What you need to know to get the most out of winter workouts
As the temperature drops, it can be challenging to find the motivation to workout, especially outdoors. But if you know what you’re doing, you can fire up any fitness plan to get the most out of any activity. In fact, there are real benefits to training in chilly air. Researchers at the CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Colorado found that regular exposure to the cold causes your metabolism to switch from predominantly burning carbohydrates to torching fat. And it keeps you healthier in a myriad of ways: According to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, consistent cold-weather workouts can cut your risk of catching a cold or flu by up to 30%. So now that you’ve put any excuse on ice (sorry), here’s what you need to know in order to train properly this winter.
According to Steven Decker of the US Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska, your training clothing should do three things: insulate, ventilate, and provide protection from the wind. Wear a base layer of compression clothing on both your upper and lower body. Windbreaker-style jackets can be worn over thicker pieces made from insulating materials like merino wool that also cover the neck region. As a general rule, you should dress so that you are uncomfortably cool but not miserably cold when you first step out the door - that way, you’ll be comfortable after about 10 minutes of activity as body heat accumulates.
Mind Your Breathing
The cold, dry air can be tough on your lungs, bronchi, and mucous membranes. When a lot of cold air is inhaled, you can feel an irritating burning sensation - not great for exercising. Focus on inhaling through the nose as slow as you comfortably can and then exhaling through the mouth. Breathing like this gives the air a longer route to the lungs and so more time to be moistened and heated through the nasal mucosa and mouth. Wearing a mask or scarf over the nose and mouth can further warm and moisten winter air during your workout.
Be Sure to Hydrate
It’s easy to down plenty of water when it’s hot out, but it’s just as important during cold weather. You can become dehydrated in the cold from sweating, breathing, and the drying power of the winter wind. Make sure to down some water or a sports drink before working out and after your exercise - even if you don't feel thirsty. To make it easier to drink during a workout, fill your water bottle with room temperature water and sip it throughout your training session.
Warm Up with Stretch
Your warm up is designed to do just that - increase your internal body temperature to prepare your muscles for the training ahead. And while you should always stretch when warming up or cooling down after a sweat session, it’s even more important in chillier weather. Alan Snyder, DPT of Breakaway Physical Therapy in New York City, says cold weather causes your blood vessels to constrict, so less blood gets to the muscles. He recommends taking a good 10 minutes before exercising to stretch, focusing on the quads, hamstrings and calves.
Take Advantage of Daylight
If you can, try to workout in the late morning or early afternoon. This is not only one of the warmest parts of the day, it’s also when the sun is best positioned to stimulate the production of Vitamin D. But keep in mind, you can still easily get sunburned in winter - even more so if you're exercising in the snow or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and a protective lip balm.* FYI: Not surprisingly, a Gallup poll found that most Americans exercise the least in December, but start up again in January.