Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 05:13 pm
Baby, It’s Cold Outside!
As I write this article, it’s early November and 32 degrees outside. My morning walks are marked by newly formed frost and the flowers and warm weather of summer are a fading memory. It’s time to settle in for another dark, cold winter season.
For me, winter marks a change in my activities. It’s a period during which I tend to dedicate an increasing amount of time to weight training. That means my well used garage gym will see even more use than normal. That also means it’s time to ensure my workout space is ready for winter.
Many of us have our gyms in non climate controlled areas of our homes. Unfinished basements and garages (both attached and unattached) are some of the most common places to build a home gym. They also tend to be the coldest spots in our homes once cold weather hits.
Having a home gym that reminds you of the arctic tundra is one of the surest ways to keep you from working out.
Aside from being cold and possibly not using your gym at all, there is another hidden danger to having a cold gym. Cold air can cause your muscles to become unnecessarily tight. A proper warm up can go a long way towards preventing injury and offsetting the cold air in your fitness space.
No matter what, always warm up before working out, weight training, or performing other intense physical activity. That becomes even more important when it’s cold!
But why make things harder on yourself? Having a moderately warm place to work out is not only more comfortable, but it will help keep you loose, warm, and hopefully injury free.
7 steps to winterizing your garage or basement gym:
1. Install proper flooring…
If you look down and see bare cement, you are asking for a cold place to work out. Cement is one of the worst types of flooring you can have when it comes to keeping your gym warm.
Once cement gets cold, it’s not getting warm again until the spring. It’s like having your workout equipment sitting directly on a slab of ice. Little else will cool your space quicker than a cold cement floor.
Add to this, anything that touches the floor will end up just as cold as the floor itself. Your bench, your power rack, your weights, everything. It all ends up cold when sitting on a cement floor.
The cure is to lay down a proper gym floor. Not sure what kind of flooring to use? Check out my “Ultimate guide to home gym flooring” for details and recommendations. One thing I only briefly touched on in that article, though, are the insulation benefits of a proper floor.
If you don’t want to read that entire article, the short answer is to install rubber flooring. It comes either in tiles (I recommend these found on Amazon) or sheets (these are amazingly good, and also available on Amazon). Rubber is the perfect floor for your gym in every way and that includes keeping your gym insulated from a cold cement floor!!!
Install a good, insulating floor in your gym. You’ll fee the difference almost immediately!
Take a look around your basement or garage. Better yet, walk around it on a cold day. You’ll feel exactly where cold air is coming in. If you spend just a little time and money insulating those spots, you’ll make a huge impact on the temperature of your workout area. There are a few basics things almost everyone can do.
If you have an insulated door, you’re a step ahead of the rest of us. If not, that thin metal door is doing almost nothing to keep your garage from mimicking the inside of a refrigerator. One of the best things I ever did was to insulate my door.
The image below is from when I cut my own tiles. I’ll be redoing this this summer (keep an eye out for a YouTube video on the process!) and will be using this kit recommended over on Amazon. It looks much nicer and should provide an even higher level of protection!
Another area of concern is the seal along the bottom of your door. If it is worn, replace it. If it doesn’t cover the entire width of the door (like mine didn’t), add a piece of weatherstripping on both or either side to fill in the open area. Your local home improvement store can show you exactly what to use.
Finally, check the sides and top. Often there is a wide open space between the frame of the door and the door itself. This is a prime place for cold air to pour into your garage. Weatherstripping this part of your door is a bit more challenging, but well worth the effort. Bring a picture of your specific door and needs to your local home improvement store and they can show you exactly what to use to fix your specific issue.
Even if you have double pane, low E, insulated windows, they can still let in a lot of cold. In many garages and basements, we don’t even have insulated windows. Covering the windows in your home with plastic window film is always a good idea for energy efficiency. It’s an equally great idea in your gym space. Every year, I order some for my house on Amazon (this kit by 3M has been my staple for years).
It’s not uncommon for a garage or unfinished basement to have at least one or more exterior walls that aren’t insulated. Spending an afternoon with a few rolls of fiberglass insulation will do wonders to prevent the cold from creeping in here. This is another area where taking a picture to your local home improvement store will set you on the right path to correcting the issue.
One last place that can benefit from some additional insulation is any exterior doors into your workout space. Check both the windows in these doors (if they have them) as well as the weather stripping along the frame and the kick plate. Poorly weather sealed doors are a big culprit in many cold home gyms.
Light a candle
One final check of your space can be done with a candle. Head out to your home gym and light a candle. Then walk around the space and use the candle to check for any unwanted cold drafts or air flow you might have missed. Even after doing a thorough job on your windows and doors, you might be surprised to find that there are still unwanted drafts ushering cold air in where you don’t want it. Using the candle test, you can find and then seal those hidden problem areas.
3. Bring the heat!!!
So you’ve insulated all your doors and windows? You’ve plugged up all the drafty areas you can find. You’ve put down a nice thick floor. Now what?
In addition to keeping the cold out, insulation has another wonderful benefit. It keeps warm air in. That means that you can do a lot to improve the comfort of your home gym with a small (or sometimes not so small) heater.
Not only will a heater warm up your space as a whole, but a well positioned heater can heat up your equipment too. It’s no fun to do pull ups on a cold bar. Same goes for putting a cold bar on your back for squats! Position the heater so it blows on these items and warms them up for you.
My favorite heater is the Dr. Infrared portable. You can check the current price here on Amazon.
I like this because it works unbelievably quickly and is safe if I leave it unattended for a while. I’ll often turn it on a little before working out so that it has time to warm the space. Knowing I’ve chosen an option that won’t burn my house down is important to me!
It’s got a remote, so I don’t even have to go all the way into my garage to turn it on. This is the fourth or fifth space heater I’ve tried and it’s by far the best option. You’ll read some articles that say you need big expensive radiant heaters for your home gym. That’s simply not the case! This Dr. Infrared puts out air at 255 degrees and will warm the coldest garage or basement!
If that’s a little much for your space, I also recommend these smaller Vornado heaters. We use them where I work and I can tell you they pack a lot of heat in a small package! They won’t heat your entire area, but they are good for spot warming and warming your rack and barbell.
4. Move the warm up inside…
In order to benefit from having a heater in your gym, you’ll have to give that heater time to work. If you’re weight training smartly, you are also warming up before lifting. What I do in the winter months is move that warm up inside to a warmer spot in my home. I’ll go turn the heater on, come in and warm up, and then hit my gym once it has warmed up.
If all I’m doing is using my treadmill, I probably won’t worry about this. If I’m weight training, it’s as regular as clockwork and I use my yoga/meditation studio (located in a well heated area of my home) for my winter weight training day warmups.
5. Dressing the part…
In the summer and warmer months, I like to work out in shorts and either a t-shirt or no shirt (one of the benefits of working out at home!). When it gets cold, that’s not going to work. Especially since my garage gym gets a pretty icy on the coldest of days.
For that reason, I keep some sweats and a hoody on hand just outside my garage (where it’s still warm!). I also tend to upgrade my socks to something just a little thicker and more insulated. It all goes back to being comfortable. The more comfy I am, the more likely I am to actually work out.
This might seem like an obvious tip, but as I pointed out in my definitive guide to cleaning your gym article, having things convenient and close by is often the difference between doing and not doing. Set yourself up for success and get those warm clothes out, ready for use, and as close to where you workout as possible.
6. Little helpers…
One final tip for you.
I live in Northeastern Illinois. It can get brutally cold here in the winter. So much so that despite my insulation, flooring, space heater, and heavier clothes, my garage can still get kind of cold.
With the right clothing, I can usually tough it out. But when the handles of my weights and kettlebells get cold, that means my hands get really cold. And when my hands get really cold, so does the rest of me. Not to mention my grip is pretty much toast.
That’s why I keep a box of hand warmers close by in the winter. I use these bad boys all the time and one of my favorite uses is for working out. I’ll put one in each pocket so I can warm my hands between sets. I’ll also set them on my kettlebells, dumbbells, or pull up bar. That warms my gear up to a useable temperature and is one of my favorite cold weather hacks.
7. Bring it inside…
If all else fails, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ll stop using my freezing cold garage space. Sometimes it’s just too much and I don’t want to have to mess around with heating the room or dressing warmer.
In those cases I simply modify my workouts. I’ll bring (and keep) my kettlebells inside and get a workout in that way (Not sure if kettlebells are right for you? Check out my full article here). I try my hardest not to skip workouts. That means doing whatever it takes to always get them in. If that means forgoing my normal training for the day and substituting something else in, so be it.
That’s a wrap!
That’s everything I’ve done to keep my garage gym warm in the winter. Hopefully at least a couple of those tips has helped you.