By Jeffrey Stern
Rain, snow, sleet, hail, sub-zero temperatures…who could ever find the motivation to train in such conditions? It’s not only difficult but downright impossible to stay motivated when the winter months roll around and stick around, and the weather is, quite plainly, garbage for cycling outdoors. With the majority of states across the country in the heart of winter, planning and executing workouts or even just getting out of your pajamas and out the door is like getting an angry cat into the veterinarian’s office. Good luck with that.
We do have a little bit of luck to throw on your side in the form of the three best winter motivation tips you can find on the interwebs. Ok, maybe there are other ones, but these have been tested and are tried and true to turn even the slightest inclination of motivation into a full-blooming winter, training rose. As February drags on, keep these in mind and keep on going, because spring is just around the corner!
1. Make a training schedule and stick to it.
Treat it like having a doctor or dentist appointment that you know you can’t miss or else your body, and therefore health, will fail you. Create whatever form of calendar works best for you; a flip one, the summer inspiring monthly pictorial kind, an old-fashioned handwritten kind on graph paper, on your phone, computer, a scratch piece of paper…you get the picture. Just make one! And make it at least a week in advance. If you have it written down somewhere, you’re much more likely to follow through despite the harsh conditions outside.
2. Keep it short and sweet.
Daylight is of the essence during winter, so don’t try to slog through hours of training in the dark and cold. Your body and mind will hate you for that. Instead, opt for quick, more intense workouts that get your heart rate up in a short amount of time and then get you back inside. Make sure to warm-up before going all out, but try to keep it simple and not overly complicated. Our brains tend to have trouble thinking clearly when the mercury drops, so 60-90 minutes is plenty of time to get a solid workout in even when you can’t feel your fingers and toes.
3. Dress properly.
Even if you’re only going out for a short amount of time, you want to be as comfortable as possible. Don’t skimp on the clothing just because you’re not going to be outside for hours on end. You’re likely to start a little chilly, but if outfitted in the right kind of gear for your current weather conditions, your body will start to produce heat rapidly and your clothing will keep you insulated from the cold. This will lead to a enjoyable hour or so spent working out; you won’t go home in a frozen frustrated state, but happy you got the job done and excited for whatever you have lined up for the rest of the day.
And most importantly, believe in yourself. Winter is a challenging time for all cyclists, no matter your skill level or goals for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. Take the chance to embrace the challenge and fear of working out when it’s cold outside. Fear is oftentimes life’s biggest opponent; overcome your fear to get solid workouts in during the winter and once the snow thaws and the temperatures start to rise, you’ll be primed to take advantage of all that hard earned fitness you achieved when most people were too intimidated to even get a foot out the door.
It’s that time of year when my Strava feed slowly becomes more and more full of trainer rides and Zwifters. Meanwhile, people like my husband are going bikepacking in the single digits and getting excited for the upcoming winter. As the weather grows cold here in Pennsylvania, my cycling friends and acquaintances are dividing into two camps–those who love to get out in the cold and those who relegate themselves to indoor workouts on the trainer, claiming that below-freezing temperatures are no conditions in which to ride outside.
While Jeffrey talked about some compelling reasons for using a trainer last week, I’m here to argue for the other side. I’m a firm believer in getting outside, even in adverse conditions, and will always choose an outdoor versus an indoor workout any day. Here are a few of the benefits of bundling up and braving the cold:
1. Cold air is invigorating and intensifies the benefits of exercise.
Feeling lethargic and tired? Curling up on the couch might sound like a great plan but I guarantee you’ll feel better if you step outside and get your heart pounding. A ride outside, even if it’s just a short one, is a great way to cure the mid-afternoon slumps. Cold air not only is invigorating, it also intensifies the other benefits of exercise, from increased caloric burn and cardiovascular strength to mental ones like elevated mood and decreased stress.
2. Being outside helps prevent and treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition in which people feel more depressed in the winter due to lack of daylight and Vitamin D. Those with a proneness to depression and anxiety on a regular basis are more likely to suffer from harsher effects of SAD, but even people with a normally-happy demeanor are vulnerable, especially those living in environments that are cold and dark for part of the year.
Getting outside on a regular basis helps treat the symptoms of SAD and can even prevent it from occurring. Continuing to do your regular activities through winter helps maintain a sense of routine and combats the blues. A daily dose of sunlight, even if it’s cloudy, gives you that boost of Vitamin D that fights stress and depression. Even if most of your outdoor activities during the week are at night, feeling the wind on your face and fresh air in your lungs will help you feel happier.
3. It’ll make you stronger, both mentally and physically.
Having the fortitude to brave cold temperatures, snow, sleet and whatever else Mother Nature decides to throw at you will make you mentally stronger, while the unpredictable conditions of an outdoor workout will cause your body to become physically stronger as well.
Regardless of how hard you try to make your indoor workout, the natural environment will always have the advantage of unpredictability and conditions that just cannot be replicated–like slogging uphill in 6 inches of powder (aka lots of hike-a-bike).
Your body will also become more adaptable. It will have to work harder to maintain your core temperature and pump blood to your extremities, making your heart stronger and your body more hearty in general. You will burn more calories than you would by doing the same ride in more temperate conditions.
4. It’s not as prohibitive as you may think.
“But I don’t have the gear.”
“But I don’t have a fatbike.”
There are a whole litany of excuses you can make for not riding outside in the cold and snow. But there are also a lot of easy solutions provided you’re willing to think outside the box a little.
Fatbikes and bike-specific winter gear certainly help to make riding through snow and freezing temperatures a little more pleasant. But it’s far from necessary. Set of knobbier tires or studs are enough to get you through most winter conditions unless you live in an area that really gets a lot of snow. And whatever cold weather gear you already own is good enough to ride in. As long as you’re not in jeans and a cotton shirt, you’ll most likely be fine. Don’t have SPD-compatible winter boots? Switch to flats and ride in hiking boots for the colder months.
5. It makes for better memories and stories, and is more fun!
“That was a really amazing trainer ride,” said no one ever. Yes, it is helping you stay in shape for the rest of the year but by not getting outside, you are missing another important part of the equation – the experience of being outside in Mother Nature, seeing different places and riding with friends – and unless you’re a racer, those bits are arguably more important than being in shape.
So bundle up, get out there and make great winter memories on two wheels!
Keep Reading: Now that you’ve been convinced to go outside, check out some of our winter riding tips, like how to dress for the cold on a budget, how to deal with the cold as a commuter and our cold weather cycling tips series.Tweet Print
This year marks the fifth annual Opening Day hosted by the Rails to Trails Conservancy. On Saturday, April 8, 2017, people across the nation will kick off the spring by hitting their favorite trail for a ride, run, walk or special event.
There are more than 120 special events taking place at trails nationwide. All events are listed on the Rails to Trails Conservancy website and include 5k races, group rides, and even a fist-bump record attempt!
If you take the pledge to get out on the trail on Opening Day, you are entered to win a giveaway. Prizes consist of Fuji bikes, helmets, and Rails to Trails swag. Tag @railstotrails on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and use the hashtag #RTCOpeningDay to share how you will enjoy your day on the trails!
Tag us @bicycletimes also and we’ll repost some of your ride adventures on our Instagram!