If you live in the United States, I probably don’t need to tell you that winter is a frustrating time of year to stay on top of your fitness training. Considering most of us overindulge over the holidays, and then resolve to get in shape for the New Year, the January deep freeze could not have come at a worse time. It’s hard enough to force yourself outside in the cold–the early sunset also means most of us are ready for bed by the time we leave the office.

So, how do you stay motivated when beach season feels years in the future? Here are a a few tips that might work for you.

Try shifting your schedule.

Too tired to hit the gym after work? Discouraged from hitting the gym by the New Years Resolution crowds? Try working out at a different time of day! If you have a job that permits it, try hitting the gym at lunch. The morning crowd isn’t much lighter than the evening, but at lunch–especially if you can get free before 1 PM–the crowds are much lighter, and you can probably hop right on a cardio machine or move through your weight stations faster.

Here’s a tip: For many popular businesses (including most gyms) Google Maps mobile app now charts the busiest times of day. It’s a great way to plan your gym visit to avoid peak crowds.

Seek shelter.

For runners (like Your Truly) and other outdoor fitness folks, winter can be frustrating. If the cold isn’t discouraging enough, snow and slush can make outdoor fitness daunting, dangerous, or downright impossible. There are ways to beat the snow and ice (a pair of Yaktrax and a few layers of lycra work wonders) but if you just can’t bear dressing like an astronaut to leave your home, there are indoor alternatives.

Personally I can’t stand treadmills–I get bored after a mile at most–but add in a live coach and some disco lighting, a la Mile High Run Club here in New York City (or similar treadmill studios elsewhere) and even I can suffer through 45 minutes on the dreadmill. Many gyms also offer indoor tracks, for those who can’t bear the moving belt. If running isn’t your thing, there’s always the eliptical machine, spinning classes, bootcamps, and plenty of other alternatives.

Winter is also a great time to dial back the cardio and focus on weight training, which is traditionally done in a climate-controlled weight room. Even if you’ve never lifted before, it’s time to start. Any well-balanced fitness regimen includes at least some resistance training, which strengthens muscles, improves bone density, and helps prevent injury while you’re doing whatever workout you prefer.

Find a Way to Enjoy the Winter

Lots of people look forward to winter and the unique activities it makes possible. For me, winter means a bit less running, but a lot more ice hockey. Here in NYC, I’m lucky enough to have an outdoor ice hockey league. Lasker Rink in Central Park is a swimming pool in the summertime, but by winter it hosts an outdoor men’s league.

Outdoor skating, skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing, snowshoeing–there are lots of sports and activities you can only enjoy in the winter months, or on a vacation to Iceland.

Try Something New

Maybe you don’t have any winter sports you really enjoy. Maybe you’re frustrated as hell that the air hurts your face when you step outside, and you just can’t bring yourself to suffer the crowd at the gym another day. There’s probably some other fitness activity you’ve always been curious about, and maybe this it the time to try.

Crossfit? Kickboxing? Barre? Yoga? There are more options for fitness today that at any time in the past–and the winter months often bring sales and specials, as fitness businesses compete for that New Years Resolution market. Heck, if you live in the right part of the country, you can try dog sledding–don’t those doggies at left look like they love the winter?

And who knows? You might discover some activity you love so much that you’ll keep at it through summer.

Watch What You’re Eating

Winter also brings on a natural craving for calorie-dense comfort foods (and dark beer!) but this works against you. We’re all familiar with “winter weight,” which just adds to the frustration when you can’t work out the way you want. Calorie-dense foods also tend to make us feel sluggish and lazy, though, which can further kill your motivation. Sticking to a healthy diet will keep your energy level up so you have the will to work out.

In the meantime, don’t overdo the calorie counting. Some people, fearing that winter weight gain, will dial back caloric intake until they lack the energy to do anything at all. Worse, this can mean relying on diet products, which often lack the nutritional value you need to feel your best.

Work Toward a Goal or Deadline

When your body would rather hibernate, you can stay motivated by setting yourself a goal or deadline. For runners, that’s often a springtime race–the Boston Marathon or the New York City Half Marathon, or any other of the dozens of races across the country in April and May. If you’re more motivated by aesthetic benefits, “beach season” might be a motivator, but it also might be too vague. Plan a vacation in April or May, so you know what you’re working toward. Knowing what you want to be fit for, and when it’s going to happen, can help get you moving.

In the end, the important thing is that you do something–anything–during the winter months. A few weeks of laziness will make it harder to get back into a routine when the weather warms up. Suffering through those winter workouts now (or finding a way to actually enjoy them) pays off in the long run.

All images via Wikimedia commons.