Spring always feels like something of a renaissance. Flowers bloom, birds chirp, animals (and people) come out of hibernation.
If winter’s hibernation took a toll on your fitness—undermining your plans and slowing your New Year’s resolutions to a screeching but all-too-familiar halt—don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The good news: Spring can be a, well, stepping stone out of that rut. And now is the perfect time to start planning a spring training refresher.
Why winter takes a toll on our exercise motivation
“Winter can be really hard to stay active and especially to get active if that’s not already your baseline,” says psychologist Jeffrey Morrow, PhD, who directs the Southern California Psychology Group and is an expert on motivation for athletes. “Whether it’s due to the dreary conditions or just the cold, these roadblocks can lead to major declines in activity and targets falling by the wayside.”
There is research related to human physiology that shows that people tend to need more sleep in the winter; combine that with less sunlight and cooler temperatures and you have a recipe for less activity. After all, who wants to get out from under that warm blanket when it’s freezing!
Winter can also have negative effects on our mental health. A common condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is sometimes referred to as “winter depression” and results in symptoms such as fatigue and low energy, oversleeping, weight gain and changes in appetite. “Even when there isn’t an overt diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder,” says Dr. Morrow, “I really see a lot of clients who obviously have some mental sensitivity to wintertime, especially in areas that have long periods of cold and cloudy weather. with limited daylight.”
Why the new season can help you reboot your goals
The changes that come with spring—more daylight, warmer weather, the feeling of natural life returning—can make it a perfect time for a workout refresher.
Sunlight is well known to be a catalyst (if not the most important factor, one of the most) for energy levels. Exposing yourself to direct sunlight within the first hour of waking is one of the most effective ways to regulate your circadian rhythm and therefore your sleep/wake cycle throughout the day (think: more consistent energy). Sunlight can also improve our mood and is the most readily available source of vitamin D, which can help optimize our muscle function.
Warmer temperatures have also been shown to increase muscle temperature and body temperature, reducing warm-up times. And exercising in the heat has been shown to increase our aerobic exercise performance. This is why many elite athletes and sports teams travel to warmer climates in the winter to train.
From a purely pragmatic perspective, more daylight simply means more time for activity, especially if you love outdoor activities.
“Spring is a great time to move workouts outside and take advantage of the changing elements,” says trainer and physical therapist Kristina Kam, DPT. “It can be a huge mental refresher and kickstart for clients’ exercise goals and motivation. I will often see a significant increase in exercise levels and engagement.”
How to plan a training refresher in the spring
Rather than jumping straight back to where you left off last summer, the best way to regain fitness (or achieve new goals) is with a gradual step-by-step plan.
“The body and mind don’t like change—for better or for worse,” says Dr. Morrow. “That’s why we need small, incremental, measurable steps that can safely and eventually lead us to big changes.”
For example, if your spring fitness recovery goal is to run 10 miles a week, work up to that over the course of a few weeks, starting with running/walking if you haven’t been running regularly over the winter. Find a reputable online workout plan that fits your current fitness level. A specific schedule that you can mark off day by day will give you constant, refreshing motivation rather than chasing a fuzzy idea in your head.
Even if you’ve been banging away at the gym all winter, taking advantage of the nicer weather by taking your workouts outside can provide a welcome mental boost and be a creative way to mix up the types of exercises you do. For example, you can go kayaking instead of arm day, go for a gentle hike as active recovery, or skip that spin class to hit some trails on your bike. Even tending to your yard and going outside to do some gardening can give you a hell of a workout.
Embracing the outdoors can re-energize your exercise routine. The key: Focus on one day at a time and enjoy the process. See you out there.
Try this core workout with Traci Copeland outdoors for inspo: