Don’t Hibernate this Winter, Train Outside!

The weather at this time of year is often used as an excuse not to exercise outside; it’s too cold, too wet, too windy, and/or too dark. All excuses I’ve heard and, I have to admit, occasionally used myself. But all it takes is some planning and a bit of extra kit, and you’ll get a huge sense of satisfaction and generally feel great and smug for doing it.

Copious benefits to the mind, body and soul!

If you spend most of your time in an office, and go to work in a car, train or tube, then surely the last thing you’d want to do at the end of the day is to head off to another artificial people container for a workout?

Isn’t it time your body saw the light?

If you head outside, you’ll feel more energised and be more inclined to be active. There’s nothing like a battling against the elements to really focus the mind on what’s important, and help relieve you of the stresses of the day.

Unlike in the gym, you can take in different scenery everyday, providing diverse views and stimulus for your workouts. You’ll get to appreciate the change of seasons, see the colours and shapes of the landscape transforming, and get to meet some interesting people along the way!

Challenge yourself

Training outside can work your body in ways that a gym workout will never achieve. It asks more of your body as a whole. Different surfaces offer different challenges. Grass, gravel, mud, stones and tree roots all intensify the workout, increasing the demand on your core, and the muscles and ligaments that stabilize your body. Your balance, co-ordination and proprioceptive skills will rapidly improve, as you encourage your body to do more complex movements over difficult terrain.

The weather also adds an interesting challenge, and the wind can be both your friend and foe. If you push hard into the wind at the beginning of your run, it will give you a helping hand on the way back!

No more smelly changing rooms!

Outside training also means that you’re likely to come straight back home afterwards. You don’t have to worry about packing a gym bag, remembering change for the locker, forgetting to bring clean underwear, getting verrucas, and sharing grim changing rooms.

You can come back to the comfort of your own bathroom, use as many towels as you like, and not having a stranger’s bum in your face when you’re putting your socks on!

And if that hasn’t convinced you…

Think of all the germs that circulate in the air conditioning at a gym. You’ll be taking in big gulps of them during a tough workout! But when you’re outside, you can fill your lungs with lots of healthy, natural fresh air and get a rosy glow to your cheeks too!

And exercising outside is free!

I’m a Londoner, I live nowhere near the countryside!

Londoners should actually find it easier to access ‘The Great Outdoors’, than anyone else in England. In a recent study published by the Audit Commission*, 92 per cent of footpaths and rights of way in London that are in or lead to open spaces and countryside are considered ‘easy to use’, giving you good access to some amazing green spaces. The overall average for England was 76.3 percent, so no excuses!

*The Best Value Performance Indicator 2006-2007, Audit Commission Local Government Compendium

But what about the cold and rain?

Read my article on There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing! to find out how to protect yourself from the elements. And just think how nice that lovely warm shower will be when you get back, you’ll appreciate it so much more after a challenging run outside!

Safety comes before fashion at night

Make sure you wear bright coloured clothing or reflective gear if you go out in the dark and on a gloomy days. Florescent hats and gloves are a popular option, and are stocked by most running shops.

Share the pleasure & the pain

When it's dark, make your personal safety a priority and don't go out alone. Workout with a friend or trainer, or join an outside exercise class or running club. Stick to well lit, populated areas and be aware of what's happening around you. 

It's also more fun to train with other people, and you're more likely to push yourself further and less likely to wimp out when the weather is really bad!

Warm up first

Finally, you need to look after your body a bit more when you train outside. You're at greater risk of pulling muscle when running in the cold, so warm up slowly. Some people prefer to warm up inside first before they head out.

Posted by Heather Waghorn.