All of your favourite outdoor fitness activities seem easy in the warm summer months. Running, hiking, rucking and long walks are a joy when the weather is predictable and there it’s light until 8pm. But once winter sets in, outdoor training is a challenge (at best) and downright unpleasant (at worst).
We all know the many benefits of maintaining an outdoor fitness routine all year round. And with the right mindset and practical strategies, this time of year can be one of the most rewarding training blocks for fitness, endurance, and stamina. With that in mind, let’s look at some tips and tools to keep you running, rucking, and hiking right through the winter months.
What are the benefits of training outside over winter?
The physical benefits of keeping up your outdoor fitness routine all year round are pretty obvious. You’ll maintain baseline fitness, support heart health, and burn calories which can help you stay a healthy weight and body composition. But what about the many benefits that are nothing to do with physical fitness and health?
Healthy choices tend to have a knock-on effect. Keep up your outdoor training routine, and you’ll actually feel more connected to other healthy habits like drinking enough water, eating nutritious food, and getting enough sleep. And sticking to your outdoor training routine will help regulate your circadian rhythm, give you a good-mood boost, and could even keep you more connected with friends if you’re a social exerciser.
7 challenges of outdoor training in winter
Fitness, health, mood, wellbeing, sleep, and immunity – that’s plenty of reasons to keep going with your regular runs, walks, hikes and rucks this winter. But what are some of the challenges that might be getting in your way?
Short daylight hours – in the depths of winter, both our mornings and our evenings are dark, which doesn’t make it easy to maintain an outdoor training routine on work days.
Unpredictable weather – you can keep a close eye on the weather forecast, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% able to count on dry weather or wind chill factors.
Poor choice of kit – outdoor training in winter needs layers, waterproofs, and plenty of time to dry out your shoes and boots between training sessions.
Safety concerns – low light and poor weather can make some routes feel unsafe, especially if they take you to remote places with poor phone connection.
Fewer route options – in winter months, some of your favourite routes might be out of bounds due to severe mud or storm damage.
Motivation – it’s really rewarding to get outside in the winter, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Winter training demands an extra level of willpower.
Seasonal distractions – festive events, family get togethers, Sunday afternoons in the pub – all of these distractions can take you away from your outdoor fitness routine if you let them.
Practical ways to keep training outside in winter
Get kitted out with good quality winter training gear. Most of these things are a one-off investment that won’t need replacing for years. Depending on your sport, you might need good shoes/boots, decent socks, base layers, windproof outer layers, gloves, hat, and reflective items to keep you safe. It will be much easier to get out there when you’ve got kit that keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable.
Know why you’re training. Think about the bigger picture of your training block, so sessions are meaningful rather than ad hoc. Any training over winter is better than none, but you’ll get more results if you periodise your winter training and work on endurance, strength, and other metrics.
Plan training sessions ahead of time. A bit of planning can put your mind at rest and get you hyped up to get out there. Think about your route (considering recent weather, weather on the day, and daylight hours). You might like to arrange training with a friend to keep it safe and social.
Adjust your training if necessary. It might not be realistic to keep doing exactly what you did in the lighter, warmer months. Depending on your fitness goals, this might be a great time to work on endurance, duration, or baseline fitness. Or maybe it’s the right time to try a new twist on outdoor training (rucking, anyone?)
Mindset tips for winter outdoor training
Get into a routine. Motivation and willpower won’t always be there, so try to make your winter training a habit that just happens. If you’ve been training throughout the summer, just carry on (it’s easier to keep doing something than to start again).
Adjust your expectations. There will be days – or entire weeks – that are wiped out by bad weather. Have a set of plan B training sessions to fall back on so you can stay active no matter what the winter throws at you.
Stay accountable. Accountability is a really powerful way to stay on track with your training routine. What kind of accountability would work best for you? It might mean paying a coach, buddying up with a friend, or using social media to make your accountability more public.
Make it social. Meet up with friends for outdoor runs, hikes, long walks, or rucks. Not only is this great for your winter mood, but you’re much more likely to stick to plans that you’ve made with someone else.
Track your progress. Keep a training log or use smart watch data to look back over your winter training sessions, and congratulate yourself for every small win. The consistency you build up at this time of year will stand you in great stead for spring.
How to make winter training work for you
Winter training may not be as easy as summer training, but that makes it even more rewarding when you get it done. Flip your mindset about fitness at this time of year, and see it as the ultimate challenge to help you build great habits and show up for yourself.