Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to be destined to the gym for the foreseeable future. You just need to know the best winter workout tips to keep you warm, safe and optimizing the calorie-burning while you’re out there in the cold, the snow, the wind and the dry air.
1. Don’t overdress. Perhaps the biggest mistake people make for winter workouts is wearing too many clothes. True, the goal is to stay warm, but not so warm that you sweat more than necessary. The movement of your body will produce a lot of its own heat, so adding that to heavy clothing will only make you chilled once your sweat starts to dry. Instead, dress in light layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. Consider layering this way: Start with a thin wicking shirt that will draw sweat away from your body. (Avoid cotton shirts because they stay wet next to your skin.) Next, add a thin layer of fleece. Try to choose one with a long zipper that is easy to remove mid-workout. Then, if it’s really cold, windy or snowing, add a final layer of a waterproof, breathable jacket made for exercise.
2. Protect your extremities. When it’s cold outside, blood flow is concentrated more to your body’s core, which means your hands and feet can be vulnerable to frostbite. The same rules apply here for light layers. Find gloves and socks that are meant for cold weather exercise–not heavy, bulky cotton or wool that will be uncomfortable and get soaked with sweat. Another tip is to shake your arms and hands out every few minutes–especially if you are running and they are kept in the same position most of the time. This will help encourage blood flow to keep them warm. When it’s really windy outside, try to exercise in a sheltered spot like trail running to keep the winds to a minimum.
3. Warm up indoors. When it’s really cold outside, it can be harder to get your muscles warmed up properly before a workout. So do this indoors instead. If you have a treadmill or other exercise machine, jump on it for 10 minutes. If not, you can do some jumping jacks, jump roping or jogging in place–alternate each for 1 minute for a total of 9-10 minutes.
4. Don’t stretch. While it’s never a good idea to stretch before a workout, this is especially true in cold weather. Muscles should never be pulled and stretched when they are cold–otherwise, you are asking for an injury. Instead, perform a series of loosening exercises: starting with your head, move it in big circles clockwise and counter-clockwise for 5-10 rotations total. Then move to your shoulders and do the same thing, then your back, hips, knees and ankles. This will help to loosen your joints and prepare them for exercise without stretching a cold muscle.
5. Be wary of hypothermia. Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, dropping your core body temperate to 95 degrees or less. Symptoms include shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, stumbling, low energy and/or confusion. If this happens, move indoors immediately, remove wet clothing, have a hot beverage and warm up gradually. Do not put heat (like hot water or a heating pad) directly on your body as this can damage the skin even more.
6. Know when to stay indoors. Sometimes it’s just not safe to exercise outside during winter months. This can be a good time to check out a new dance or yoga class at the gym. According to the Mayo Clinic, wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe–even if you dress warmly. “If the temperature dips well below 0 F (-17.8 C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor activity instead, or take extra precautions if you choose to exercise outdoors anyway.”