You may have been able to stick to an exercise routine during the warmer months, but when temperatures drop, we all have the urge to hibernate. When figuring out the best way to continue exercising in cold weather, the obvious answer is to join a gym. But for those who can’t take things indoors (for instance, if you’re training for a marathon), there are some important exercise and equipment adjustments you can make so you can safely brave the cold.
In winter, warming up is more important than ever. Consider adding time to your warm-up, and starting indoors so you already feel warm when you step outside. After you warm up, don’t stop to stretch, as your body will cool down again quickly. Similarly, it’s best to cool down inside.
The biggest enemy of warmth during winter workouts isn’t the cold air; it’s moisture. Peripheral vasoconstriction, a process where the body slows the amount of blood reaching the skin’s surface and heat leaving the body, is your natural defense against cold temperatures – but it’s not enough. Stay dry as you exercise by wearing moisture-wicking clothing for the layer closest to your body, as cotton will stay wet. Over this, dress in layers that you can easily remove as your body heats up.
It’s just as important not to wear too much clothing, as it will both weigh you down and cause dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to dress as though it’s 15 or 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. Another key piece of gear is a hat. Peripheral vasoconstriction doesn’t affect your head, meaning that’s where your body loses most of its heat.
While training in cold weather is generally safe, the low temperatures do pose some challenges and your body needs extra time to adjust to the changes. You may slouch forward to avoid the feeling of cold, but it’s important to maintain good form and posture when running, as slouching can lead to injury. Joints feel tighter and may ache due to the drop in barometric pressure. Muscles lose more heat in the winter months and contract, forcing them to work harder than they did before. All of these things mean that you’ll likely feel more sore than usual after cold weather workouts.
Finally, remember to stay hydrated. You may feel cold, but your body is still sweating; it’s a good idea to make an even bigger effort to drink water at regular intervals when exercising outdoors. Be more mindful of your food intake as well. Muscles that have to work harder in the cold will need more carbohydrates to stay properly fueled during workouts and will need to have more replaced afterward.
Be patient as you adjust, and above all, listen to your body. Heading outdoors with a case of the sniffles is fine if you feel otherwise healthy, but take a break and rest if you have a fever. With a few modifications, you can easily continue your outdoor workouts in winter weather.