6 Tips for Crushing an Outdoor Winter Workout

It’s that time of year again. When the sun sets at 4pm and “feels like” temperatures have us never wanting to leave home. But Life Time Athletic Syosset trainer Laura Ryan doesn’t let cold weather get in the way of her exercise regimen.

“It has to be very dangerous outside for me to be inside on a treadmill,” said the triathlete and marathon runner.

Related Content: How Experts Stay Healthy All Winter

Don’t give up on that bikini bod you worked so hard for this summer just because it’s December. Instead, check out Ryan’s six tips to guide your way from the warm, cozy couch to feeling the burn during an outdoor winter workout.

Warm up Inside

Before heading outside, spend about 10 minutes doing cardio to get your blood flowing. A quick warm-up before working out in any type of weather loosens your joints, which makes injury less likely. Save the stretching for after your warm-up or even after your workout altogether to keep your muscles warm and prevent constriction in the cold. It’s also important to acclimate your body to exercising in the cold, easing your way into longer runs or rides you might otherwise complete seamlessly in warm weather. “You can’t just go out for a 10 mile run if you’re first adjusting to working out in a cold climate. Gradually build up the strength to avoid injury and overworking your lungs.”

Layer Smart

Layering up in the cold may seem like an obvious necessity, but wearing just the right amount of clothes for optimal comfort and performance can be tricky. Ryan’s general rule of thumb: “Don’t go outside feeling warm.” People often make this mistake, not realizing how quickly the body heats up mid exercise. Wearing too many layers leads to discomfort, which will only slow you down and even make you colder due to excess sweating. To keep dry, Ryan urges runners to wear a base layer of moisture wicking fabrics, or stretchy material that moves moisture away from the skin. In other words, stay away from liquid absorbing fabrics like cotton when shopping for athletic gear.

Think: Head, Hands and Feet

When getting dressed for an outdoor workout in the wintertime, it is important to remember that your head, hands and feet are where most of the heat leaves your body. Ryan carefully attends to these three areas when embarking on a cold run or ride, and urges her clients to do the same. “I’ll either wear a hat or some of my cycling gear, which includes a shirt that has a hood to prevent my neck from getting cold and a scarf that covers my face.” Wearing a scarf in front of your face warms the air you’re breathing in and can be adjusted intermittently to facilitate proper breathing. “If it’s really cold, I’ll also use hand warmers and wear thick hiking socks.”

Lose the Wet Clothes ASAP 

Many people falsely believe that working out in the cold will make you sick. In actuality, it’s hanging around in those wet layers that will inhibit your immune system. “Once you start working out you’re going to warm up pretty quickly, and then you’ll sweat, get your clothes wet, and that’s when you run the risk of getting sick.” Strip the sweaty layers before your body cools down after a workout to avoid that chill associated with cold-like symptoms. “You might have a temporary cough just from being in the cold air, but otherwise if you dress appropriately, I don’t believe working out in the cold will make you sick.”

Stay Hydrated

Your body has to work harder to keep warm in the cold, so staying hydrated during a workout in the wintertime is especially important to maintain a strong immune system. “Even though you’re not sweating as much as you are in the heat, you still need to drink.” Ryan recommended carrying a fuel belt filled with bottles of water and electrolyte drinks that will take longer to freeze in extreme temperatures. Another expert tip: Wear the belt beneath your clothing because your layers and body temperature can keep the drinks from freezing amid a long workout.

Must-Have Gadgets and Gear

Reflective accessories and clothing are crucial when exercising in adverse weather conditions. “You want to wear reflective gear on the parts of your body that are moving because those will jump out at people most.” Ryan advises runners and cyclers to utilize reflective identification apparatuses, like her own Road ID anklet, containing a nameplate with personal information and an emergency contact. For training in the snow, she recommends an attachable traction device made by Yaktrax for extra grip. But even with the greatest and safest of gear, it is crucial to make sure someone knows where you are when exercising in harsher conditions.

Allergic to the cold? You can still work out indoors with top tips from the December/January issue of Pulse.