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Cold Weather Training

Posted March 25, 2021 by Bellin Health

The season is upon us and the temperature is decreasing. One thing that doesn’t have to decrease along with the temperature is your workouts and physical activity done outside. With a few tips, tricks and pointers you can enjoy training outside in the cold until the springtime sun warms us back up again.

The first step to training in the cold is getting the right gear. This is a lesson that I learned a long time ago while in college. Soaking wet cotton clothing plus cold and windy conditions does not equal fun workouts. The evolution of moisture wicking technical fibers has been a godsend for all athletic endeavors but especially for cold weather training. These materials are lighter weight and less bulky, yet keep you warm and dry throughout your training. You will likely have to pay a little more for better quality products but you will have them for years to come.

Now that you have the proper gear you need to learn to dress for the training that you will be doing. Obviously on colder days you are going to need more layers. Take into account the intensity of the exercise as well. If you are moving at an easy to moderate pace you will need warmer clothes compared to doing a very intense activity. Because you will be outside and working a good rule of thumb is to dress as if it’s 15 degrees warmer out then what the thermometer says. When I leave the house to go for a run the first 5-10 minutes are a little chilly but that is o.k. because then I warm up and the rest of the run is comfortable. If you start your training and you are already warm you are likely overdressed.

When it comes to layering you will eventually figure out what works for you with trial and error. Here are some quick pointers that should help you out. Hat, gloves and a windbreaker jacket are a must. Have multiple pairs of pants and tops. Some should be thin and light for warmer days and others should be a bit heavier for colder days. When it is very cold out start to layer up but make sure that your base layer, if not all layers, are moisture wicking. Here is an example of what I would wear for a 10 degree winter run. Hat, gloves, hood, thicker running pants, thicker long sleeve shirt and a windbreaker jacket.

With winter you also have to consider safety. If you feel that you are at risk of an injury or frostbite you should not go outside. The good news is that there are a lot of products to help you out. When it comes to traction in winter there are a number of “grippers” that you can buy that fit onto your boots or shoes. Some have a steel wire coil for gripping, others have tiny carbide spikes and some combine both. These work really well for unseen icy areas and hard packed snow. The other safety consideration in winter months has to do with daylight. A lot of outdoor activities will take place when it’s dark outside. Having reflective material is a must. They make jackets, vests, hats and multiple other attachable items. Carrying a flashlight or using a headlamp is another way for not only you to see better but for others to see you.

So how does the cold weather affect your body? With the colder temperatures usually comes drier air. This can lead to dry skin but also can affect the airways for breathing as well. For some people with asthma, this type of conditions can be hard and it would be best to stay inside for your workout. I have heard from numerous people that the cold air will “freeze your lungs”. This is physiologically impossible and not true, but the airways can dry out which would lead to potential coughing and discomfort. The heart also has to work harder when it is cold out. Initially blood flow to your extremities is limited and will raise blood pressure. People that are at higher risk are the very old, very young and people with underlying health conditions. If you fit into this category, you should consult with your doctor before starting a cold weather routine.

The good news is things do get better. With any change it will take your body time to acclimate to the conditions. The first 30 degree day seems really cold, 30 degrees in February seems like a heat wave. As long as you continue to get outside your body will adapt and become accustom the conditions.

Now you have most everything you need to know about proper dressing, safety and how the cold can affect the body. Be smart, but there is plenty of fun to be had outside this winter.

Always Running
Nate Vandervest
Running Coach, CSCS, CES

Nate is a running coach and strength coach at Bellin Health and specializes in running assessments, strength training and personalized running programs. For more information contact Nathan.Vandervest@bellin.org