Colder days and darker evenings make it harder to motivate yourself to exercise. Top performance coach Arj Thiruchelvam has the answer to those winter blues… and fear not, there’s not an ice bath or snowy trail in sight!
As we’re getting back into social events, returning to the workplace and venturing on holidays, suddenly time seems a little short to look after your health and fitness. Add to this the colder days and darker evenings and motivating yourself to exercise is becoming harder.
Performance Physique head coach Arj Thiruchelvam is based in Solihull and supports novices up to Team GB athletes with their fitness and nutrition. Arj has more than 16 years’ experience of performance mentoring, including as a UK Athletics sprints and jumps coach, and says now is a great time to mix up your training and set some specific goals. Here’s how:
Grab your notepad and outline two things you would like to improve over the next two months, leading up to the New Year. These will comprise two-thirds of your exercise time and, by dedicating the majority of your time to them, means you will see a higher proportion of progress and improvement in your goals.
UNLOCK THE POWER
Perhaps you’re looking to improve your aerobic performance, so it’s time to unlock the power of the interval! Alternating short bursts (about 30 seconds) of intense activity with longer intervals (about one to two minutes) of less intense activity goes hand-in-hand with a busy schedule. If you’re able to perform high intensity intervals for more than 30 minutes, the likelihood is that your intervals aren’t high intensity. This workout can be performed running, on the bike or the cross-trainer so really can be achieved anywhere and will keep you warm if you’re outside:
Five minutes warm up + 10 x (1min 30secs slow + 30secs fast) + 5 minute cool-down
These paces are relative to your current level of fitness, with slow allowing you to start the recovery process while still moving. Walking is OK but, as you get fitter, you must challenge yourself to increase the speed. Fast pace is above 90 per cent of your maximum effort, so imagine you’re running away from a bull!
It’s tough and gruelling but by including two of these sessions per week, you’ll notice cardiovascular improvements. Knowing in the back of your mind it’s not a really long workout will keep you moving forwards too!
The concept of choosing two areas to focus on is pioneered by leading research which found by adopting this approach, muscle gains were rapidly increased in comparison to following more traditional approaches.
To apply this training method to our busier winter schedules, pick out just two exercises for the two body parts you want to improve and perform 5 sets of 10 repetitions of each of the exercises, utilising a paired superset (swapping body part without rest) to achieve more in a reduced time.
If you’re looking to gain more muscle, for example in your quadriceps and triceps, you will train these two muscles twice per week, while leaving any remaining time to do just enough to maintain other parts of your body. For example, 5 x 10 of (A) Step-Ups to Tricep Pushdown then afterwards 5 x 10 of (B) Squats to Tricep Extension.
Finally, it’s almost like we’ve forgotten how to enjoy exercise! Create game-based or activity-based workouts and grab a training partner if you can. Maybe you don’t want to play a team sport but instead create a circuit of different exercises, some traditional and some a little more ballistic and ‘performance-like’; medicine ball throws, skipping, hopping and box jumps can actually be really rewarding, both mentally and physically.
These can essentially be like a circuit and, like any circuit, can be completed in a really short time. Think 20 seconds on 20 seconds off each exercise or activity. My only tip would be to ensure you warm up before starting. Box jumps, hopping and ballistic exercises are surprisingly tough and therefore you want to avoid doing them when cold. Here’s a pro-tip: put the toughest exercises at the start of your circuit.”