But as the mornings got cooler, a low-level panic began to set in. A big part of the appeal of swimming in a lido versus my local rec’s pool is being in the fresh air, because since Covid, the thought of all those under-ventilated places I used to drag myself to in the winter – chlorine-scented indoor pools, incense-infused yoga studios, sweat-drenched spin classes – makes my throat involuntarily constrict. (I wasn’t the only one: research published last month by Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust shows that after six months of lockdown restrictions, only a quarter of women are remaining active, with anxiety about Covid, family responsibilities and the reduction in group exercise classes being the primary reasons.)
So how to keep going? The good news is that from running to cycling, boot camps to, yes, cold-water swimming, there are things that you can do to make it perfectly possible to work out outdoors, whatever the weather. And the first step is a bit of planning.
‘Something I’ve done for a few years is to take a bit of time and think about the coming weeks as you would a business plan,’ says lifestyle coach and celebrity personal trainer Louise Parker. ‘I learnt the hard way that it’s harder to summon up your motivation when it’s raining and the evenings are drawing in. Identify what will feed your mood, make sure it is realistic and works around your individual circumstances – before life gets in the way.’
For Louise, that means getting outdoors every single day. ‘I aim to spend 40 minutes outside daily in the winter. The light, the air, the space energise us – as we all know after the months we’ve had. There’s never an outside walk, jog or workout session that doesn’t bring you home with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy. Some of my best workouts are heading out the door, walking, talking the pace up, and then stopping every few minutes to do 20 compound moves – push-ups on a bench, walking lunges, squatting when no one is looking, or a series of leg raises while mastering your balance. Using all the large muscle groups will increase blood flow, metabolic burn and also afterburn – the rate at which you continue to burn calories after you’ve showered and are back in your snuggly clothes.’
That said, even Louise confesses she finds it hard sometimes: ‘On those days when putting trainers on seems tough, visualise how you will feel in an hour. Sometimes I’ll simply commit to 10 minutes, and more often than not, I end up being out for a good hour or so.’
Getting through those first few minutes is crucial, not just in terms of your mindset, but also in how your body functions. ‘The general problem that people have with exercising in the cold is when you first step outside it doesn’t feel very pleasant,’ says Mike Tipton. ‘The warming-up process takes around five to 10 minutes, but if you go out on a bike ride or run you tend to overdress to avoid that initial sense of it being too cold, and then of course you’ve got too many clothes on when you do warm up! The human body can quite happily produce the equivalent of a 1 or 2kw fire – provided you keep exercising at a reasonable level, you’ll generate more than enough heat to keep warm.’
One way to mitigate that initial chill is by warming up beforehand. ‘If you’re sedentary and then step outside you immediately start cooling,’ he says. ‘If you exercise a bit first – stretch out, warm up – so that you raise the body temperature before you go out, and then start exercising immediately, you’ve got a better chance of maintaining that blood flow.’ That’s likely to help your hands and feet stave off ‘peripheral cooling’ – something that women in particular suffer from.
Of course, a lot of it is to do with your kit – as the saying goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.’ Take cycling: while most of your body will warm up soon enough, your hands are stuck out in front of you getting the brunt of the wind chill, so good gloves are a solid investment. There’s a good reason, too, why merino wool is so popular with cyclists. ‘Merino base layers are warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s warm – mind blowing,’ raves Ginny Henry, who works in e-commerce, and who bought a bike for the first time since primary school this summer as a way to keep off public transport, and is now hooked. ‘Cycling gives me the sense of calm you get after exercise, but I can fit it into my day and see a bit of life passing by while I do it.’
Like me, she’s steadily accumulating weatherproof gear so she can keep going, spending her evenings searching for bargains on sites like sportpursuit.com and Wiggle: ‘I’ve picked up some good thermal tights, gloves and a headband to keep my ears warm. Next on the list is a snood, and maybe some overshoes, so I don’t have to spend the day in wet shoes.’