Lifting In A Cold Garage

After writing about training outside in the winter, I’ve received several questions about lifting in a cold garage. And while similarities certainly exist, there are also distinct differences between training inside and out. Personally, the greatest difference for me is that I prefer to lift weights in the garage. When I train outside, I am more likely to be running, performing calisthenics, and lifting odd objects.

Based on the questions that I’ve received, it appears that many readers of the site follow a similar approach. As a result, it is no surprise that the two most common inquiries were in regards to handwear and the options that exist for heating a garage. I will address both of those questions within this entry.

I train in the morning. It is the only time of the day that works for me. Therefore, I am quite familiar with training in the cold. Most of my lifting takes place during the coldest hours of the day. This morning the gym temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit (which is -15 Celsius). Believe it or not, I was actually quite comfortable and I do not use heat. And for those who think I’m crazy, one reader of the site messaged me today after training in his -20 degree Fahrenheit garage. My 5 degrees sounds balmy in comparison.

The reason that I don’t use heat is that it takes too long for the temperature to rise. I would literally need to start heating the garage in the middle of the night for any noticeable change by early morning. Like many garages, mine is not well insulated. As a result, much of the heat is lost. I’ve tried to heat it in the past but the cost to do so wasn’t something I was willing to pay. I eventually figured out that it is easier and less expensive to dress appropriately.

In regards to clothing, I dress similar to how I would when training outside. As mentioned before, I dress in layers and find it particularly important to have warm hands, feet, and ears. I wear thick socks, a winter hat, and I warm my hands in between sets with gloves. I do not wear the gloves for most exercises however. The lack of gloves during each set is a key difference between training inside and out. If I am outside swinging a sledgehammer, lifting odd objects, or performing calisthenics, gloves don’t interfere. When I’m lifting heavy dumbbells or barbells, gloves can become a problem.

Now some may argue that lifting weights with gloves will challenge the grip therefore could be a plus. I don’t disagree, but when lifting maximal loads, I don’t want to be limited by my hands. Others may counter that tight fitting work gloves will not interfere with grip. For certain exercises I would agree but the best gloves in the world are not as good as the hands. This is particularly true with exercises that involve pulling maximal loads (ex. deadlifts, rows, snatches, etc.). With such movements, I want to grip the bar with my skin and lift as much weight as possible. The problem for some is that the bars get so cold that they become uncomfortable to grip. Fortunately, it is not difficult to remedy this problem. All that you’ll need is a hair dryer. I typically warm the bar for a minute or two before it is ready to lift. Once I have performed a few sets, I rarely need to use it again. Not only will my hands adapt to the cold, they also help to warm the bar. In between sets, I wear heavy gloves to warm the hands while resting.

Warming cold weights for lifting

In addition to the hair dryer, I suggest using chalk for all of your lifts. Chalk provides an extra layer between your hands and the bar. You won’t need much to notice the difference. Even a small amount of chalk can make cold bars much more tolerable to hold and lift.

Weight lifting chalk

The combination of dressing in layers, chalking up the hands, and warming the bar makes for a happy lifter. My lifting does not suffer, nor does my wallet.

Cold weather garage lifting

As for those who don’t believe it is possible to adjust to cold temperatures, I ask you to consider the following. If you live in a cold climate, you have likely shoveled your share of snow. When you begin shoveling, you walk outside and it is cold. You haven’t yet adjusted to the temperature. Once you begin shoveling, it usually doesn’t take long before you begin to warm up. It happened to me today. It was freezing outside at four in the morning. When I started shoveling, I was numb. A few minutes later, I had to unzip my jacket slightly. Shoveling snow at a brisk pace creates heat. The same thing happens when y0u exercise in the cold. It may be cold initially, but after a few minutes of exercise, you begin to adapt (hence the importance of dressing in layers).

If you can warm up when shoveling the driveway, you can certainly warm up while exercising. I’d much rather wear a few extra layers and warm up a few extra minutes than need to work extra hours to pay for heat. Some may call my approach crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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“We are all manufacturers. Making good, making trouble, or making excuses.” – H. V. Adolt

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33 comments:

  1. Right on Ross! The windchill up here in Ottawa was -36 celsius last night. My garage was a touch warmer than that, but I still managed to get in a good workout of weighted dips and chin-ups. If anything, the cold just means you cut the rest periods between sets a bit shorter. Like you said, we warm up quickly. And in a garage, there’s no wind so it can’t ever get that bad! I use leather motorcycle gloves or thin rubberized mechanic’s gloves. They’re thin enough to still feel connected to the bar, but enough insulation to help with the cold. Also, people could consider using parking garages. On my lunch break today it was still -26 outside and quite slippery, but I wanted to do sprints. The parking garage at my office is probably sitting at around the freezing mark, with no snow or wind. That’s pretty much the perfect conditions for sprint intervals. Nice long (100yards maybe) stretches of dry concrete even in the dead of winter, free for the taking!

  2. I train in my garage and am in the midwest, so I’m used to the cold as well. Most of the time I train without heat, however, when I deem it necessary I use my propane tank top heater. It works wonderfully and is quite economical, I bought it at harbor freight for no more than $30 for those out there that like some heat every once in a while.

  3. I use rubberized work gloves when it gets in the -15C range (lots of that in Ontario this year) I get them on the small side so they’re tight and have had no problems with grip doing cleans and snatch.
    If it has snowed shoveling my 90′ driveway is a good warm up. Also training on the heavy bag as it’s easy to start slow and increase intensity until nice and toasty to get into the core of my workout.

    Cheers Folks

  4. Huh, I never thought to use a hair dryer to warm the bar up. I did squats tonight and it was 0 degrees out, and you’re right, I was sweating by the end! Still, the hair dryer would be a big help on deadlift day when gloves would get in the way. (They don’t usually matter much to me for squatting.)

  5. @Shaun – I own similar gloves. The best gloves in the world aren’t as good as actual hands however, particularly for heavy lifts such as deadlifts. I also don’t find these gloves to be very warm when the temperature is at or below zero. I’d rather warm the bar and use thicker gloves to keep my hands warm in between sets.

  6. Ross, what are those interlocking tiles on your garage floor made of? They look like just the thing I need for my garage. Can they withstand a barbell being dropped on them?

  7. Take a look at old photos of Scott and Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole and it’s not uncommon to see photos of the men working in shirtsleeves and vests despite being below freezing. Their bodies eventually adapted to working in the cold.

  8. I work out in a timber-framed barn year round and have for years. The fact that you are inside a building, even with no insulation, helps by stopping the wind and making your workout take place in the actual air temp. Teens and low 20s are really comfortable with the right layers. I feel that working out in the extreme lows in winter and highs of summer allow me to tackle whatever comes along when I walk out of those doors and back to life!

  9. I train mostly outside because I don´t have a garage and I train strongman events such as farmers walks, yoke walk, log press etc. Today I did a good front squat workout in -23 celcius (I live in Finland). I did heavy 6 sets x 5 reps and it was ok. You just need warm up properly and wear enough clothes.

    I wear neophrene sleeves in my back, knees and elbows. Today I had three layers of clothes and I was all sweaty when I finished.

    Tomorrow is event training day for me with sandbag carries, farmers walk and yoke. I´ll try to take some video of that workout and post it to Youtube.

    Have a nice winter training everyone!

  10. Well written Ross. I agree, and I also enjoy working out/ exercising outdoors in the not so extremely cold wintertime. Lately it’s been 0 or well below and that’s a little too cold, especially with the wind to do wall balls and what not outside. I do like running outside in the snow with my dog in the hills and mountains whenever it’s possible as well. Just go for a while, sweat it up and play. I don’t always think that getting a good workout requires equipment or even sets and reps.. just go out and have fun and work your body sometimes till you’re tired and sweaty.
    I do really like the hair dryer idea for the bar. I think that would be a great initial solution and allow me to use the bar in the garage when it gets cold out. I just bought a house and I will, in the spring, be expanding the garage to allow for 2 cars and a gym. I’ll probably have to move at least 1 car out to really do a workout, but that’s no big deal. I love our community YMCA as well… great local place and they don’t mind when I bring my rings in, or my kettlebell, or wallball. Cool group of people. The general manager guy already talked to me about possibly creating a fitness class (can’t call it CrossFit, but I’ll be implementing CF concepts and I’ll be mixing it all up and getting everyone exposed to real movements and pushing hard.)
    Nice article… keep em coming my man.

  11. @Juha – Great work!

    @John – I use interlocking 3/4 inch anti fatigue mats. I’ve had them for years. They work very well. If you opt for something similar, I highly recommend 3/4 inch over the more commonly sold 1/2 inch. 1/2 inch will slide much easier.

    @Marcelus – I bring some of the bands indoors during the very cold months. I am actually writing an update to this entry which will address this question and more. I will get it finished tomorrow.

  12. Ross,
    Do you still spar or roll bjj?

    It’s cool to see a Coach who mixes it up with his athletes.

    This is an education and motivational blog.

    1. @Greg – Most of my ring time is me holding mitts, but I have rounds where I switch from holding mitts to throwing punches back (ex. digging the body, getting physical with the fighter, etc.). Such work is the most physically taxing for the fighter so it’s a great way for them to get ready (particularly since I’m bigger/heavier than many of them).

  13. Ross and Readers-

    What’s your opinion on novice lifters? To be honest I feel inadequate in the gym because I’m not lifting heavy barbell loads- so should I just focus on building myself up to intermediate or complex body weigt moves to prevent injury with the free weights?

    Is it better to build a good foundation with body weight training and lighter resistance like dumbells and machines at the gym prior to even worrying about lifting heavier loads with barbells?

    Like if a guy can’t do 50 consecutive push-ups or 80 sit-ups or 8 pull ups or 5 hand stand push-ups he should leave the heavier barbell loads alone???

    1. @Al – Take a look through some of the archived stories within the blog and you’ll see athletes who never use free weights. The possibilities that exist with bodyweight exercise are virtually endless. The decision to use free weights is really more a matter of interest/preference. Much of my training is still bodyweight based. I just mix things up as I’ve trained for so long that I enjoy new/different challenges.

  14. Couldn’t imagine lifting in the cold like that. Im from south florida so i wouldn’t adapt well haha. Keep it up bro, you’re a beast!

  15. I am a 65 year old grandmother. I was talking with my husband this morning, trying to get his input on what I could do for my lifting when the garage gets super cold in the wintertime. In the past, I’ve given up. Then it occurred to me to Google it and I found this very encouraging article. Thank you! My rule is, if it is lighting, or below 20 degrees F, I don’t go out jogging, but otherwise, I do. So, I jog 3 times a week and lift 3 times a week. It helps me feel strong and healthy, and makes everything else easier. I am thinking about also making a “rice bag” in the shape of V-neck collar, something thin that I could heat in the microwave and drape it around my neck to just take the chill off. Kind of like putting a cold washrag on the back of your neck when you get too hot working outside… same principle. Anyway, just a thought. I’ll probably give that a try. Thank you for your help!

  16. Came across your site while attempting to Google if there were any disadvantages to muscle growth and recovery when lifting weights in cold temperatures. I also lift in my garage and really don’t wanna buy a heater. After the blood start pumping, the cold actually does feel kinda nice and that’s coming from a guy who hates cold weather.

  17. Well I understand , I am from Michigan and found that my walmart 24″ space heater works out great for warming the bar. I just turn it on 1/2 hr. before going out keeping it about 10″ from the bar at an angle, so by the time I get out there I am ready to go, just keeping it on, and after my set of Deadlifts having the heater a foot away, then rolling it back to begin another set. I only do my Deads in the garage , I am fortunate to have my other stuff inside,just cant drop 500+ pounds in the house.

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