Lately, it hasn’t felt in the Seattle area as though winter is near (and hardly even fall) although this may have changed by the time this column is published. In fact, this is the perfect time to take a good look at your current exercise program and think about how you may want to prepare for a smooth transition into colder darker weather.
Whether or not you take note of seasonal-related adjustments in your exercise routine, there is always a certain degree of adapting and altering as the weather changes. But it makes for an easier transition to consciously prepare and plan. Consider the following ways to audit and edit your fitness program before winter is upon you.
AUDIT (“methodical examination and review”—Merriam Webster definition)
Take a thorough look at your current program. It might be helpful to write out what you do in the following categories: cardiovascular activity, strength activity, stretching (include warm-up and cool downs as well) and mindfulness (if you consider this is a part of your health and fitness protocol, for example, breathing, meditation, restorative yoga, etc.). This is also a good time to clarify and note your short-term or seasonal goals (three months or however long you think winter will last) and long-term (six months to one year) goals, so you can plan for your nearer and further future self.
Once you have all of your information in front of you, examine which aspects are you happy or unhappy with, and where and how you want to make improvements. For example, if you are finding that running is becoming stale but you haven’t found an alternative or don’t really wish to take a break, be sure to make a note of that. Or perhaps you want to add an extra day of strength training but haven’t figured out how — note that.
Finally, seriously consider how all of this will be positively or negatively impacted by the cold, dark, possibly rainy months of winter. Because it will be one way or another, even if it’s just your mood waking up on yet another cold, dark, rainy morning.
Once you have compiled a comprehensive overview of your full fitness program in the context of winter, move to the second step of the process:
EDIT (“to alter, adapt or refine”—Merriam Webster definition)
Don’t implement changes until you’ve considered a baseline for simply maintaining your current program. Winter alone with force you to adapt to a certain extent, whether it is making your warm clothes/rain gear more accessible, digging out your reflective gear, changing your workout times to stay in sync with limited daylight or — if you are strictly an indoor exerciser — implementing a longer warm-up to counteract stiffness that can come with colder weather. Even if you change nothing else, these are important considerations to ensure zero interruption in your fitness routine.
Once you have those parameters in place, it’s time to edit your program. Let’s consider the previous example of running, but feeling stale or less motivated. Any activity you are slowly burning out on will only become harder to continue in the dead of winter. If you think this is a possibility, you could make any number of changes in advance, such as switching to a treadmill program, changing out some of your running for a different type of cardio activity, or find a running buddy or running group to liven it up again. You could also take a break and give yourself a month or so to try a different activity such as swimming, rowing or spinning.
Using the second previous example of adding an extra day of strength training, perhaps this is a great time to join a gym or hire a trainer to tweak your workouts to ensure that even if you can’t get that extra day, you can add additional sets or reps or make your existing workout more efficient or challenging. Additionally, you might decide to reduce cardiovascular activity (often outdoors) in favor of adding strength training (indoors) and alter your focus accordingly to account for inclement weather.
You may wish to ramp up intensity or frequency or length in some of your activities, but it also makes sense that during winter (especially during the holidays) you may wish to ramp down any of the above. There is no shame or loss of progress in choosing a timeframe in which to simply maintain your current fitness levels until you can devote more energy to ramping it back up.
Once you determine the edits you wish to make, you can decide to implement them gradually or according to how fall and winter progresses (on sunny/dry days, you can still choose to exercise outdoors for example) or even change them up again after the hustle and bustle of the holidays if necessary.
Regardless of what your audit and edit process reveals, planning and preparing in advance will support you to maintain and implement your desired goals and activities even in the midst of the worst weather the Pacific Northwest can muster.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.mrsathlete.net and www.advancedathlete.com.