How to Have a Less-Miserable Indoor Workout

Let's be honest: not many of us like working out indoors. Staring ahead at slug-gray walls for even 10 minutes is borderline unbearable, so why on earth submit yourself to an hour or more of elliptical churning, numbly gazing ahead into nothingness? (Ok, sure most gyms now have TVs and windows, but still...) For the majority of outdoorsy athletes, the idea of wheeling around a stationary object is beyond unappealing. But on the flip side, winter can be a bit un-motivating. So, inevitably we wind ourselves into a Catch-22: too cold to hit the trail and too weary to stay indoors.

We've all been there: pushing plastic pedals around in orbits beneath our hips, running atop a rotating belt, swinging our legs back and forth while gripping the handles of some mechanical beast. Our legs are moving, our hearts are pounding, but our literal location is at a standstill. Sweat lingers on our brow without wind to dry it away. We grow increasingly uncomfortable, drenched in sticky, salty perspiration. We listen to the same playlist we always do, trying to psyche ourselves up with staccato instruments and a deep gurgling base. But after one solid pump-up jam, we're back at obsessing over our inescapable discomfort. We planned to do at least 40 minutes, but now we're struggling to even make it to 10. Bored, drained, paranoid, and antsy, we decide it's probably for the best to just quit now. After all, we don't want to upset our neighbors with our flinging drops of sweat and accumulating body odor. Right? We make any excuse we can, leap off the static robot and, with great relief nearly do a jig on our way out the door. We head home to marshmallow infused hot chocolate and cheese-covered [you fill in the blank], kick up our feet, sigh, and promise ourselves we're done with gyms. 

Alas, the wheels must turn—literally.

Up until this year, I have almost always allowed myself time off during the winter season. However, now that I've got a triathlon coach, this is no longer the case. He's not exactly one for taking "breaks". My workout calendar nowadays is booked seven days a week, every week of the year. It's all mapped out: two-a-days, brick workouts (running immediately after biking), sprint swims, long distance runs, three-hour bike rides. Because I dish out the payments each month, to not follow through would be a personal waste of money and a disappointment to self-obligation. Forcing myself outside can be brutal, and harassing my willpower to hop on a gym bike is equally barbaric. However, I'm learning—slowly—how to make the indoor workouts more tolerable. (See our previous blog on how to make winter more enjoyable!)

1. Create new playlists. Sounds simple enough, but music really has a strong impact on workout performance and motivation. It's easy to find a solid cardio mix and stick to it, but revamping your tunes weekly or bi-weekly can directly stimulate and re-energize your workouts. 

2. Plan circuits. Rather than committing to a grueling 45-minute steady-paced treadmill session, try changing things up. If you're gung ho about a long run, try diversifying your pace by adding in sprints or hills. These shorter, high-intensity jaunts help the time pass much more quickly—and they make you stronger! (Try a minute easy, 30 second sprint, minute easy, hill, etc. Or go by distance: half mile hard, one mile easy, quarter-mile hard, one mile easy.) Or, split your run into 10-minute sessions with jumping jacks and crunches in between. And if you want to totally refine your workout, make a gym circle and test out various machines. (I sometimes will do a particular elliptical for 15 minutes, then switch to a different kind for another 15 minutes and finish on a stationary bike or the treadmill. 

3. Utilize a fan. Seriously, this is a game changer. I just recently set up a bike trainer in the corner of my guest room—conveniently in front of a desk where I prop my laptop to play my favorite Disney movies from Netflix. During my first trial—which was meant to be a straight two-hour power pyramid ride—I got up four times in the first fifteen minutes. Once was to readjust the bulky Webster's dictionary underneath the front tire that was positioning the seat into a lopsided wobble; the next to grab my water bottle from the kitchen; the third to plug in the laptop charger just in case it didn't survive through Tarzan's entirety; and the fourth to reclaim the fan I'd foolishly thrown into the need-to-donate-to-Goodwill pile. As someone incredibly sensitive to the cold, I found no use for owning a fan. I'm not even sure why I ever purchased one in the first place. But wowzah, thank God for that fan! I plugged that sucker in, set it to 'high' and saddled up for Round Five, thankful for the simulated breeze that instantly filled the room. (I did eventually get up a fifth time, an hour into the ride, to grab a towel for wiping my face. I'd recommend that addition as well.)

4. Wear layers. Our bodies never seem to approve of the gym's preferred temperature setting. Start out cozy with an extra sweatshirt, and shed the layers as you go!

5. Podcasts, yo. Charge up the phone, and tune into your favorite episodes. More entertaining than music, and easier to focus on than a TV show (Is it just me, or does bobbing up and down on an elliptical make trying to watch the news even more of a headache?), podcasts are a great way to let the time fly. Whether you prefer inspiring TED Talks, humorous rants, scientific ramblings, or investigative crime periods, there is something to suit your fancy for 30 minutes to an hour! 

6. Bring a friend. First off, having a workout buddy keeps you committed—after all, you can't back out when you know Betty Lou is waiting up at the YMCA! Additionally, having someone else around keeps you on track and motivated! Challenge each other. Take turns and spot for one another when using weights. Double up on abs, high-fiving in between each sit-up and counting out loud! Betty Lou might just be this winter's saving grace. Give her a chance. 

7. Fuel between sets. Hydration is always vital, but reenergizing during your workouts can help immensely in a draining environment. Also, those Sports Beans, GUs and Tailwind concoctions act as little rewards for all your hard work! 

Next time you find yourself dreading an indoor workout, ready to snuggle back up in bed with a bag of popcorn and Beyonce videos (don't lie, you love them too!), I dare you to reconsider. Grab your headphones, string together your favorite tracks, grab Betty Lou, snag a fan and some gooey fruit chews, do some jumping jacks, and hit the treadmill. It's not that bad, I promise you.

By Olivia Harlow

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