As it starts to get dark earlier and the weather turns from sunshine to cold and rain, motivation can take a nosedive. We're here with our top tips to stay motivated in the winter so that you can stay strong and get those all-important winter miles in.
Be flexible with your training schedule
If you have a pre-work run scheduled at 5am but getting out of bed is just not happening, give yourself a break and enjoy the extra hour in bed. Instead, you could always do your run at lunchtime or after work – so long as it gets done.
If you're flexible with your schedule, you are less likely to resent your training plan and motivation will come more easily. Don't allow excuses to mean you skip sessions altogether, though, just be realistic.
There's nothing worse than suffering an outdoor workout when under-dressed. Numb fingers and getting soaked by an unexpected rain shower can all ruin an otherwise great training session, so make sure you dress appropriately and always go prepared.
A packable water-resistant running jacket will be vital if there's a threat of rain, and if it packs away easily you can store it on your bike for winter rides or carry it in a pocket on a run. A thick insulating hoodie will keep you warm in extreme cold while a thermal Merino base layer will be ideal when the weather is changeable and you don't want to overheat. Touch screen gloves are also a must if you want to still be able to feel your fingers and be able to access your phone when necessary.
If you know that you're going to be comfortable in your fitness clothing it will be much easier to get out the door and get it done.
if you have a buddy to train with this can not only improve your confidence but can also help you to enjoy working out and stay motivated. If you have someone to be accountable to, you are less likely to flake out on your workout for no reason. Having a friend or personal trainer to let down will give you that extra motivation to get out there and go train, even if you don't really feel like it.
Make your workouts fun
It's understandable to dread a long slog in the snow or long ride against bitter headwinds. By mixing it up and making your workouts more fun, you will have something to look forward to and you'll be more motivated. Try something new by taking a new route or giving yourself a challenge to complete such as a certain number of hill climb repetitions.
If you're new to the gym then it's perfectly understandable that you've got quite a few questions. The free weights area is full of big, grunting men which can be intimidating while the machines are being hogged by Lycra-clad women doing strange leg movements. But which is best for you? We take a look.
What's the difference between free weights and resistance machines?
There is a significant difference between free weights and resistance machines, both in how they work and the results they will give you. The free weights are the barbells and dumbbells in the gym, while the machines are any resistance-based workout machines such as the leg press, assisted chin up machine, or lat pull down.
There are two types of resistance machine: plate loaded and pin loaded. The plate loaded machines work by the user adding weighted plates to a stack in order to increase the resistance. This can be tricky if it's a busy gym as you may struggle to find the plates that you want and the weight cannot be changed easily. Pin loaded machines have a stack of weights already part of the machine and the user changes the resistance by simply moving a pin up or down. This is better for working on pyramid sets or drop sets when you need to change the weight quickly, and means you don't need to leave the machine in order to change the weight resistance.
The primary difference between free weights and machines is that machines are fixed in place and only move in certain directions whereas free weights can be moved in any way the user chooses. Free weights force you to use more stabiliser muscles in order to control the weight, whereas resistance machines can help you with the move by keeping you in place.
Do free weights or machines build muscle faster?
In general, free weights activate more muscles than machines and therefore are better for building muscle in the long-run. However, towards the end of your session when your muscles are tired and your form is starting to suffer, machines are safer and can help you to continue training safely. Not only this, machines can help you to train weaker muscles more safely and help them to get as strong as your dominant areas. For example, a squat is a free weight exercise. However, if you are quad-dominant, your hamstrings will start to lag behind. Therefore, you could use the hamstring curl machine after doing your squat sets in order to target your hamstrings separately.
The best way to build muscle is to use free weights for most of your workout and then use the machines for accessory exercises. As an example, on leg day you will want to focus most of your efforts on the squat. You will then want to do lunges with a barbell or dumbbells. Then, you could target weaker areas with the hamstring curl machine or work on your weaker leg by doing single leg exercises on the leg press.
Are machines safer than free weights?
In a lot of ways, yes machines are safer than free weights. Dumbbells and barbells can easily be dropped and if it happens to drop on your hand, your foot, or head, there could be serious injuries that ensue as a result. If you use a resistance machine exactly as prescribed, you should not get injured by the mechanics, although you could still pull a muscle or sustain a sports injury due to not warming up properly or lifting a weight that's too heavy for you.
Free weights require a lot more control than machines and if you try to lift a free weight that's too heavy - especially if it's going above your head - this can be pretty dangerous. If you're new to lifting weights, you should always have a member of the gym staff show you how to do the exercise properly and with good form. Nearly all gyms will offer an induction to new members which consists of a trainer or fitness instructor taking you around the gym and showing you how all the machines work and which muscle groups they are used for.
If you do want to lift a weight that you haven't lifted before or want to go heavy, you should employ the help of a spotter. A spotter is someone who stands over you as you lift the weight and follows your movement. They are there to catch the weight if you start to drop it and to help you finish the move if you cannot. For example, a spotter on the bench press will stand behind the bench and hover their hands under the bar. If the person lifting the weight starts to drop it on their chest, the spotter can lift it back to safety. A bad spotter is someone who assists with the lift while a good spotter is someone who doesn't touch the weight unless absolutely necessary. The spotter needs to be strong enough to rescue you if and when needed and they need to pay full attention while the lift is in progress as your safety is in their hands.
For the squat, the spotter stands behind the person doing the squat and squats with them. They hold their hands under the squatter's armpits to assist them to the top of the movement if needed. A good spotter should not touch the athlete unless absolutely necessary.
Free weights vs machines: pros and cons
Both free weights and resistance machines have their place in a well structure workout programme. Some are better than others and some will suit your needs more than others. Here are the pros and cons of free weights vs resistance machines.
Free Weights Resistance Machines Pro - They will give you a well rounded workout and work multiple muscles at a time, including stabiliser muscles Pro - They are safer than free weights Con - You may need a spotter which means you need to find someone willing to help you Con - They do not build muscle as fast
Happy Valentine's Day lovebirds! If you're not going out tonight, why not try this couples workout with your loved one or even just a best friend? Training with a partner is a great way to increase motivation and to bond with someone too.
Lunge with Med Ball Pass
This exercise will torch your legs as well as your core and will require teamwork and co-ordination!
Stand next to your partner, both facing the same way. One of you holds a medicine ball or slam ball. Both lunge forward at the same time. Hold your arms out as straight as possible to work your core hard and twist your entire torso to face your partner. Make sure to twist from the waist to work your abs and keep your core tight. As your partner takes the ball, both of you step back to your starting position. Now repeat this by lunging forward on the other leg and receive the ball from your partner.
Try to stay synced up with your partner and stay in a good lunge as you pass the ball between you. Repeat exercise for 30 seconds if you're beginners or try 60 seconds if you're already fairly fit.
Press Up with High Five
This exercise is great for your shoulders and core and will really help create a rapport and bond with your partner. Make sure you don't slap each other in the face!
Both adopt a press up position facing each other. Both drop into a press up at the same time, then at the top, both using your right hand, high five each other. Drop into another press up and then high five with your left hands.
If you cannot do full press ups, you can do them from your knees (it doesn't matter if one partner is on their toes and one is on their knees). Try to stay co-ordinated and make sure the press ups are good quality.
Plank Jump Throughs
This one can be great fun to do together and will really test your trust! This will work your core but also acts as cardio as you will be jumping.
One partner adopts a plank position with their legs wide apart. While partner one holds this position, partner two jumps between their legs. There should be three jumps: outside the left leg, between both legs, and outside the right leg. Try to do two-footed jumps to get the most out of this exercise. You will need to jump your legs high so that you don't trip over your partner!
Do this exercise for 30 seconds and then swap positions. If you are more advanced, try it for 60 seconds.
Burpee with Med Ball Pass
Now we're really increasing the intensity! Burpees are an excellent full-body exercise and will get your heart racing for all the right reasons this Valentine's Day!
Stand facing your partner and hold a medicine ball or slam ball. Throw the ball to your partner who then throws it straight back and drops into a burpee. As soon as they stand back up, throw them the ball again and as soon as they throw it back they do another burpee. Repeat this for 30 seconds and then swap roles.
This is a high intensity exercise and requires team work and co-ordination. Make sure the throws to your partner are good ones so that you can keep the movements streamlined without dropping the ball. To make this exercise harder, stand further away from each other and see how far you can go.
Partner Russian Twists
Our final exercise will target your abs and really finish you off in style.
Sit on the floor next to your partner, fairly close to one another. Adopt the classic Russian twist position by balancing on your seat bones, lean back, and hold your legs and feet off the floor. Pass a medicine ball or slam ball between you and really over-exaggerate the twists to work the abs properly.
If you want to make progress with your fitness or weight loss, you need to have a goal. Otherwise, how will you measure your progress and know that you've succeeded? We take a look at how to set fitness goals and importantly, how to achieve them.
What is a SMART goal for fitness?
The most common and successful way to set a goal for fitness (or for anything for that matter) is to create a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and with a Time frame. By creating a SMART goal, you will avoid making unrealistic and unspecific goals which may not be achievable, and will help you to create an excellent goal that will get you where you want to be. By creating a SMART goal you are almost guaranteeing yourself success and you will be able to better assess your progress as you go.
What is an example of a long term fitness goal?
There are two types of goal: long term and short term. A short term goal is one which you aim to achieve in a relatively short space of time, perhaps within 3 months. A long term fitness goal is one which you will continue to tweak and work on progressively for an extended period of time, such as 1-3 years.
An example of a long term fitness goal would be to go from being overweight to completing a marathon in 3 years. You would need lots of short term goals in between, such as completing a couch to 5k programme, successfully completing a 10k, a half marathon, losing an amount of weight, eating better etc. By creating short term goals, you break down the long term goal and make it far more manageable. This will aid your chances of success and keep you focused and motivated the entire time.
SMART goals for weight loss examples
Having the goal to 'lose weight' is far too broad and you are very unlikely to succeed in it. There is no time frame so you won't know when you've achieved it, and there is no measurement so it could go on indefinitely as your weight fluctuates up and down. An example of a SMART goal for weight loss would be:
"I will lose 10kg in 6 months by running 3 times a week and going to the gym twice a week. Once I have achieved this goal, I will treat myself to a new set of activewear in a smaller size."
This is an example of a SMART goal as it is very specific, it is measurable because you can weigh yourself each month to make sure you're on track, it is achievable as that is a healthy amount of weight to lose in that time, it is realistic, and it has a time frame of 6 months. It even includes a reward at the end for extra motivation.
Examples of SMART goals for strength training
Another example of a bad goal is to say 'I want to tone up'. This is extremely vague and ambiguous and you are unlikely to ever achieve it. An example of a SMART goal for strength training would be:
"I will increase my squat weight from 30kg to 50kg in 3 months by following a strength training programme and lifting 4 times a week."
This SMART goal is specific as it includes specific weights, it is measurable as you can measure the weights you use and keep track by writing down your progress each week, it is achievable, it is realistic as that is not a crazy amount of weight to increase by in the time, and it has a time frame of 3 months. You will know for sure if and when you have achieved your goal and can therefore be proud of yourself once you have accomplished it.
How can I achieve my fitness goals?
Staying motivated can be tough, especially for those who have made a fitness goal as a new year resolution. One of the most important things when trying to achieve a fitness goal is consistency. If you start going for a run every morning but then can't maintain it and stop after 2 weeks, you will never achieve your goal. You need to start gradually and make fitness a part of your every day lifestyle. By adding an exercise regime into your daily routine, you will be able to stay consistent and have a better chance of succeeding. Sometime it just takes sheer willpower and determination, so remember why you started and have an end goal and incentive in mind. Perhaps it's buying yourself new fitness clothing or taking yourself on a spa day, whatever it is, it could help you to stay on track and stay focused.
Resistance training is hugely beneficial to the body, helping to not only sculpt your figure but also strengthen your bones. You should incorporate it into your lifestyle in the following stages.
1. Endurance Exercises
The safest and most sensible way to introduce resistance training into your fitness regime is with endurance exercises. These involve lifting weights and performing more reps, focussing mainly on perfecting your posture and form.
2. Strength Training Exercises
Strength training is the next stage and involves lifting heavier weights and performing fewer reps. The strength training phase helps to build strength in the body.
3. Power Training
Finally, you can move into power training after an estimate of 12 weeks perfecting the preceding two training principles.
Power training is a lot of fun and pushes the body to its endurance and strength limits combining explosive movements which burn maximum calories and work the cardiovascular system too.
The nature of power training is high-intensity plyometric moves executed with ‘bouncing off the walls’ energy and precise form.
You need to prepare your body for power training with progressive exercises as outlined above.
When you’re ready, try these four great power exercises. Make sure you stretch beforehand!
Jump squats are excellent for building explosive power while toning your bum and conditioning the joints of the lower body. They’re also great for increasing the height of your vertical jump.
This simple movement works all the major muscle groups in the body and helps build strength in the legs and core. For perfect form make sure you’re tucking your tail bone in so your spine is super straight and lift your knees towards your chest.
Try this move for a cardio blast which will challenge your flexibility too. You should be kicking your heels back towards your bottom, and making sure to land with soft knees to protect your joints.
Side skaters build strength and agility. They may look graceful and simple enough but they can be seriously challenging and especially toning of the glutes, hamstrings, quads and core.