10 best winter fitness workouts

As we near the end of the year, shorter, colder days and the approach of the festive season can combine to put pressure on your running schedule and even sap motivation. The result is that we generally tend to run less during the last few weeks of the year, before starting up again with fresh impetus in January. ‘That’s a shame, because investing just a little time in exercise can reap big rewards,’ says running coach Jeff Galloway.

The workouts here, aimed at runners from beginners up to advanced and varying in duration from 20 minutes to over an hour, are designed to keep your fitness ticking over when training time is limited. They generally involve varying bursts of faster running, so you are keeping some speed in your legs, even though your overall weekly training time might be reduced. ‘These sessions will help offset stress and provide the consistency that makes it easier to resume your regular training after the holidays,’ says Galloway. Try doing them once a week to start next year primed and ready to go. Since you’ll be running in colder conditions, make sure you’re thoroughly warmed up before a session, and think effort, rather than pace.

READ: How interval training works


1/ Surge sets

Level: Intermediate/advanced


Why do it: Brief pace pickups keep speed in your legs without overloading you.

How to do it: Warm up for 10 minutes, then do pickups (short intervals at a faster pace): 2 x 90 seconds, 4 x 60 seconds, 4 x 30 seconds, then 4 x 15 seconds. Run the 90-second surges at 10K race pace. With the later pickups, go a little faster until you’re running the final set at mile race pace. Recover between each pickup with a jog of the same duration. Feel free to adjust your pace on the go. 


2/ 30-20-10

Level: All


Why do it: Maintains fitness and speed in a 30-minute workout. Alternating periods of all-out running with blocks of standing recovery causes big swings 
in heat production 
in the body – this workout reduces that with continual shifts between easy, steady and hard running.

HOW TO DO IT: After warming up for 10 minutes, jog for 30 seconds, run steadily for 20 seconds, then fast for 10 seconds. Repeat the whole 60-second sequence five times, then
 take a two-minute recovery jog.
 Repeat the set
 three or four times.


3/ 5-4-3-2-1

Level: All


Why do it: Stay
 fit in the off-season with this fartlek-style countdown. 

How to do it: Jog at a steady pace for 20 minutes, then run pickups of five, four, three, two and one minute(s), each followed by a recovery jog of the same duration. Jog for 20 minutes at a steady pace to finish the session. There’s no pressure to hit certain times, but spending a total of 15 minutes at a swift pace midrun will help maintain your fitness during the colder months, 
as well as your ability to focus
 on your speed. 


4/ Even Steven

Level: Advanced


Why do it: Covers bases from endurance to speed in a single session, and improves effort awareness.

How to do it: This workout is about effort rather than pace, so don’t rely on your GPS. Warm up, then do the following, in order: run for 10 minutes at marathon effort; jog for two minutes; run for eight minutes at half-marathon effort; jog for four minutes; run for six minutes at 10K effort; jog for six minutes; run for four minutes at 5K effort; jog for eight minutes; run for two minutes at slightly faster than 5K effort; jog for 10 minutes to cool down.


5/ Easy plus three

Level: Intermediate/advanced


Why do it: This workout preserves your endurance 
and strength, and 
is a good preparation for race-specific training sessions.

How to do it: Run most of an eight-to-10-mile route at a comfortable pace (if you are gasping for air, ease off a little), but crank up the speed by 45-60 seconds per mile with two miles to go (or three, if you think you can maintain the effort). This is also a good workout to do after a break following a long training cycle.


6/ One off, one on

Level: Beginner/intermediate


Why do it: A good ‘bridge’ between winter downtime and
 more structured interval sessions. 

How to do it: After a 10-minute warm-up, run one minute ‘on’ (at a faster pace) and one minute ‘off’ (an easy jog pace) for 20 minutes. Increase the speed of the ‘on’ sections so that by the end of the run you’re at 10K race effort. After two weeks, move up to two minutes on and two off. Keep adding to the duration of the intervals to up the challenge.


7/ Indoor hills

Level: Advanced


Why do it: Strengthen your legs and core when the weather is too bad to train outdoors. 

How to do it: Warm up for 10 minutes, then crank up the incline on a treadmill to 15 per cent (or whatever the machine’s maximum incline is). Do one minute at the hardest pace you can manage (a fast walking pace may be the most you can handle), then reduce the incline to zero and recover for one minute. Follow with two minutes at maximum incline 
and two minutes’ recovery, working up, minute by minute, to five minutes of each.


8/ Playtime 100-strides fartlek

Level: Beginner


Why do it: Working short, faster intervals into training boosts new runners’ fitness and gets you used to varying your pace. 

How to do it: Warm up with a 10-minute jog. Pick up the pace for 10 strides (counted on one leg), then run slowly for 10 strides. Run hard again for 20 strides, then recover with 20 strides. Keep working up in 10-stride increments until you hit 100 strides. Add to the challenge by going back down in 10-stride increments or by increasing the pace. Finish with a five-minute jog to cool down.


9/ 20-minute refresher

Level: Beginner


Why do it: Maintain running fitness with this short, efficient workout from coach Jeff Galloway.

How to do it: On a straight out-and-back route, walk for one minute, then alternate 30 seconds’ walking with 30 seconds’ running for three minutes. For the next six minutes, run/walk using any ratio you want. At the 10-minute mark, turn around. For the next nine minutes, run/walk whatever ratio you’d like, but pick up the pace during the run portion. Cool down for one minute.


10/ Fartlek 8s

Level: Intermediate/advanced


Why do it: Stay acquainted with running fast, but in short bursts. This is a good transitional workout to prepare your body for spring speedwork. 

How to do it: Jog for 15 minutes at a steady pace, then do 8 x 2 minutes moderately hard (around 85 per cent effort), with one minute recovery. Take a five-minute slow jog break, then do 8 x 1 minute hard (90 per cent effort), with two minutes’ recovery. Cool down for five minutes.