdoors for fresh air is really important. I have plenty of clients who still like to go for a run even at -30ºC weather – they just have to make sure they bundle up!

“I recommend setting an appointment with yourself so you can commit the time, even if you are doing home workouts. Act as though you have an actual class to attend and you’re more likely to turn up to it. I also think that promising yourself a certain amount of dedication can really help – commit to doing 30, 60 or 90 days, then check-in with yourself and see how you feel. I guarantee you will feel so much better.” 

“I listen to my body – and the weather” 

Caroline Ross, a personal trainer from Stockholm, Sweden and now based in London, says: 

“I grew up in Stockholm, where there are six hours of daylight in winter, and a temperature of -15ºC was common. Although this was tough, having lots of snow on the ground did help to brighten up the surroundings and my mood.”  

How do you stay motivated? 

“The Swedish mindset is very practical and pragmatic: we change our habits depending on the weather and have seasonal activities that we can look forward to. I think this makes a big difference to motivation because then cold weather activites feel special. For example, back in Sweden I would do cross-country skiing in winter and longer runs in summer. If you are lucky enough to have snow, try snowshoe walking or just have a snowball fight. Then come home to Hygge – lighting lots of candles to bring light into the darkness and lift your mood. 

“Just as we work with the weather, it’s important to work with your body too. It’s OK to want to hibernate, and I think we should use winter as a time to reflect and re-charge just like nature does. I try to listen to my body and give it what it needs so if it wants yoga on a cold, dark morning rather than HIIT, then I honour that. 

“However, I always try to get outside first thing in the morning for daylight and fresh air. This sets the tone for the rest of the day and ensures you get fresh air to boost your mood. But try to work out at a time of day that suits your body and schedule best. If you work with your natural body clock, you are more likely to stick to exercise.”

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