Cold. Windy. Wet. Dark. Slippery. Winter here in Michigan can certainly present challenges for our outdoor workouts. Suck it up because it doesn’t have to be so bad! Being outdoors is vital for our well-being, and cold weather offers unique advantages too: your body burns additional calories keeping itself warm, fresh air improves mental health and being active during the cold months boosts your immune system! Despite the sucky parts of winter, with the right gear and a little planning, exercising outside can actually become very fun and arguably better than an indoor workout!
The clothing you choose can make or break your workout. In the winter, you want to dress to stay warm AND dry. If your base layer becomes damp, it will cause your whole body to chill. That’s why it’s important to avoid cotton and wear a moisture wicking fabric as your base layer. Cotton will soak up moisture from snowfall and also sweat, leaving you cold! A synthetic fiber or wool will keeps that moisture off your body by not allowing it to absorb into the fabric.
In addition to wicking fabrics, make sure to wear several layers of fitted clothing to trap the warm air next to your body. Thin layers also allow you to shed some clothing as you warm up. For mild winter temps, start with your thin base layer (mentioned above), then add an outer shell, like a nylon jacket, to protect from wind or snow. For extra warmth you could throw in a middle layer of thin fleece.
When choosing your outer shell, consider not only the weather conditions but also your activity. For a heat-generating activity with relatively low wind (like trail running or hiking), you may opt for a very thin windbreaker. But an activity like skiing where you are exposed to the conditions and wind suggests a slightly heavier water-resistant shell.
We lose a lot of heat through our head, so make sure to properly cover your ears. When it’s cold, our blood flow centers in our core, and there is less blood moving to the fingers and toes, so they can get cold fast. Invest in a great hat or headband, gloves and socks – remember “cotton is rotten” so opt for the synthetic fabrics or wool.
Dress as if it’s 10 degrees warmer. That initial burst of cold air can lead us to overdress. However, a few minutes after you start moving and your core temp heats up, you’ll be glad to have dressed a bit lighter. In fact, the more you exercise outside, the better you will understand your unique “hot spots” and can alter your clothing accordingly.
A few other considerations for your clothing bring me to my next suggesting for wintertime fun:
Your standard outdoor safety tips should still apply in the winter, like making sure someone knows your route and trying not to be alone if possible. Winter does bring a few additional safety considerations.
Not only is winter colder, it’s also darker. Snow and overcast skies can make it tough for vehicles to spot you, so make sure you are lit up with blinking lights (at dusk and dark) and wearing bright colors!
Staying dry is not just a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of safety. The quickest way to lose body heat is to get wet in freezing temperatures. These two conditions can increase your risk for frostbite or hypothermia (when your core body temperature drops lower than 95 degrees F).
Alligator skin is a common theme for me in the winter! A little Aquaphor on the cheeks and nose can help with dryness and redness from biting winds. Another consideration is sunburn. Yes, you can get a sunburn in the winter, and with the reflection off the snow it can happen even more quickly. Before heading out for your winter workout, apply an SPF 30 at a minimum to exposed skin, and don’t forget your lips.
The reflecting bright snow and winds can also be hard on your eyes, so consider polarized sunglasses or goggles for your wintertime activity.
Winter workouts can get slippery, so consider a route that is plowed or salted. If you do plan to walk or run on snowy, icy surfaces, invest in a shoe with a tread created for traction or consider attaching snow spikes to your shoes to reduce the risk of falling. You’ll want to avoid pavement if you are wearing spikes because they can be slippery on pavement.
What if we ditched the pavement all together? And that is a smooth segue to my final thought for making winter workouts fun.
For an athlete who competes in typical fair-weather activities like triathlon, biking and running, winter is prime time for flipping up your routine and trying something new. Consider it cross training. Cross training allows us to gain strength by using different muscles than we do in our typical exercise routine.
The winter brings us new opportunities for hiking, fat-tire biking, ice skating, cross country or downhill skiing and snowshoeing. These are wonderful forms of cardiovascular exercise and by switching your normal routine, you will eliminate the brain drain and monotony of doing the same activity year-round.