3 Tips for Training in the Cold

Although training in the cold is not always pleasant, it is possible, if you know what you're doing. Here are some practical tips for working out on cold days.

1. Don't be a hero.

There is no air temperature below which exercise is unsafe. Even when the mercury falls well below zero you can safely train outdoors, if you are properly dressed. However, on especially cold days the risk of hypothermia and frostbite is increased even if you are wrapped up appropriately. For example, if you encounter a situation where you are forced to stop exercising far from home (such as muscle cramping), your body will produce much less heat and you could be in trouble.

So play it safe on the most frigid days. Avoid straying too far from home and using unfamiliar routes, and carry a cell phone and a credit or debit card with you in case a problem arises. Take precautions to prevent getting wet, as the resulting evaporative cooling could send your body temperature spiraling downward. If you experience early signs of hypothermia or frostbite, such as tingling in the extremities, get inside as quickly as possible.  Also, avoid running or cycling on slick surfaces such as black ice regardless of the temperature.

2. Dress appropriately.

The first rule of dressing for winter workouts is to wear technical apparel that is specifically designed for this use.  These products have several advantages over cotton sweat suits, everyday winter jackets and other items that are simply warm. Winter technical apparel is made from breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics that trap just enough but not too much of the heat your working muscles produce against your skin while keeping your skin relatively dry, so that evaporative cooling doesn't chill you. Winter technical apparel is also lighter, allows more freedom of movement, and is easier to layer than other types of clothing.

How much clothing should you wear? As a general rule, you should dress so that you are uncomfortably cool but not miserably cold when you first step out the door and then become comfortable after about 10 minutes of activity as body heat accumulates. The following table provides a basic set of guidelines for how to dress in different temperatures.

Temperature

How to Dress

55°F+

Shorts and short-sleeve top

45°-54°F

Shorts or tights and long-sleeve base layer top

33°-44°F

Tights and long-sleeve base layer top; gloves and thermal headband optional

20°-32°F

Tights, long-sleeve base layer, second top layer (e.g. vest), gloves and thermal headband; second bottom layer (e.g. running pants) optional

0°-19°F

Tights, second bottom layer (e.g. running pants), long-sleeve base layer, jacket, gloves, thermal headband

 

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