How to safely train outside in winter

As we head towards the end of 2022, many will be considering getting a head start on their fitness resolutions for the new year.

However, with snow and ice guaranteed for many areas throughout December, it’s important to keep safety in mind when training outdoors.

Matthew Magnante, an exercise writer at FitnessVolt, has compiled a list of his top safety tips to keep in mind when exercising outdoors during the colder months.

#1 Drink even if you don’t feel thirsty

Many may not be aware of this, but we are at an increased risk of dehydration when exercising in colder temperatures.

When it’s cold, our blood vessels constrict to reduce heat loss through our skin and thus maintain our core body temperature.

During this process, a hormone called plasma arginine vasopressin (AVP), which normally signals thirst, is released at a slower rate than when exercising in hot weather. This explains why you might ask for less water when exercising in winter. Research has shown that exposure to cold weather can reduce our thirst by up to 40%.

To prevent dehydration, keep drinking water like you do in the summer and opt for a glass of water before heading out and keep having a drink during and after your workout.

Also, don’t forget to fuel your body before exercising outdoors. Typically, when the weather is cold, you burn more calories to maintain your core body temperature. Therefore, prioritizing nutrition is important if you want to maintain energy throughout your workout.

#2 Opt for polyester t-shirts over cotton

If you tend to sweat while exercising, cotton is one of the worst materials to wear when the temperature drops.

Cotton is very absorbent, which means that when you sweat, the material tends to stay wet rather than dry out. Water conducts heat away from the body up to 25 times faster than air, meaning you lose body heat much more quickly in colder temperatures, increasing your risk of hyperthermia.

Moisture-wicking materials like polyester or wool keep you warmer because their fibers absorb less water and dry faster. Polyester fibers are designed to insulate you even when wet by trapping a layer of air between the fabric and your skin, while the shape of the fibers wicks water.

A three-tier layering system works best, consisting of a base layer like polyester, a main layer like wool, and a waterproof outer layer that sheds rain, snow, and wind. This way you create multiple layers of insulation while allowing sweat to travel through the layers and evaporate into the air rather than clinging to your clothing.

#3 Stretch before and after your workout

Stretching before a workout is especially important in winter, when your muscles tend to contract to conserve heat, making them more prone to injury.

Try incorporating dynamic stretches before heading out for a winter run to increase the internal temperature of your muscles and reduce the risk of injury.

Bodyweight squats, calf raises, and good old-fashioned jumping jacks are effective dynamic stretches that get the blood flowing and increase your core temperature before you head outside.

After your workout, you want to do static stretches, which involve stretching and holding one muscle group for 15-30 seconds. Static stretching also helps reduce injury, but should only be used as part of a cooldown routine to lower your heart rate and relax your muscles. Common static movements include hamstring stretches, quadriceps stretches, and calf stretches.

#4 Halve your sessions

Running on snow and ice uses different muscles than running on dry ground due to the lower friction and uneven surfaces. Consequently, you are likely to put yourself at risk of injury if you attempt to complete your regular running route without first adapting to the new conditions.

A good rule of thumb when running on icy trails is to halve your regular running distance until you get used to running on slippery or uneven surfaces. Give yourself 4-6 weeks of regular running on snow or icy terrain before beginning to build back up to your normal running distance.

Decreasing the distance between each step also helps keep your feet under your center of gravity and allows you to recover more easily if you lose your balance. As you become more comfortable on these surfaces, you can gradually return to your normal stride length.

#5 Let someone know where you are going

Even for the most confident among us, it’s important to let someone know where you’re going before you go for a walk or run in winter.

For iPhone users, you can temporarily turn on location sharing in the Find My app so family, friends or your partner can track your location in case you slip and hurt yourself while exercising on ice or snow.

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