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Exercising Outside in the Winter

by Athletico5 Comments

Sigh… We knew it couldn’t last forever. Although it’s been pretty mild so far, we know what’s next. Fall is here, and winter’s coming.

It’s easy to think that the cold and the puffy clothes we wear are a good excuse to hit the buffet a little harder and to lower the fitness goals. However, there are a lot of great ways to stay fit and have fun during the winter months. Even if you don’t join an organized activity, get outside for some fresh air and natural vitamin D.  This blog post is dedicated to tips on how to exercise safely and comfortably throughout the winter.

Get a physical
Before you begin any exercise program at any time of the year, it is always a good idea to get a physical.  This precaution is particularly important during winter when your body works harder to stay warm and to climb over snow.  Conditions like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease may need to be managed differently in these conditions.  Your doctor will be able to give you proper guidance.

Hydrating while exercising in cold weather is just as important as when you are exercising during the summer.  Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout, even if don’t feel thirsty. You can become just as dehydrated in the cold as in the heat from sweating, breathing, and increased urine production, but it may be harder to notice during cold weather because some of the moisture escapes as a gas rather than a liquid.

As a side note, bring your water or sports drink with you as most parks turn off the water fountains during the winter.

Dressing for the weather
When you run, your body typically feels like it is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it is outside.  (i.e. If it’s 40 degrees, once you get running you will feel like it’s 50 to 55 degrees outside.) When you first go outside to get started, you should feel cold.  Otherwise, you will get really uncomfortably hot during your run.

Your bottom/base layer including your socks should be wicked.

  • Wicked fabric pulls sweat away from your skin, so you stay warm yet dry throughout your workout.   If your feet are wet, not only will they get cold but you can also get some serious blisters.
  • This shirt does not need to be expensive—most races give you this layer for participating or it can be the ugly shirt from the sale bin.  Remember, it’s a base so no one will see it!
  • Never, ever wear cotton clothing as your base layer!  Cotton cloth absorbs a lot of water that will not evaporate during cold winter days.  If it is your base and you are hit by blasts of cold wind or the temperature continues to drop, you will become very chilled.

Sleeveless vests are a nice next layer.

  • They aren’t excessively warm.
  • They keep the wind out.
  • They provide pockets without the extra warmth.

Running jacket

  • This is an important piece that you might want to consider spending a bit extra.  It’s worth the investment; I have some jackets that I’ve worn for years and have paid for themselves with all the workouts.
  • Make sure your jacket is reflective and is a bright color.  You may think you look “cooler” wearing black but on top of limited daylight hours, cars and snow plows are not looking for you.   You want to be sure to stand out.
  • Buy it a bit loose, so you can fit more layers underneath.
  • Go with something that is waterproof but breathable/vented.
  • Avoid heavy down, or you will get too hot and weighted down.

Keeping your extremities warm during your workout may seem trivial, but it’s actually serious business.  When it’s cold, blood flow is concentrated on your body’s core, leaving your hands, feet, and ears vulnerable to frostbite.  Take it from someone who has damaged her feet standing in slush waiting for a race to begin; it lasts a lifetime.  I recommend wearing wicked socks, gloves, and hats/head bands.  I buy thin, small gloves and hats from the sales bin that I can tuck into my pockets easily once I warm up.

Additionally, you can buy hand and feet warmers at most drug stores.  Simply slip them into your shoes, gloves or even pockets for warm hands and feet.

Pay attention to the sun. Many winter days seem dreary and overcast, but the reflecting snow can be deceivingly strong.  Wearing sunscreen and sunglasses may seem counterintuitive, but they will keep your eyes and skin safe.  Sunglasses can also keep your eyes safe from hail and sleet as well as excessive brightness.

Safety first

Know when cold is too cold.

  • Check the weather report before heading out.
  • Wind chill can be very dangerous, particularly if you are ending your run by heading into the wind.  You may be damp from sweating and become very chilled.
  • If it is 0 or 20 below with wind chill, exercise indoors.

Know what to bring with you when you run.

  • Photo id
  • Cell phone
  • Insurance card
  • I.D.  tag on your shoe that gives your emergency contact and any health conditions/medicine allergies you may have

Know what hypothermia and frostbite look like.

  • Loss of feeling
  • Numbness
  • Stinging feeling

Have a buddy.

  • Try to always run with a friend during winter months.
  • If this isn’t possible, have a safety buddy who knows where you are going and when you will return.  Call this friend to tell him or her when you are back.

There are plenty of activities that you can enjoy outdoors through the winter months, and these tips will help you stay warm and healthy. If you end up experiencing any aches and pains after exercising, make sure to schedule a complimentary injury screening at your nearest Athletico location.

Click to Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen

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Read more health resources related to these topics:

EnduranceExercise and FitnessSportsenduranceexercisefitnessrunningwinter workout


  1. Nick Vander Wal

    Every winter I say to myself that I am going to exercise outside more — with these helpful tips, I just might do it this year! 🙂

  2. Lisa Gilbert

    the article was very informative thank you. I do have a question will the tips provided apply to children also? the kids and I love to be outside during the winter but run into “I’m cold” when we first get outside.. then I hear after being out running around “I’m hot and want to take of my hat, gloves and unzip there coats.” We are avid Hockey and ice skaters so this is our favorite time of the year.
    thanks any information is helpful.

    Lisa Gilbert

  3. Doctor Thop

    I love running in the snow, you have to be careful and watch for ice, but in a sunny winter day running through the woods is one of my favorite things to do. Thanks for the tips, I’m going to get a couple of vests. I usually run with a thick longsleeve shirt as a base layer, a short sleeve on top and a windbreaker, tights and shorts complete my outfit, not pretty but does the trick.

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