As winter approaches (in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry Aussies – save this entry for like, May or June) and the days get shorter, I find that a lot of my clients struggle more with sticking to their workout routines - particularly if they're morning exercisers.
Sure, there are lots of other factors affecting workout adherence around this time of year – holidays that center around unhealthy food, festive parties and booze-centric events taking over the schedule, and demands from kids and family for costumes, cupcakes, party prep, and what-have-you wiping out even the most dedicated exercisers and healthy eaters. But I want to focus on something near and dear to my own heart: the sun.
I have always, always been a morning person (though a recent test of my chronotype suggests that I may not be as "strong" a morning person as I assumed), but I qualify that with this more accurate statement: I am actually a sunshine person.
When the sun is up, I like to be, too – and when it gets dark outside, my spirit and motivation wanes black and sad (ok, dramatic, but you get my point). I currently live on the equator, where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm daily, so that pretty much sets up my kids' sleeping schedule, my own work schedule, and everything in between to happen at its most functional within that 12-hour window.
I present all of this information as long introduction to the main topic for this blog post – how in the hell do you get motivated to exercise when it’s pitch dark and ice cold outside (whether that means early in the morning, or later after work when your energy is shot)?
First of all, don’t make darkness an excuse. If you're being honest with yourself, really only about the first five minutes of waking up in the darkness sucks (you know, those glorious first minutes after the alarm where your bed is so warm and your PJs are so comfy and you just want to live in your bed forever and ever). Once you get out of bed, flick on a bright light, get some caffeine into your bloodstream (if that's your thing), and get moving - the early-morning grind actually isn’t so hard.
Second, set up a morning mini-ritual to look forward to. For me, it’s a piping hot cup of really good coffee (right now that’s Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice, since I'm here in the States and it is giving me life for the next few weeks). For you, it might be a shower with a really nice-smelling soap, putting on a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or saving a certain breakfast food you really enjoy for “only” the days you wake up for a workout (treat yo’self). However small and whatever it may be, make it special to you, and make it appealing enough to light up even the coldest mornings, and it’ll matter.
Third, try to sleep in your (clean) workout clothes. Sure, this may be easier said than done (I tend to wear compression gear for my workouts, so I’d actually prefer not to sleep like a cased sausage), but it’s a surefire way to make the journey from bed to gym a bit shorter, a lot easier, and using a lot less brainpower (a superb thing when you’re just struggling to tie your shoes at 6am). If this is too much, at least lay out your clothes and necessities so that there is no dread, confusion, or struggle in the morning – just pick up, dress, and go.
Next, consider being a bit silly (especially if you live alone). Wake up and put on “Baby Got Back” and bust a little 5am move in your mirror. Log onto your Instagram feed and commit to 30 minutes on the treadmill to mindlessly scroll. Download a hilarious YouTube workout video and do it in your living room while wearing baggy sweatpants and an old college T-shirt. Nothing is too stupid if it makes you laugh AND gets you motivated enough to skip the snooze button and commit to a lil’ ol' workout. My final tip is this: if waking up in the darkness (or again, dragging yourself to the gym after work once it’s already dark) is honestly too painful around this time of year, find another time to work out for the season. Maybe you need to commit to a lunchtime power hour. Perhaps it’s a 3pm living-room booster while the kids are taking their naps. You might be the type that can space out three 10-minute HIIT workouts throughout the day so you don’t have to wake up a half hour before the sun. Whatever time you can consistently work out is the best time for you to be working out (path of least resistance and all that, guys).
Whether it’s changing seasons (hello, winter!) or a complete lack of seasons (hello, Singapore!), there will always be shifts and changes in even the most established routines from time to time – and it’s up to you to roll with the punches, re-prioritise your movement, and figure out a “new normal” that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.