Just because winter is here doesn’t mean you have to take your Spartan training inside. Plus, if you have a frosty race coming up you’re going to want to make sure some of your workouts include cold-weather training to help your body (and mind) acclimate to harsh conditions. But it’s important to train differently during the winter than you do over warmer months in order to protect your joints and muscles, and prevent injury. Here, experts share how to handle cold-weather training, including what you need to do more of and how to handle some of the most common winter workout woes.
3 Tips to Know About Cold-Weather Training
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Yes, you should always stretch when warming up or cooling down after a sweat session, but in the winter this is even more crucial. “If you’re exercising in cold weather, your body goes through something called vasoconstriction,” says Alan Snyder, PT, DPT of Breakaway Physical Therapy in New York City. “Your blood vessels constrict, and less blood tends to go to the muscles.”
This means your output when winter training will be completely different (and probably a little slower). If you’re not warmed up properly you’ll find yourself at a higher risk of injury. This makes it crucial to stretch before you start moving. Snyder recommends taking a good 10 minutes before exercising to stretch, making sure to focus on the quads, IT bands, hamstrings, and calves. Start with a light jog to warm up, which will also help your upper body so that your lungs and rib cage are loose too.
Dress the Part
“Clothing is extremely important in the winter,” says Snyder. “It’s important to make sure you have the right gear.”
That’s because your body loses a lot more heat in the winter, explains Miho J. Tanaka, MD a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Hypothermia (which can occur when body temperature drops too low) can be a serious problem,” says Tanaka. “The greatest risks for hypothermia occur during cold weather when it is also windy and wet, as this can magnify heat loss from the body.”
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To prevent this, Snyder says you need to make sure you’re wearing moisture-wicking clothing (avoid cotton at all costs) to help keep your clothes from retaining excess moisture, which can lead to hypothermia or even frostbite.
Find a Muscle Maintenance Routine
“A sudden increase in the duration or intensity of an activity is one of the more common causes of sports-related injuries,” says Tanaka. “Additionally, when you are placing increased demands on the body during training [like exercising when it’s considerably colder outside], it’s important to pay extra attention to the maintenance activities that may not necessarily seem directly related to the sport but are important for maintaining overall musculoskeletal health.”
To do this, make sure you have a good foundation of strength training, you’re actively stretching and warming up, hydrating, and giving yourself rest days to recover. Snyder says recovery days should be thought of as making an investment in your body. To do this, you can buy a sequential compression device to help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the legs after a workout. Or keep it simple and stock up on compression socks to wear during exercise to promote more blood flow.