Winter Exercise Tips | How to Workout Safely During the Cold Weather
While the Starks once famously intoned that “Winter is Coming” it’s safe to say that winter is here and has it’s icy claws dug into stay. Though you don’t have to worry about running into a horde of white walkers while out for a jog, there are safety concerns to keep in mind when working out in the cold weather.
It’s also important to understand that not all cold is created the same. The wind chill on the coast of Nova Scotia is going to be drastically different than the dry cold in Northern Alberta. Additionally, what you perceive as cold in South Carolina will be much warmer than what’s defined as cold in Minnesota.
Here are some of the important considerations to think about when preparing for a cold-weather workout as well as some easy to follow winter exercise tips.
Understand Wind Chill
If you live in an area with wind chill, then you already know how much it sucks (that’s a scientific term). For those who don’t have wind chill, it’s when the weatherman tells you that it’s cold, but the wind actually makes it much colder by not-so-subtly blowing the cold air in your face. It’s often presented as “today we will experience a low of -20 Celsius, but it will feel like -30 with the wind chill.” If it feels that way, it is that way, BECAUSE I FEEL THAT WAY!
Ahem. I digress.
The wind chill is impacted by the temperature of the air and the speed of the wind. The colder and windier it is, the worse the wind chill will be, and the more dangerous exercising outside gets.
A good rule of thumb is that when the pre-wind chill temperature is below -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit), you need to worry about your exposed skin. Anywhere above that threshold, and there’s not too much worry as long as you're dressed properly (more on that later). For pre-wind chill temperatures of -30 Celsius (-34 Fahrenheit), you should just stay the heck indoors.
Protecting Your Body
There are those that hate training outdoors in the winter, while others hate training in the summer. Some hate both but do it anyway. For me, I loved running in the winter as opposed to the summer. Despite being someone who can sit on their couch on a hot summer night wearing sweatpants and long sleeves, once my blood gets pumping I overheat quickly. Thus, it can be tempting to remove all outerwear while running in cold temperatures, which is always a bad idea.
To protect your body from the cold while training, wearing layers is key. You’ll want to include:
A moisture-wicking layer of clothing - this is crucial in the colder weather, as that accumulation of sweat from your hard work can cool down quickly and bring you down with it.
Gloves - start your training wearing gloves to protect your hands. You may end up taking them off later if you get overheated, but try to wear them as long as possible. For those who require a bit of grip during their outdoor training, there are plenty of glove options that offer traction.
Head and face protection - your head is a key place for trapping heat and maintaining a warm temperature. Wear a beanie or touque to start your training session or invest in a thinner, athletic style cap that will keep you warm without getting you overheated. If it’s cold enough that skin exposure is a concern, wear a balaclava or face mask to protect your skin. Protecting your face also means protecting your lungs!
Wind and waterproof outer layer - Sometimes a simple windbreaker will do the trick to keep the cold air or moisture at bay. If you’re out often, however, consider something a little more substantial.
Socks - socks are a tough one when training outdoors. On the one hand, you want something that will keep your sensitive extremities warm, especially since you don’t have a lot of footwear options for training. On the other hand, you don’t want to get overheated. It’s best to default to thermal socks as you have different layers you can remove or open up if necessary. If you do a few sessions and find that they’re unbearable, swap them out for something thinner.
You may have to try a few things out and see what works for you while training outdoors. By incorporating layers, it’s possible to remove some items without interrupting your training. If you aren’t proactive when training in the winter weather, you could end up with hypothermia or frost bite, so be vigilant and be safe.
While hydration is often prioritized during summer training, it’s also important to pay attention to your water intake during cold weather exercise. You may not feel like you’re sweating much, but you are. Some ways to stay hydrated during cold weather exercise include:
Ensuring you’re adequately hydrated before your training session.
Drinking warm or tepid water during training to help keep your core body temperature balanced.
Add in electrolytes if training for over an hour or doing high-intensity bursts.
Monitor weight fluctuations post-training to ensure you’re replacing what you’ve lost (usually around 1 liter of water for each kilogram of body weight lost).
Make cold weather training day a soup eating day, as it will warm your bones, bring your body temperature back up, and the sodium will help you retain fluids.
Hot chocolate is a perfectly acceptable post-workout drink as it provides carbohydrates to replenish your fuel sources, heat, and hydration.
Whether you’re spending time at the gym with your personal trainer or getting your heart rate up while exercising outdoors, hydration is always a priority.
Maintaining Your Training
It can be challenging to stick with your exercise routine during the winter months, especially for runners who prefer getting outdoors to spending hours on the treadmill at home or in they gym. It can also be challenging to keep up your motivation when faced with cold, dark mornings and mental health implications such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Try to boost your motivation by signing up for an event in the early spring, so that you feel obligated to train throughout the colder months. Listen to the weatherman regarding the temperature, and opt to be safe rather than sorry if it gets too cold.
Another important consideration when training during the winter months is ice. Ice can not only make you feel foolish when you hit a patch while running, but it can also result in concussions and broken bones, which will only make the cold season harder.
If you can’t get outside to complete your training due to the stupid wind chill, amp up your cross-training at home or at the gym to maintain your strength and endurance or look into local walking tracks. Creating a new exercise routine for the winter months, or trying winter activities like cross-country skiing and ice skating are fun ways to get moving with the whole family and offset the winter blues. This might also be the prime time to invest in a personal trainer to help you stay on track during the winter weather.
Do you have experience training outdoors in the winter? Share your winter exercise tips and thoughts in the comments.