7 Winter-Proof Indoor Workouts for Runners

7 Winter-Proof Indoor Workouts for Runners

The last few weeks we’ve experienced a record-setting cold snap. For many of us, it’s causing a bit of cabin fever.

Compounding the issue is the fact we just hit the new year, which means gyms are crowded and full. Classes are booked up and it’s tough to find space to workout even if you happen to belong to a gym.

Many times during the year–heat waves, cold snaps, smoggy days with poor air quality–you might find reasons to workout indoors rather than outside. For most of us, outdoor running is preferred. Miles go by faster. It’s easier to connect with nature and feel energized.

Now, let’s be honest, beyond the treadmill, you probably aren’t going to get the full training experience you’re used to. Indoor running is kind of the pits. It’s pretty boring. Watching the numbers on the treadmill makes everyone feel a little obsessive, and it’s just not as fun. If you’re training for an outdoor race, running inside is a totally different experience.

BUT, burning calories, moving your body and building muscle can happen in any conditions. As a gym teacher, I’ve had just as many great experiences with my students working in the gym as outside. It is definitely possible to experience a great workout indoors. Here’s my list of indoor workouts for runners to beat those winter blues.

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1. Make the Treadmill Fun

The treadmill sucks. Let’s face it. It’s boring, repetitive, and the numbers bring out our latent OCD. Running in the basement often feels a bit tortuous and dreadful. BUT when it’s 22 below with windchill and roads are icy (or in the heart of summer when it’s 95 degrees in the shade) training outdoors is tough. The treadmill becomes necessary.

Make the most of it, by using the numbers to push yourself a little harder. The benefit of using the treadmill is you have a constant monitor of speed, incline and distance. Watch and listen to your body as you increase your speed, adjust the incline or try to cover more distance. You can learn a lot about your progress and running style. Mix up your treadmill routine.

The other advice for the treadmill, especially if you’re in a crowded gym, is to add music, a podcast or even a show on your phone or tablet. Find a distraction where you can lose yourself for a while. It may not be the same as running outdoors, but the time will pass a little faster.

2. Find a BIG Space

What’s the biggest space you’ve got access to? As an elementary school gym teacher, I’m fortunate to have some access to our school’s gym. My wife on the other hand, works in a small downtown office, so she doesn’t have a big space (other than our house). There are other spaces to use, though–you just have to get creative.

In our town we have a downtown rec center and the indoor track at the local high school is open for winter walkers. There’s also the mall option, which is offered in almost any suburban setting. While these spaces are all best for walking, it beats jogging in circles around your 9’ by 10’ living room.

If your living room’s all you’ve got, you can still make the most of it, by finding a few ways to ramp up your cardio. Running in place isn’t much fun, but doing burpees, jumping jacks or other small-space activities still get your heartrate up. If you have a mini-trampoline, a bike trainer (which turns your road bike into a spin bike) or another small piece of indoor-friendly equipment, now’s the time to break it out!

3. Weight Train

Take advantage of the indoors by adding weight training to your repertoire. Runners often focus on getting long, lean muscle, but building strength will help your performance and stamina. Kettlebells, free weights or resistance bands will help you build muscle on days when running’s not in the cards.

Try doing a series of lunges and squats across your basement, while you hold weights. You’ll feel the burn quickly! Lift gallon bottles if you don’t own weights (but they’re a great investment).

Working out with free weights with exercises like arm curls, chest flies and rows are excellent for building upper body strength. Many runners neglect their upper bodies, so snowdays are a great time to discover some new moves (but keep them going even when you can return to your runs).

4. Do Calisthenics

Remember old school Jane Fonda moves? There’s something to be said for calisthenics. They’re great for getting your heart rate going and moving in a small space. You don’t need to stick to Jazzercise either. Try doing jumping jacks, crunches, leg lifts, kicks and the grapevine.

Calisthenics are simply exercises where you use your own body weight as resistance. There an alternative way to incorporate movement into your routine…and they’re kind of fun!

Put on some music and harken back to your gym class days. Do arm circles, windmills, touch your toes, plank and scissor kick. These simple exercises will keep you in shape, even if you can’t log your usual miles on the pavement.


High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is definitely a buzz term these days. Incorporating calisthenics and weight training in intervals, HIIT is a great way to get the best of both worlds. The key with HIIT is to remember that the word TRAINING. This isn’t simply working out, but striving to get better, faster and stronger.

HIIT bootcamps are popular because they push people out of their comfort zone and show fast results. You don’t need to sign up for an expensive bootcamp class though (unless you need the motivation and enjoy access to the space). You can do HIIT activities right from home.

Simply focus on fast reps of one activity, until it’s too tough, then switch to another. Intersperse cardio activities with weight reps. Keep your heart rate and effort levels high throughout the entire circuit.

6. Yoga it Up

Another excellent way to cope with crummy weather is to cut yourself a break. This doesn’t mean sitting on the couch with Netflix. Instead, try a less intense activity like yoga. Now, yoga can actually be pretty intense and if you haven’t done it for a while (or ever) you might be surprised at how tough some of the moves are.

Yoga and stretching will help build flexibility, making your muscles less tight and prone to injury. It’s a perfect compliment to running.

There are tons of yoga videos online to help you start, if you want guidance. You can even do yoga on your Wii Fit (which offers a pretty great yoga guide). It’s a fun rest from regular training. You may even decide to make yoga a regular part of your workouts.

7. Try a Different Activity

Look at a cold day as a chance to explore different activities. If running is your jam, you may not think about all the other awesome activities out there. Go to your local skating rink, indoor golf or batting cages. Explore martial arts, kickboxing or self-defence. You could even try dance.

Look at your weather break as an opportunity to check out something out of your routine. If you always run or bike, what else would you enjoy?

Now, you might not replace running as your activity of choice, but there are so many workout options out there, you may just find some cross-training activities you love. You may find a way to expand your fitness routine–even join a team sport like indoor volleyball, kickball or soccer.

Don’t look at bad weather as a setback or a negative situation. Look at it as a chance to try something different for a change!


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