Skip to content

Tips For Training Calisthenics/Outdoors In Low(er) Temperatures (UK Lockdown Advice)

Retro throwback pic – a ‘back lever’ from winter 2016/2017!

Who saw this one coming? We feared it but I don’t think our pessimism extended far enough to see ANOTHER UK lockdown coming. I always said we were lucky the last one spanned the spring/summer where daylight and heat were our friends.

‘Imagine having a 10 week lockdown in November!’ I said many times and people would look at me like I’d asked if it was cool to live with them rent free for 6 months.

And now look, it’s happened. Which has given my skeptical mind two questions: 1) why are the figures standing up so poorly to scrutiny and how do we know the true accuracy of the figures? And how much do you preserve the now at the expense of the future?

It’s worth a ponder. With that said, let’s touch on the real reason you were raging about this lockdown 2.0 bullshit………….GYMS CLOSING THEIR DOORS AGAIN.

Sure, many people invested in extra equipment earlier this year but the very real issue is the lack of heat as the British winter sets in inevitably. Lots of people have garage set up with equipment but no heat. Some aren’t even lucky enough to have equipment and have to go outdoors to parks or even resort to running, or dare I say it, no training at all.

I’ve trained intermediate to advanced calisthenics outdoors for a full winter in 2016-2017 and have obviously done many summers outside over the years, along with quite a few sessions this year in less than stellar conditions. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learnt along the way that will help you still make gains but also, stay INJURY FREE.

Here are 3 things to watch out for when training outdoors in the cold:

Stumbling Block 1 – Intensity

Earlier this year I badly strained my teres minor training outdoors on March the 31st – a Sunday evening where the temperature was barely above 0 degrees. I was stubbornly following my routine which included archer chin ups on rings, and I wasn’t even feeling strong either. I remember having to do more sets and less reps per set to make up my usual total volume.

Then I lowered down from one of the reps and felt a weird twinge/pull under the armpit. I carried on but I ended up feeling like something wasn’t right later that night, even after the session ended. Needless to say, the next day it was worse and I couldn’t even hang from a bar! This carried on for 8 weeks! I could row and do top half front lever raises but I couldn’t even passive hang, let alone do a basic chin up or pull up.

It was a miserable 8 weeks of wondering if I’d ever recover and having to work around it all the time.

Why did it happen? Working too intensely and in too cold an environment.

What should I have done? Either reduced the difficulty (typewriter chin ups or higher rep two arm chin ups) OR, abandon the session altogether and try again tomorrow. It takes a brave man to pull the plug and accept slipping a day or two behind schedule in today’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ society, but sometimes you just have to. Especially if longevity is your ultimate aim.

The point here is: if it’s colder than normal, adjust your routine to reflect this. Add a rep or two to your working rep range. If you’re working sets of 3-5, switch it to 4-6 or 5-7. This is very important if you’re working on heavy pulling, skill work (think levers) or anything like handstand push ups, as the very nature of these moves are heavy and they force longer rest periods for quality set replication.

Reducing the difficulty (progression level) and upping the reps will keep you warmer overall and stop colder tendons and ligaments having to stand up to near maximal forces. This one’s irrespective of training style, too. Heavy squat/deadlift session in the garage? 10% less working weight and 5-10% more reps per set.

Stumbling Block 2 – Sh*tty Warm ups

Warming up seems to be a world of extremes when it comes to outdoor training. Some people do a 30 minute run, 15 minutes of dynamic stretches then spend another 15 minutes rehearsing the moves they’re going to do with lighter versions for super high reps……………then wonder why they feel weak when they finally ‘start’ their session.

Or, you get those who do a few circles of the arms and a very minimalist limber up and then jump straight into their heavy sets, only to wonder why everything hurts and their 5 rep max feels like a one rep max.

In my experience, it’s the lack of core temperature that trips you up. Mobilisation and dynamic stretches are great – so are scapula drills and various holds etc but unless you’re already warm and the blood is pumping, you’ll never enjoy the full benefits the aforementioned activities.

The classic way to do this is a 3-5 minute run/jog. While that’s Ok, I much prefer to be more specific. What we do is a 5 exercise circuit including most major movement patterns (vertical pull/push, horizontal pull/push & a stability exercise – a ring support hold in this case). We do 1 rep of each/5 seconds on the hold and add a rep each round until we get to 3/15 seconds, then come back down to one.

This works amazingly well and by the time you’re at 3 reps you feel warm and can almost be sweating. The only rest you take is while your partner(s) do their reps. You can do this with bodyweight movements or barbell movements, keep it in line with the type of training you intend to be doing as much as possible.

(SIDE NOTE: For barbell work, ‘barbell complexes’are incredible to warm up with in this kind of situation. You can find some examples in this retro article HERE).

And after we do our mobilisation and movement prep drills. This sounds almost insultingly simple but it’s been a key lesson of mine over the years, training outside in mild-cold environments.

Stumbling Block 3 – Snobby Expectations

The truth is you will not perform as well outdoors in the UK winter season as you would in a heated gym. Fact. While that sounds blatantly obvious again, think about it, do your expectations reflect this fact? Or do you still want the same rate of progress you’d expect to see inside a gym?

In an eerie way these 3 points all feed into each other………….

You still want the very best and highest results so you keep the intensity super high……….

You skip warming up properly to save energy for the main workout, so you can crush the work sets……….

Yet all that happens is you perform under your best, get frustrated, risk injury/maybe even acquire an injury, tank your confidence for next time and complain that you ‘never progress’.

Of course the little extract above was my life during winter 2016-2017 and I didn’t learn my lesson till long after – many years after in fact but this time around my expectations aren’t snobby, they’re realistic and dare I say it, sensible.

The Round Up!

Hopefully gyms in the UK will be closed for as minimal time as possible but you also have to be prepared for the worst, and the worst may well be this asinine situation lasting until the new year. If it does, outdoor training/garage training will be the option or no training at all, which is a far scarier prospect, right?

Keeping this mini-guidelines in mind will keep you in the game longer and believe me, you can make amazing progress even in seemingly dismal conditions. I’ve done it plenty of times. Are you a doer or an excuse maker?

Either way, you’re choosing.

(P.S. I’ve uploaded a YouTube video discussing this topic and added an intro and outro, along with some neat little in-video edits thanks to my pal, Doug’s editing magic. If you like those discussion videos please subscribe and support my channel, thank you.)

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: