Exercising in cold weather
Okay, so this is relevant to those in the northern hemisphere right now, but at some point it applies to any one living above or below the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. If you want to stay in shape all year around, you're going to have to brave the elements to train outside.
Even if you own a rowing machine, treadmill, indoor bike or elliptical trainer, if you keep it in the garage or outdoor building you could still find yourself training in low temperatures. The tips below are mostly related to training outdoors but are still useful for using fitness equipment in cool rooms.
So here's some advice on how to prevent injury and avoid the hazards of exercising in winter. But before we get onto the specifics, don't forget to hydrate properly. If may be cold outside but you'll still sweat once you get going - if you're wearing the right apparel (more below).
1. Check the weather forecast and be sensible. If it's going to be minus 10 and you're not used to these conditions, it may be better to not go out at all, or if you're made of tougher stuff, keep your session brief. Also consider the wind chill factor. My Gran used to call it a 'lazy wind', that is, it can't be bothered to go around you, it goes straight through you! If you're running and start to cool down when you still have miles to go, a stiff wind can make it very uncomfortable and could be bad for your health if you're out too long. If it's foggy I never run. And if it's icy or there's several inches of snow underfoot it's probably best to give it a miss. You don't want to slip and injure yourself as it could set you back weeks.
2. Dress sensibly to keep warm, but don't over dress. It's best to wear a number of thin layers so you have the option to take an outer layer off if you get too warm. Modern running apparel is ideal for cold weather as it takes the sweat away from your skin and prevent chaffing and discomfort. Layers will also keep the heat from your body as you workout. Hats and clothes are essential. I'm sure you're aware that you lose a large amount of heat through the top of your head. And if it's windy, you hands will suffer. Avoid wool, I recommend gloves and hats specifically designed for running.
3. Be seen and be safe by wearing reflective gear, even during the day as light can be poor and drivers and other road users may not see you against a dull, winter background.
4. Protect your skin from the elements. Your lips, nose and the part below your earlobes are particularly vulnerable to icy winds. There are plenty of creams and lotions available but I find petroleum jelly is just fine. It's cheap and you can buy it by the bucket full. Just smear it on just before you go out and it will prevent cracked lips and sore delicate parts.
5. Do you warm-up outside to allow yourself to acclimatize to the conditions. Going straight from the warmth into the cold air may cause problems with your breathing. Spend a few minutes gradually increasing your work rate before setting off will make the transition easier.
6. Cool down outside briefly before going back into the warm. I also leave it at least fifteen minutes before I take off my training kit and shower. Going straight from cold air into hot water can lead to what we used to call the 'hot aches'. Best to get your circulation back to normal before getting in the bath or shower.
Training in all sorts of weather is what makes it interesting. The scenery changes with the seasons along with the challenges. But if you prepare well and take the right precautions, the weather shouldn't stop you training unless it's extreme.
And lastly, a word of warning, If you suffer from conditions that effect your circulation, or are asthmatic or have a heart problem, it's best to seek advice from your doctor before facing the elements.
Do you have any tips? Please feel free to share them below.
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Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.