Winter is coming. Or, at the very least, the colder part of fall is arriving or has already arrived!
It’s really easy to trade in sweating for couch surfing when the days become shorter and colder. But the dropping temperatures shouldn’t deter you from squeezing in a run or doing some Snowga. In fact cold weather workouts can burn more calories compared to those done in warmer climates.
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Just like exercising in hot weather, getting your workout in the cold weather can be perfectly safe as long as you take the necessary adjustments with your wardrobe and warm-up, in addition to hydrating and fueling up efficiently. If you’re looking to take your workout outdoors, here’s how to safely do it.
At least one hour to 30 minutes before your workout, it’s important to fuel your body — especially when working out in the cold weather.
“Training or doing activities in cold weather can be more demanding and burn more calories than in warmer temperatures,” says Johry Batt, Head of Athletics, F45 Training,”When in cold weather you want to be sure to regularly replenishing nutrients during periods of physical activity in the cold. Our bodies may fatigue faster in cold weather and slow down all of our body’s chemical processes, including our central nervous system’s ability to generate muscle contractions.”
And don’t forget to hydrate!
“You might not feel thirsty but dehydration during cold weather can easily go unnoticed,” says Batt. “Dehydration during cold weather carries the same risk as it would when exercising in the heat, but you might not feel as thirsty as with warmer weather so make sure you take in enough water during your workout.”
“Always check the weather before exercising outside, and layer up!” says Carrie Tollefson, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Coaching Ambassador. “Having the proper gear is essential, and while the splurge can be costly, the items will last forever, and you’ll be happy you did it.”
Tollefson recommends: a good rain jacket that will not only block snow, rain, and sleet to keep you dry, but will also block the wind and cold; fleece-lined gear (think: leggings, tops) to keep you warm; and mittens, not gloves. “The colder the weather, the closer your fingers want to be together,” she says. “A fleece-lined pair is great, and mine have a separate outer layer that I can take off if I get hot.”
Warming up before you head out in the cold is essential to get the blood flowing and warm up your body as well to avoid injury. Maria Delgado, PT and Certified Trainer at Blink Fitness, recommends doing a dynamic warm-up before heading outdoors.
According to Delgado, some warm-ups you can try are:
Arm Circles – Hold your arms out to the sides, palms down, at shoulder height. Begin making circles (forward direction) gradually making them larger until you complete 10 circles. Then repeat circles but in reverse direction (backward circles) complete another 10.
Arm Up/Down Swings – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and swing your arms in unison up and down. Complete 10 swings.
High Knee Walks – As you start walking, raise your right knee high toward your chest, lower right foot down and then lift your left knee high toward your chest. Keep walking alternating and lifting knees as high as you can.
Leg Kicks – Stand tall with your legs straight and arms hanging at your sides. Kick one leg straight out in front of you while reaching for it with the opposite hand. Return the leg to the starting position and then switch sides.
Squat Walks – Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and keep feet grounded. Get into a squat position and stay low as you walk sideways. Take one step with the right foot followed by the left foot remaining squated, keep stepping to the right side until you have completed five squats. Then repeat towards the left side with another five squat steps.
Not every workout is built the same, especially for the colder climates.
“Most workouts are actually perfectly safe to do outdoors in the cold weather. The key here is how prepared you are,” says Keegan Draper, fitness specialist at Mindbody and NASM CPT. “HIIT, yoga, running and hiking are all great, but you need to be aware of the conditions so you can prepare. What I find to be most important when working out in the cold weather is I absolutely perform better and have a better experience when I am doing a workout that I enjoy doing. The cold weather will already be a deterrent enough from working out, so don’t add to that by picking workouts you don’t enjoy doing.”
Frostbite is another danger when working out in frigid temperatures. Frosbite can cause the skin, nerves and tissue to freeze and cause permanent damage to the body, which can occur on exposed skin in less than thirty minutes.
“Our bodies are amazing at regulating a constant body temperature during exercise but make sure you up your defence against the cold as exercising in cold weather can put your body at risk of hypothermia,” says Batt. “Extended exposure to cold can overwhelm our body’s auto-regulation mechanism.”
If it’s too cold outdoors, and you still want to get in a workout, try something indoors for a change and switch things up! Your body will thank you.
A version of this story was published December 2020.
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Before you go, check out our favorite leggings for working out and laying around: