We are going to focus on runners and skiers, as well as outdoor enthusiasts for training this month; these are often called Free Athletes. Why? Because November is generally when temperatures start to drop rapidly during the night with many colder days that typically run through late January, February, or later depending on where you live. Also, poor preparation for winter training can put you in the hospital and, can even be lethal.
Generally, you can exercise outside in snow and rain – changes in temperature and air quality strengthen the immune system so there is a benefit from them. As a rule of thumb, the body counteracts the cold with an increased pulse rate that is termed thermoregulation. This increased pulse rate most often increases energy consumption significantly, making training even more efficient. However, there are more risks associated with winter training thus, it is important that you follow a few basic rules during the winter since the cold can be harmful. Almost everyone has an individual temperature sensitivity, which should be considered. There are many more components to training outdoors than using a simple thermometer as an indicator of activity.
Training outdoors during the winter months isn’t all gloom; being outside is refreshing. Whether winter or summer, outdoor training has its challenges. But, with the right preparation, you can have fun all year as you learn to enjoy the change in weather and use it to mix your training routine and get the most from each workout.
Today, it is 24 degrees Fahrenheit outside; these colder temperatures can be the perfect time to incorporate more strength training, try a new activity, build your endurance, and set a foundation for the season ahead. Whether you’re training to stay fit, lose weight or simply training for a spring event, follow these winter training tips to take advantage of training during winter months.
1. Dress Properly
Depending on the type of training you’re doing, each type of training has clothing preferences when winter arrives. Regardless of which category of training you fit into, the key is layers for your clothing. Choose technical fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin to keep you warm and dry. And, you may consider wearing a small backpack for water and stuffing your jacket and or gloves into if you get too warm. There are so many options in training apparel they cannot all be listed, but following are a few necessities:
• A knit hat, especially if temperatures are below about 40 degrees as this will help keep body heat in;
• A training jacket that is breathable, windproof, and waterproof should be considered necessary; try to choose the correct weight of fabric depending on if you are a skier, runner, cyclist, or other outdoor-type enthusiast;
• Get a good pair of gloves that suit your needs and the needs of your activity. In very cold climates you may need an inner liner with an outer shell. Also, you may wish to waterproof them if they are not already made of waterproof material;
• Tights can work well with looser workout pants particularly if it is below freezing. There are so many styles. For the outer layer, ensure that you do not have zippers on the inner legs of the clothing that rub against each other as this is very annoying. A poll of some of those we work with demonstrate a preference for the outer shell made of a wind proofing material with short, 6-8-inch-long zippers at the bottom and facing outside of each leg;
• For temperatures below freezing, cold, dry air may irritate your airways and cause breathing problems. Counteract this by wearing a neck scarf or balaclava. And, if you are outside exercising vigorously for more than 30-minutes in temperatures less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit, you should consider wearing a winter training mask. These will help you generate more moisture as you breathe and help warm the outside air a little before it enters your lungs. A great many believe in running at any low temperature, but temperatures below 25 degrees for extended periods can cause lung damage. The colder the air, the greater the stimulus to the bronchi, lungs, and mucous membranes. At temperatures below 5 degrees Fahrenheit, you should not exercise outside if possible. At this temperature, the body is unable to sufficiently warm air before it reaches the lungs. Illnesses from breathing cold air range from a serious cold to pneumonia. For asthmatics, regardless of temperatures, individually specific rules should be adhered to – if you have asthma, consult your physician before winter-time activities.
• Add protective layers when the wind chill climbs. Adding a pair of windproof shell pants over your tights will do wonders to keep your legs warm. You may begin when temperatures or warmer, but if they drop quickly, you’ll be prepared hence, your backpack. The last time one of our staff was in Minneapolis, the wind chill dropped to -70 degrees.
• Carefully consider the type of shoes you need for your training. Whether it be for running, orienteering, mountain hiking, skiing, or other, get a pair that will protect your feet from the weather, i.e., cold, ice, snow, and rain and in some situations depending on your activity, consider shoes tall enough to provide ankle support. There are so many choices so, choose wisely. Soles that grip well under all conditions, regardless of your training activity, are necessary in the winter!
• Wear sunglasses and strong sunscreen to protect you from strong solar radiation and reflection, especially at high altitude or when on snow or near large bodies of water.
• Finally, if you perform your training in the dark, think visibility. Wear reflective strips on your clothing to alert drivers or others of your presence. This is particularly important in the dark, fog, and heavy rain or snow. You can also consider a headlamp or flashing lights, which are cheap and easy to attach to your apparel.
2. Warm Up Longer
As with many training regimens, the most difficult part of winter training can just be getting out the door, especially on cold, dark mornings. Due to the cold temperatures you need to pay special attention to ensure your body is properly warmed up before you train. Consider taking a quick and hot, relaxing shower before getting dressed for your training. It will help your muscles warm up and prepare for training. Take extra time to warmup such as doing dynamic warmup exercises before running or, try something new and get to the gym and do some strength-building exercises before hitting the trail. Whatever you do, spend a little more time warming up before you go out into the cold. Ensure that joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons are adequately warmed. Training easy for a longer period at the onset of your workout will help you prevent injury.
When winter arrives, particularly if you’re what we term as a Free Athlete, it is the perfect time to perform a variety of activities to stay strong and healthy. You can take the opportunity to rent snowshoes or cross-country skis and hit the trails for a challenging training workout. You’ll use muscles that you do not normally, and you will burn lots of calories in the process. Winter also is the perfect time to incorporate more strength and flexibility exercises. From speed-strength to CrossFit to Pilates, include resistance training 2 to 3 times per week to build a solid base for the training season ahead. Add variety by including hill runs and leg strength and stamina. Work on exercises that provide a full-range of motion to develop stronger, more flexible muscles. This will help establish healthy joints and weak-area strength.
4. Vitamins, Minerals, and Vegetables Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables!
When it is cold and you’re outside, the body burns more calories and thus, needs more support for the immune system. You can support your immune system with a balanced, vitamin and mineral rich diet. Minimally you should consume a multivitamin daily, as well as vitamin C (1,000 mg is recommended), vitamin E (400 IU) and lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet. There are so many to choose from, but any form of root vegetables, all types of cabbage and winter salads such as lettuce, and chicory should be consumed regularly. Citrus fruits, pomegranates, pears, and apples can provide you with an extra dose of vitamins to help make you resistant to the cold. What types do you like?
5. Keep moving!
As with the core exercises in a strength program, after performing your training outside, you need a proper warm-down. Thus, at the end of your activity, warm-down for a few minutes before moving indoors to stretch, so that your muscles do not become stiff. You will discover that in the winter, muscles cool down quickly, which means by-products from cell and muscle contraction such as oxide and peroxide free radicals cannot be flushed out of the bloodstream in time. This results in painful muscle spasms and even injury if they are later “torn apart”. If you push hard at the end of your training session, make sure you don’t sit or lie down immediately after reaching exhaustion – this will cause circulation to drop very fast and your muscles will stiffen.
6. Think Safety
In extreme weather, place safety as your primary concern, which is one reason dress is so important. Also, take your training indoors when the temperature drops to extreme levels, i.e., 5 degrees Fahrenheit or less. It is best to include a mix of outdoor and indoor training during the coldest, darkest times of the year. You’ll get more benefit from your workouts and reduce the chance of injury. After all, it’s better to lift weights or perform other exercises in the gym than to risk a fall or slip on the ice. Following are two safety rules of thumb when temperatures are not at extreme levels: First, do not stay too long outside! After training, get indoors again as quickly as possible, into the warmth, and take off wet/sweaty clothes. This is because directly after exposure, your immune system is particularly weak and more vulnerable. For the first 30 minutes after training, you are in what is called the ‘Open Window’ that is an immunological gap in which the body is most susceptible to colds and infections. Second, train during the day. When possible, choose mid-morning or noon for your training. This time of day is both the warmest and when the sun is best positioned to stimulate your body’s production of Vitamin D. It is well known that n winter, many people suffer vitamin D deficiency, which is particularly important for bones and joints and in also lifting the spirits!
Prepare beforehand by choosing shoes with a good profile to handle smooth and black ice. Because it gets dark very early in the winter, take a headband light if you exercise in the evening hours.