Runners and cyclists always have the option to take the easy way out when winter months make regular routes cold and wet. That’s one of the ways health clubs stay in business. But if you still appreciate the flexibility and experience of exercising outdoors, changing weather doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Just keep in mind these dos and don’ts to maximize effectiveness and minimize injuries.
1. Do schedule your workouts earlier in the day if possible. Shorter days and the holiday craziness at the beginning of the season can get you in the habit of skipping sessions. That’s a hard habit to break after the new year.
2. Don’t skimp on your wardrobe. Instead, buy the exercise wear you need to maintain a safe temperature throughout your workout. This usually means wearing layers in winter, so you can strip some off as you warm up.
3. Do contact a training partner if you don’t already have one. Low temperatures and rainy days can be a real motivation drainer. Having a buddy will help you get out there when your warm, comfy couch is calling too loudly. This is especially important if you’re one of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This technique also helps you stay safe from crime, and gives you a partner to assist you if you fall and become injured.
4. Don’t jump unprepared into winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. One reason these sports have high rates of injury is that people attempt them without proper physical training. A broken ankle from a bad day on the slopes will derail your winter exercise plan completely. If you want to take up a winter sport, spring for a training program to build the skills and conditioning you’ll need to do it safety. Most local clubs and facilities will offer one.
5. Do buy a headlamp and reflective vest. With fewer hours of daylight, you’ll find yourself on the road before dawn, at dusk and perhaps at night more often. Even if you set out before the streetlights go on, wear your safety gear in case your route takes longer than you anticipate.
6. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Thirst isn’t as oppressive in colder weather, and your layered clothes make it harder to realize how much you’re sweating — but that doesn’t mean you’re not losing water at a potentially dangerous rate.
7. Do stay alert for slippery terrain. Ice and snow can make for treacherous conditions, and often collect on the roadsides and trails outdoor exercisers use. The last thing you want is a ski-slope injury you sustained in your own neighborhood. If you live in an area that regularly gets snow and ice, you can buy shoe traction devices that act like snow chains for your feet.
8. Don’t forget to protect your hands and face. The Mayo Clinic warns that these body parts are particularly susceptible to frostbite, especially when you factor in the wind chill you generate while moving at a cardio pace. Wear gloves and a balaklava as the temperature begins to demand them.
9. Do be alert for signs of hypothermia. This may seem counter-intuitive as your body warms up with exercise, but it’s more common than you might expect. Protect yourself by scheduling breaks in areas with heat, and by keeping your sessions short enough to get in before the cold starts really taking effect. If you’re going long, consider running laps on a shorter course so you can get inside easily, or at least packing a fresh, dry shirt.