There are so many things to love about fall—the leaves changing color, roasting marshmallows over the backyard firepit, the comfortable temperatures—yet the one thing about fall that leaves many struggling to stay consistent with a regular workout routine is fewer hours of daylight. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and you can still see the moon in the dark sky of your bedroom window, it's hard to jump out of bed full of energy and ready to sweat. When you plan a workout after work and realize you'll need to pull out the reflective gear to be seen, your comfy couch can be a tempting alternative.
The good news is that there are simple ways to make an in-the-dark workout less dreadful and more desirable. Not only is consistency key in maintaining an overall healthy life, but keeping up with your exercise routine through the colder months can also help you cope with the energy decreases and changes in appetite that are commonly associated with seasonal changes and colder temperatures.
Before you hit the snooze button or hide under a blanket to skip yet another fall or winter workout, use these expert tips to get your head in the right space and get your heart pumping.
- Try something new every week. Personal trainer John Fawkes suggests variety as a tool to stay motivated. "This is easier than ever given the [recent] explosion of online workout videos and programs," he says. "Check out YouTube and try at-home kickboxing one week, yoga the next, Tai Chi, hip-hop dancing, Barre, and on and on. Mixing up your routine [can help] keep dark workouts from feeling so dreary and mundane."
- Pinpoint from where the lack of motivation is coming. Boxingholic co-founder Michael Slowak asks himself the question, "What makes me unmotivated to work out?" to keep himself accountable when his drive is lacking. "When preparing for an upcoming fight against a tough opponent, sometimes I get unmotivated," he explains. "I've found that when I write down my reasons for being unmotivated, it helps me confront them and brainstorm solutions to the problem. For example, if I write down that it's cold outside, I prepare myself by wearing warmer jogging bottoms." Once you can identify your trigger, brainstorm solutions that will help you overcome your current mood and get excited for your workout!
- Buy a new piece of workout gear or clothing. "There's something about new clothes and gear that makes you get into exercising more easily," asserts health coach Natalie Knezic. "Treat yourself to new workout sneakers or gym clothes [or] buy yourself a new piece of equipment [and] you'll immediately feel excited."
- Embrace the dark. Dayakarn Sandhu, founder of Atomic Coach, suggests there are advantages to early morning or evening workouts this time of year. "The feeling of knowing that you're up early before others and have already gotten a great workout completed before the sun has risen provides a euphoric feeling unlike any other," he describes. This same feeling can apply to a post-sunset evening workout. "There's a certain serenity [at these times of day], which can result in some very intense and effective workouts that you just can't get when the gym is packed with people during the daytime."
- Be prepared. There are other ways to get ready the night before besides sleeping in your workout clothes or packing your gym bag. If you're doing a home workout, put out your equipment in advance. That might mean setting up circuit workout stations in the family room, moving furniture in the basement for your strength routine or putting the stationary bike in front of the T.V.—anything you can do to avoid excuses when that early alarm goes off or you get off work. Slowak uses this trick to overcome the mental hurdle of having to set everything up before he begins. "It's easier to start working out right away than to put all of that equipment away [without using it]," he asserts.
- Don't make it a choice. Commit the night before that whether it's an early morning or evening workout, you won't let anything get in the way. Think about how you'll feel if you skip your workout—wouldn't you rather have that feeling of accomplishment than the guilt of knowing you took the easy way out?
- Brighten your living space. It's not always a simple lack of motivation that keeps people from exercising regularly in the fall and winter months. If you live in a Northern region, the colder weather and lack of sunshine can bring on a form of clinical depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms of SAD include depression, low energy, trouble sleeping and changes in appetite. It is estimated that 10 million Americans suffer from this condition, while another 10 to 20 percent may have a milder form. While regular physical activity can help ward off some symptoms, light therapy has also been shown to be an effective treatment for SAD. Sitting a few feet from a special light box within the first hour of waking up each day can help reduce SAD symptoms. If you think SAD might be keeping you from staying consistent, talk to your doctor about whether this treatment is an option for you.