Garages are awesome for gyms. We all know that. You can get some rubber flooring down, throw things around, have your own space…
But with Winter, for places that get a real Winter with snowpack, comes a bit of a problem. That being, it’s hard to get warm enough to do heavy lifting, and anything metal feels like you just dusted the snow off it.
Getting your garage warm enough to be bearable means your workout actually stays fun and you don’t have to spend most of your time doing a ridiculous amount of warmups before you can start lifting. Even getting it up to 50F can be amazing when you’re comparing it to freezing temperatures outside.
The problem isn’t you. You’re a mammal. You get cold. So it is, and so shall it be.
So before you go changing what you’re wearing or how you do your workout, see if you can make your garage more habitable.
These first couple tips are assuming you’re ok with spending some money.
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Here’s the best “throw money at it” solution. A space heater can do a lot.
The easy answer is the Lasko Ceramic Tower Heater, which is a good convection heater.
The long answer is…
FYI, there are two types of space heaters: convection heaters and radiant heaters.
- Convection heater – This is what you want for a cold garage. It’s also called a forced-air heater. It warms the air with a ceramic heating element and blows it out with a fan that makes some noise.
- Radiant heater – Not for warming up a garage quickly. Works ok for the rest of the home, because there’s no noise. A radiant heater shines invisible infrared rays and warms objects that the rays hit, the same way sunlight does. Unlike a convection heater, it does not warm the air directly. It can take hours to have an effect on the air in the room.
That’s why I recommend a convection heater. Below is an alternative to save on heating cost…
This Dyna-Glo propane convection heater is a convection heater like the Lasko tower heater. Propane is 70% cheaper per BTU of heat than an electrically-powered heater!
The thing with the Dyna-Glo is you need a propane tank and an electric fan to blow the air around (the Lasko has a built-in fan). So you’re spending more up front with a propane heater… unless you already have propane and a fan just waiting to be used. A efficient fan doesn’t use much electricity itself, and the propane heater with electric fan will still result in a lower heating bill than an electric heater.
An hour with any space heater will do the trick. Just plan ahead and turn it on a while before you start your workout and you’re good to go… IF your garage is insulated. See below.
Once you start messing with this stuff, you have to go all the way and do a complete job or it doesn’t do much good.
So heating is all well and good, but if you do that, you’re being silly if your garage door isn’t insulated. It’s a sheet of steel. The bitter cold transfers right through it by convection or science or whatever. It stops your warm air from being blown out immediately by the wind, and that’s about it.
Insulating it is easy to do yourself and effective at trapping heat. This garage door insulation kit gets good reviews. Try it and see. Should be fine. But yeah, it costs money. You pay a price for your American comforts, sir.
This is also a form of insulation in this context.
Rubber flooring is great for gyms. It helps everything. Protects your equipment, saves your floor, and yes, keeps you warm and toasty. Insulating your floor with rubber is the same principle by which campers lay their -20F sleeping bags on a sleeping pad to stop their body heat from transferring into the ground.
Make Your Barbell a House Guest
Your steel barbell has pretty much turned into a knurled icicle. Unload the bar and take it into your cozy home that’s supplied with a fireplace and explain to your significant other how it’s necessary for the bar’s survival. That way, like you, it will only get as cold as the air it’s living in.
If you have a cable machine with lat pulldown bars and such, the cable bars with rubber grips are ideal. You have to give up the old-school knurling, but rubber really is one of the modern conveniences. Or tricep ropes or straps. All good. Gripping bare cold steel will make your hands unable to function.
Fun With a Hairdryer
A hairdryer gives you more focused heat than a space heater. Run it over the bar and it should only take a minute to warm it to the bone. Alternatively, a heat gun. But that’s a lot of heat. Could be bad for the finish. Really, just use a hairdryer.
Another Excuse to Chalk Up
Chalk is messy and badass. Remember what we learned above about insulation. A layer of chalk between your hands and the bar (or dumbbells) is the same kind of thing and does make a difference.
Frostbite-Proof Your Hands
Insulation and ambient heat works, but you’re already a heat factory, and keeping your body heat up and hoarding your heat like Smaug hoards gold is a good move.
Gloves add padding between you and the bar, messing up your grip strength to ruin any exercise that challenges your grip like deadlifts. If you aren’t doing one of those exercises, there’s no reason not to save your hands by wearing gloves. You’re at home, after all, and you don’t have to suffer through Rippetoe’s tongue-lashing.
However, Mechanix gloves are fairly thin, cheap, tough, and actually give you a good grip. They’re made for mechanics who need dexterous fingers in the Winter.
Nice wool mittens between sets are also smart to start off with while you warm up.
I am assuming that you, having learned to live in temperatures that will kill any exposed hairless animal, have learned about modern technology like layers, synthetics, and wool. So do that. Get base layers, mid layers, and outer layers, and layer up so you can start shedding them as you warm, until you’re down to your skimmies and have a range of motion unrestricted by Winter clothes as you really get going. That’s ideal.
And a wool cap won’t get in the way. Merino wool socks are good too. I have three pairs of the Smartwool Trekking socks for cold weather.
A Pain-in-the-Ass Winter Warmup
A set of curls, a few jumping jacks, and you’re warmed up. Because you’re a badass. You’re 14 and your friends are impressed that you’re in such good shape that you’re ready to start lifting heavy just like that.
In weather like this, when you step into your gym you’re no longer your biological age. You’ve got cold feet and stiff joints like a 60 year old. So act like it.
You know what’s worse than the pain in the ass of doing all this warming up?
Also, pulled muscles, pain, and hobbling around in the cold for four weeks skipping leg workouts because you were stupid. That’s what you’ll get.
Derek did that. And Derek is a pro.
Start slow. No sudden movements. Do any of these.
- Jumping jacks
- Jogging in place
- Wide ROM shoulder rotations
- Jump rope
- Any cardio machine – Rower, elliptical, indoor bike
- Riding a real bicycle, if you have the courage to go outside
- Air squats
- Super light lifting for high reps
- Kettlebell swings
Unless you’re carrying a lot of extra bodyweight, it will take you FOREVER to get warm enough in freezing weather when you’re doing low intensity warmups. Jack up the intensity when you’re ready, until you’re breathing hard. That will do the trick.
Anything involving added weight in your warmup, go light. Even a little weight is enough to get your heart going and get your core temperature up within a few minutes. The object right now is NOT to go heavy enough that you’re doing warm-up sets of your heavy lifting. That comes next.
The key is your legs. Your leg muscles are big, and if you can get your legs working and even burning a little, you’re on your way to warming up in no time at all.
Warm Up Sets
Congratulations, now you can think about your actual workout.
In reasonable weather you can skip straight to this if you’re a young fellow or fellowess with the warm hands and feet that are a sign of decent circulation and a body that isn’t slowly dying yet. In hardcore Winter, only once you’re feeling warm and flexible should you think about moving on to the workout you intended to do today.
Your Actual Workout
Now you can start working out! Wasn’t that fun? Yes, you might very well spend more time warming up than you do for your actual workout. That’s just what it means to be a badass in the Winter. You have to turn into a cardio bunny and do some heavy lifting on the side.
Also See Nerd Fitness’ excellent article on ways to stay healthy in the Winter.