Running outside during the winter might seem like a less-than-ideal option for cold weather exercise, but you don’t need to be a running diehard to brave the lower temps. In fact, working out in the cold can be a very beneficial activity for all kinds of people, as the cold weather forces your muscles to work harder. This means you’re burning more calories than with the same exercise during warm months. But if you do decide to continue running outside as the temperatures drop, there are some important things to keep in mind to maintain your safety and keep you healthy.
Protect Yourself from the Winter Above
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean the sun never shines (though it sure does rain a lot!). Don’t forget to use sunscreen that protects against UV rays, and throw on a pair of sport sunglasses if it’s bright out.
Colder weather can also mean dry air. Staying hydrated will help deal with this, but using moisturizing cream and lip balm will also keep your skin from cracks and irritations.
Make Like an Onion
Cold weather makes dressing for exercise confusing (leave the house in too little and start cold, wear too much and sweat like crazy after a few minutes), but don’t get overwhelmed. The main rule to follow is to dress like an onion – in layers!
Dressing too warmly will cause you to overheat once you start moving and increase sweat production, which can chill you as it dries on your skin and cause dehydration. Layers let you be more flexible and in better control of your body temperature, and can be changed depending on the intensity of your workout. The layer closest to your skin should be thin and of a synthetic moisture-wicking material, to draw sweat away from your body (steer clear of cotton). Next, a layer of insulation made of fleece or wool.
Depending on the weather condition, you might want to top this with a wind-resistant and waterproof outer layer. Make sure that the fabric is breathable but that the fit is tight. Compression gear increases circulation, supports muscle coordination and helps insulate the body. With the right fit, there’s no chance of a breeze.
Just make sure to bring a change of clothing with you if you’re planning to head out after your run; sweaty synthetic materials tend to hold an odor stinky enough to make you cry – just like onions!
Keep Your Extremities Covered
What your parents always told you as a kid was right – you can lose up to 50% of your body heat through your head! Wear a hat, or at least a headband, while exercising outside. You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes.
Cold weather attacks your fingers, toes, ears and nose more than other parts of your body, as blood travels to warm your core organs. Keep gloves handy and make use of moisture-wicking socks of wool or synthetic materials to keep your feet dry, especially important as running shoes tend to let heat to escape. If you’re most comfortable in thick socks or doubling up, make sure you have a pair of sneakers that allow for extra space. Remember, these sneakers should have substantial traction on the outer soles so that you won’t slip on wet or icy patches.
Get Ready to Face the Cold by Warming Up
Lower temps, tighter muscles. And tighter muscles can mean that really getting into your exercise routine might be more difficult, or even worse, end in injuries. Warm ups are extremely important before running out in the cold.
If you can, start indoors to get your body nice and warm. Run up and down the stairs, do some jumping jacks, or jog around your living room. Either way, incorporate a dynamic warm up into your routine, mixing active stretches and lunges with a brisk walk until your blood is flowing and your body is ready to increase the pace to a full run.
Make Yourself Known
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to update your Facebook status every time you leave the house for a run (though you’re certainly welcome to do so). However, always let someone know your route and your outdoor running schedule.
In addition, winter can mean darker days and low visibility, so avoid dressing in dark clothing while running outside. You want to make sure other people and drivers can see you at all times. Bright layers and reflective gear is especially important if you head out early in the morning or at dusk. Being visible will also help if there is an emergency, and you need assistance – you’ll be easier to find.
Listen to the Weather Report…and Your Body
A simple check of the weather conditions can make your workout much more comfortable and keep you safe.
Advisories of extreme cold, high wind chill or heavy precipitation should encourage you re-think your outdoor exercise plan; layers can only go so far. Don’t be a hero – a couple of days of indoor exercise won’t hurt, but frostbite and hypothermia will.
Additionally, stay in touch with how your body is feeling as you continue through your run. Be aware of your sweat level, whether your clothing is doing what it should (keeping you dry and warm, but not overheated), and make sure your extremities aren’t getting numb.
Cool Down Despite the Cold
Cooling down is always important after a workout; it lowers your chance of muscle soreness and lowers heart stress. So don’t stop and drop just because you exercised in the cold. You’ll get chilled immediately. Instead, slow your pace gradually and then finish with some stretching. Once you’re finished, hop into the shower or change into dry clothing to warm up
Check back next week for Part 3 of our Winter Fitness Series
Wondering what shoes and socks to wear for outdoor running? Need new sneakers with better traction for winter roads? Stop by a SHOES-n-FEET store today to speak to a Certified Shoe Fitter or email Ask the Shoe Fitter!