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