- Running in Cold Weather Improves Performance
- Quiz – Running in Cold Weather Improves Performance
- Words in This Story
- The Benefits of Running in Cold Weather (Plus How to Stay Safe While Doing So)
- How to Stay Safe While Running in Cold Weather
- 4 Cold-Weather Running Tips for Beginners
- How Running in the Cold Impacts Race Performance
- The research on running in the cold
- Final thoughts on running in the cold
- Will Running Outside in the Winter Make You Sick?
- When Is It Too Cold to Exercise Outside?
- Too Cold For Running?
- If You’re Getting Over a Cold
- Warming Up
- Watch the Wind
- What to Wear
- A Better Alternative
- Final Advice
Running in Cold Weather Improves Performance
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.
Today’s program is for people who like to run.
Cold weather during winter months may keep many people from leaving home and running in the open air.
However, a new study shows that the drop in temperature is a good reason to run. In fact, researchers say, running in cold weather helps improve one’s performance.
Many people say running in the winter can be difficult. Two reasons are the low temperatures and bitter winds. Yet many runners might find it easier than running in hot weather.
That could be because lower temperatures reduce stress on the body. When you run in cold weather, your heart rate and the body’s dehydration levels are lower than in warmer conditions. The body needs less water on a cold day than in warm weather.
This information comes from sports scientists at St. Mary’s University in London. John Brewer is a professor of applied sport science at St. Mary’s.
For this study, he and other researchers put a group of people into a room they called an “environmental chamber.” The researchers then recreated summer and winter weather conditions in the room. The test subjects were asked to run 10,000 meters under both conditions. Brewer says he and his team recorded biological measurements of the runners.
“We’ve got a group of subjects into the environmental chamber, we’ve changed the conditions to replicate the summer or winter and we’ve got them to run a 10k under both of those conditions and taken various measurements on each runner whilst they’ve been completing their 10k.”
Brewer says every movement runners make produces heat. He explains that one way in which we lose heat is by sweating. The body loses heat through droplets of sweat. He says the body also loses heat by transporting the blood to the surface of the skin.
“That heat builds up in the body and can be really damaging unless you can lose that heat. One of the mechanisms by which we lose heat is through sweating, but we also lose heat by transporting the blood to the surface of the skin where it can lose heat out into the external environment. Now, that puts more strain on the heart, particularly in hot conditions because it’s much harder to lose heat when the external environment is warm as well.”
And that increased strain, adds Brewer, can be considerable. Running in higher temperatures results in faster heart rates.
“We found, for example, that heart rates were about 6 percent higher in the hotter conditions. We found that the runners dehydrated by around 30, 38 percent more in those hotter conditions. And they found it about 30 percent easier — the test of their thermal regulation, how they felt, (and) their perception of heat — was around a third lower when they were running in cold conditions.”
The body does not have to work as hard to pump blood to the skin’s surface. Brewer says that means running in cooler temperatures requires less energy. He adds that serious runners could cut valuable seconds off their personal best times by choosing to run in the winter.
“If you look at top-level sports, if you look at the likes of Mo Farah running 10Ks and winning world and Olympic championships; the difference between success and failure is seconds, and it’s certainly not minutes. We can be very confident that in cooler conditions you can certainly slice a decent percentage of time off your personal best.”
Several websites note that the most important thing for people who run in cold conditions is to wear the right clothing. Keeping as dry as possible is most important when exercising in low temperatures. Wear mittens on your hands instead of gloves. Wear shoes that will keep you from falling. And especially, wear more than one layer of clothing to keep sweat away from your skin.
So, if you are a runner, don’t let winter weather keep you indoors. Simply get ready for the low temperatures and start running.
I’m Anna Matteo.
Faiza Elmasry reported this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Test your understanding by taking this listening quiz. Play each video clip and then choose the best answer.
Quiz – Running in Cold Weather Improves Performance
Start the Quiz to find out
Words in This Story
bitter – ad. intensely unpleasant especially in coldness or rawness <a bitter wind>
replicate – v. to repeat or copy (something) exactly
10K – n. a long-distance road running competition over a distance of ten kilometers (6.2 miles)
chamber – n. a room used for a special purpose
mechanism – n. a process or system that is used to produce a particular result
strain – n. an injury to a body part or muscle that is caused by too much tension, effort, or use
thermal – adj. of, relating to, or caused by heat : designed to keep you warm by preventing heat from leaving your body
dehydration – n. to lose too much water
stress – n. physical force or pressure
personal best – phrase the best achievement one has ever had <Her time in the race was a personal best.>
The Benefits of Running in Cold Weather (Plus How to Stay Safe While Doing So)
Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images
Sure, it is freezing outside and running in cold weather might not feel quite as natural as when it’s warm and sunny. But before you retreat to the treadmill for your run, consider this: Running in the cold may actually feel easier, help you reach your weight loss goals, keep your metabolism going strong, and boost your mood. Intrigued? Keep reading. (Then check out these other hilarious reasons we love running in cold weather.)
5 Benefits of Running in Cold Weather
Running in cold weather might help you burn more fat. How? Chilly temperatures may change unwanted fat into a different kind of fat that actually burns calories. Think of it this way: The fat in your body isn’t equal. There’s white, brown, and shades in between. White fat is what we commonly think of when we think of unwanted body fat. Brown fat is metabolic tissue that burns calories, and there’s a growing body of scientific literature that suggests that exercising and exposing our bodies to cold temps turns our white fat to brown. (Here’s more on the science of building muscle and burning fat.) That means running in cold weather could not only help you burn calories, it could change your body composition.
Cold is actually the ideal weather for running. Believe it or not, cold weather is actually the ideal condition for your run, says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist, sports performance coach, and author of The Marathon Method. “The colder the weather, the less heat stress on the body, which makes it significantly easier to run,” Holland explains. “Running in hot and humid weather is extremely taxing on the body—there is a reason why the majority of marathons are held in October and November.” (Related: The Importance of *Mentally* Training for a Marathon)
Running is a great tool for preventing winter weight gain. Getting yourself to the gym is a challenge in itself (especially during the winter months), and a treadmill at home can get boring, which is why we love running in cold weather. It’s free, convenient, and never dull. “We tend to move less and eat more in the colder months,” Holland says. “Running burns significant calories and is therefore a powerful tool in maintaining and even losing weight during winter.”
Running can help stop you from feeling quite so SAD. “When the days get shorter and the temperature plummets, many people suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD),” Holland says. “Running helps release powerful hormones that help combat this depression, increasing positive mood states during the cold weather months.” And taking your run outdoors helps boost your mood even more: One study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that people who exercised outdoors reported increased energy, decreased feelings of depression, and were more likely to repeat their workouts.
Running will keep your metabolism going strong. “If you believe in evolutionary theory, our bodies are programmed to preserve our fat stores in the winter, slowing down our metabolisms in direct response to our decreased exercise levels,” Holland says. “Running in the cold serves to ‘trick’ the body, preventing this seasonal slowdown of metabolism and helping to maintain a healthy weight.” (Related: What to Eat Before, During, and After Cold Weather Workouts)
How to Stay Safe While Running in Cold Weather
Now that you know why you shouldn’t let winter weather stop you from pounding the pavement, it’s time to lace up your sneakers, bundle up, and get going! Keep these tips in mind:
Make sure to warm up. Add some calisthenics to your agenda before running in the cold. March in place, do jumping jacks, or hop for five minutes to get your heart pumping blood to your muscles. “This will ensure you don’t strain a muscle or injure your joints,” says Wells.
Dress appropriately. Layer, layer, layer. “Wearing loose, light layers helps trap warm air,” suggests Amy J. Derick, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University in Illinois. “The first layer should be made of a synthetic material, which wicks moisture away from your body,” she says. “The next layer should be insulating (wool and fleece are good insulators and hold in more body heat than cotton), and the top layer should be windproof and waterproof.” Try these winter workout apparel options to stay warm and energized.
Cover your extremities. “The biggest concern with exercising outdoors in the winter is the risk of frostbite,” says Wells. Make sure you cover your hands and ears, and turn around if your skin starts to sting or feel numb (especially the skin on your nose and chin, areas that are more difficult to cover).
Practice slip prevention. Frigid temperatures and precipitation can make for icy paths and sidewalks. Luckily there are a few things you can do to make sure you stay steady on your feet, says Mike Ross, exercise physiologist at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of the Loyola University Health System, and author of The Balance Manual. First, check the treads on your shoes. If they’re worn down, your running shoes won’t give you the traction you need. (We adore these winter running sneaks!) Second, have a plan. Think about what would happen if you fell anywhere on your route. Could you get help? If not, map out a safer alternative and make sure to take your cell phone. Finally, slow down while running in cold weather. Trying to go your normal pace when it’s icy out pushes your sense of balance.
- By Jessica Smith and Carey Rossi
Winter running is a challenge: You can’t just leave your home when it’s 25 degrees outside with wind and start jogging. Temperatures in the 30s and below tend to lock up your body and turn your extremities into icicles, causing stiff joints and tightened muscles, so cold weather running requires special preparation. That way, you can perform well, prevent injuries, and actually enjoy it.
Read on for tips so you don’t freeze your ass off when it’s brick outside.
Quick note: At a certain point, however, it’s actually too cold to run. A month ago, it was zero degrees with wind chill here in Denver and people ran a race in the snow. I recommend against that for legitimate health reasons, like hypothermia, frostbite on exposed areas, and increased chance of heart attack (if you’re at risk).
1. Do a Thorough Warm-Up Inside
If you usually rush through a quick, five-minute warm up before going outside, make it 15 minutes. Spend extra time to really loosen your muscles and joints and raise your body temperature to a light sweat. That way, when you step into the cold, it won’t feel as bad, and your muscles won’t get so tight.
If you have to warm up outside, wear an extra, easy-to-peel layer like a light hoodie, which you can tie around your waist later.
Temperatures in the 30s and below tend to lock up your body and turn your extremities into icicles.
2. Keep Your Head and Hands Warm
While it’s false you lose the most heat through your head, it’s still a damn good idea to keep your head warm in the cold. Wear a thick beanie or earmuffs, which you can also easily stuff in your pockets if you get hot.
Also, wear gloves. I have no idea how people can run without gloves when it’s below freezing. Even with gloves, your fingers eventually get stiff and numb.
3. Wear Base Layer
Base layer is perfect for any cold weather run because it keeps you as warm as a thick coat (but less cumbersome) while wicking away moisture. Wear a base layer top and bottom, and from there add extra layers based on temperature.
4. Underdress by a Few Degrees
You should dress for warmth, but you shouldn’t dress like you’re climbing Mount Everest. As you run, your body temperature increases—wear too much, and it’ll get mad hot.
Instead, underdress slightly: If it’s 25 outside, dress like it’s 45. (Adjusting by 20 degrees is a good rule of thumb.) Once you start running, you’ll heat up to compensate. Unless it’s windy. In that case, bundle up appropriately, or say “screw it” and stay inside with a cup of tea.
5. Stay Aerobic
Your heart beats faster when it’s cold, which intensifies any outdoor run. So, unless you’re training for a specific event, cold weather isn’t really the best time to channel your inner Usain Bolt.
Prevent extra stress on your body by staying in your aerobic zone (130 to 150 bpm). It will feel slower than what you’re used to, but you will still get the same benefits. Use it to improve your conditioning, maintain your running muscles, and simply enjoy the outdoors with friends or in solitude.
Cold weather isn’t really the best time to channel your inner Usain Bolt.
6. Wear Shoes with Traction
Ideally, run on a path that’s clear of snow and ice. If you’re running on snow, however, wear shoes with great traction and protection, and wear warm, comfortable socks that keep your feet dry. Also, stay focused—the path will likely have slippery areas.
7. Stay Hydrated
You might not sweat much when it’s 10 degrees, but hydration is still important. Drink liquids before, during, and after a run.
8. Finish Fast
Minimize the distance from the end of your run to a warm place. Your body temperature will drop quickly after you finish, so prepare in advance. If you can finish your run at your front door, perfect; if you have to drive back home, have a thick jacket and hot beverage waiting for you in the car.
Finally, keep your run between 30 to 60 minutes. Highly experienced runners can do slightly more, but after 90 minutes, you risk compromising your immune system. (Not to mention, spending that much time in the cold just sucks.)
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and founder of groombuilder.com.
4 Cold-Weather Running Tips for Beginners
It’s that time of year, everyone. The leaves are falling and the breeze is chilly. People are trading in their tank tops and shorts for blue jeans and long-sleeve tees. It’s a great time to be a runner, but it can be a frustrating time if you’ve just started running and have never had to brave the elements.
The number one question heading into the chilly months is, “As a new runner, what can I expect with cold-weather running?”
More: 9 Tips for Running in Cold Weather
The short (and most exciting) answer, is faster times.
Yes, we run a lot faster in the cold races than we do in the standard, hot-summer month 5Ks and 10Ks, but there are a few things to learn before heading into the snow.
First, let me share my worst cold-running experience.
On January 17, 2009, I ran my first 5K. When I woke up that morning, the thermometer said 22 degrees, with a wind chill of 19. Having never done anything in conditions like that (I trained on an indoor track), I panicked and put on all the winter clothing I could find. It was a big mistake.
My official getup consisted of the following:
- Full-length thermal underwear
- Wind pants
- Long sleeve T-shirt
- Face mask
- Beanie Scarf
More: 3 Tips for Training in the Cold
By mile one, I was so hot that I began shedding clothes with no concern about whether I’d get them back.
In all likelihood, this won’t be your experience, but it does bring me to what you should remember for cold-weather running:
More: Don’t Let Cold Slow You Down
Another advantage to warming up inside is you’re less likely to wear too many layers when you journey out into the cold. How many times do you feel like you want to strip off a jacket once you’re 10 minutes into a run? By warming up first, you avoid bringing more clothes than you typically need.
2. Don’t worry too much about speed, distance, and all the other data you normally track on your runs.
While running in cooler temps might indeed be easier on the body, once you start running in the extremes, it takes a toll on the body. Small studies suggest that exercising in extreme heat or cold (we’re talking below freezing) can play a major role in exercise performance. Plus, the introduction of snow, ice, or a loss of light will inevitably make you pump the breaks a bit. In other words, your data might look different in the winter. That’s why I suggest giving your trackers and apps a break and running by feel versus getting hung up on the numbers.
3. Get good gear.
Perhaps the most important part of winter running is wearing the right clothing to make sure you’re warm enough, but don’t overheat either.
Here’s my go-to gear guide for staying warm:
Start with a skintight base layer. “The best thing you could ever do is the initial base layer—as tight as possible—so your legs, arms, and chest are covered,” says Casa. I personally love Oiselle’s Wazzie Wool base layer, which absorbs moisture and has convenient thumbholes. After a good base layer is on, you can add one or two layers on top, depending on how cold it is. For anything under 30 degrees, I throw a long-sleeved tech shirt over my base layer (races often include these in your entry fee!) and if it’s extra cold, snowing, or windy, I top it with a water and windproof jacket. Pro tip: Target carries the Champion brand, which has great jacket options at a more affordable price.
Cover up as much as possible. Make sure that most of your exposed skin is covered—this includes ankles, neck, fingers, head, toes—where heat can be easily lost. I always wear good socks that cover the space between my heels and the ends of my running tights. I personally love Stance crew socks. I also always look for layers with thumbholes to keep my wrists covered, wear Smartwool liner gloves, and usually throw on a buff so my neck and chin can stay covered, too. I also never leave the house without a good running hat. If you have long hair, make sure to buy one that has a hole in the back for your ponytail!
Use reflective gear—and a headlamp. With dark mornings and even darker evenings, you’ll most likely find yourself running with the sun either rising or setting. It’s critical you wear some reflective gear, and if it’s super dark, always bring a headlamp. Many clothing brands carry clothes that are reflective. I am personally a vest fan; you barely notice they’re on, and it keeps you fully in sight!
Invest in weatherproof shoes. In the winter, you’ll most likely come face to face with snow at least a few times on your runs. Weatherproof shoes will prevent moisture from seeping through to your toes and will ensure your sneakers last through the harsh winter months. I wear Altra Lone Peak trail shoes, which allow me to run through muddy puddles and sleet-filled trails. These shoes also prevent me from having any excuse to get out the door. As I like to say: If your clothes can be weatherproof, so can you.
With the right layers, attitude, and perspective, running in the winter can actually be fun, I promise! I always have to remind myself that the hardest part is stepping out the door. Once I start moving, my body quickly warms up, and I remember the reason I fell in love with running in the first place: No matter where I am or what time of year it is, running provides a sense of strength, freedom, and joy.
How Running in the Cold Impacts Race Performance
Winter is already upon us, and many runners are looking ahead to their final races of the year before some down time.
There are still a number of Turkey Trots for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day runs, and New Year’s Day races with good competition and maybe even some holiday-themed prizes.
When racing and working out at this time of year, the temperature is a concern for runners all over the country. Not only do many runners think running in the cold is bad for you, but it’s not an appealing thought to be standing on the starting line shivering in your spandex.
Today, we will look at the effects of cold temperatures on performance.
While it’s well-known that performance is impaired when it’s too hot, it’s also likely that performance will be impaired if it’s too cold.
The research on running in the cold
First, we will take a look at the scientific literature to see what happens to your body when it exercises in the cold. As is often the case with environmental factors, the military has taken a keen interest in the physiology of exercise in the cold.
This was the topic of a 1991 review by Thomas Doubt at the Naval Medical Research Institute. In this article, Doubt lists a number of changes that affect the body during exercise in low-temperatures:
- You rely on carbohydrates more and less on fats for energy
- Your lactate production is higher for a given intensity, indicating that you’re going deeper into “oxygen debt” to produce the necessary energy to maintain a given pace (as evidenced by a higher oxygen consumption rate in colder temperatures)
- Your muscle contractions are less powerful, which demands an increase in fast-twitch muscle fiber usage, perhaps explaining the higher lactate production
All of these adaptations have consequences for running: relying more on carbohydrates will drain your energy reserves faster on long runs, and could spell trouble in a winter marathon. Higher lactate production, and less efficient muscle contractions are also problematic for shorter races.
Fortunately, Doubt points out that these effects can be mitigated with warm clothing and moderate activity (like jogging) to maintain your body temperature. However, short to medium-length bouts of high-intensity don’t seem to be as effective at boosting body or muscle temperatures. This means it is best to use a continuous workout rather than short bouts of exercise as once you cool down you will struggle to warm back up during a race or workout!
Potential reasons for performance decline in cold weather
Reviewing more recent literature, in a 2006 article, Lawrence Armstrong (not Lance, don’t worry!) at the University of Connecticut speculated that some of the performance drops associated with cold weather may be the result of having a higher baseline metabolic rate, which is one of the body’s mechanisms to maintaining core temperature.
Shivering is a good example of this; though your metabolic rate is higher in the cold even when you’re not shivering. Armstrong suggests this could “steal” energy that would otherwise be used for athletic performance.
Armstrong also cited several studies which demonstrate that dehydration is a risk in cold weather, as low temperatures increase urine output and diminish thirst. Water losses from breathing and sweating remain significant, even in cold temperatures, so staying hydrated should be a priority.
How the body adapts to running in the cold
A 2004 review by Myra Nimmo at the University of Strathclyde in the UK looked at how the body’s adaptations to cold vary based on the temperature outside.
Nimmo reworked many of the findings of Armstrong and Doubt; your body burns more carbohydrates, less fat, and has higher oxygen consumption at a given exercise intensity in colder temperatures.
Explosive power is also limited by the temperature of the muscles (which, Nimmo points out, can be significantly different to the body’s core temperature).
Nimmo found that these physiological changes become more drastic as your core temperature drops. This means from a performance standpoint, it is critically important to keep your body warm at all times when exercising in the cold.
She also noted that even though many of the military and athletic studies are done on “athletes”, endurance runners are especially vulnerable to performance deficits from cold temperatures due to their slim build. Environments that are cold and wet are also problematic, as they dramatically increase heat loss and render many fabrics ineffective.
According to Nimmo, the ideal temperature for endurance exercise is somewhere around 52 degrees Fahrenheit.
Final thoughts on running in the cold
From all of these studies, we can conclude that running in the cold can impact performance. Thankfully, our look into the research also revealed some helpful tips.
- It is important to stay warm before and during a workout or a race in the cold. As Doubt points out, it is much harder to bring it back up once it has dropped. Warming up before a race or workout becomes even more critical in the cold.
- Maintaining your carbohydrate and fluid intake levels are also important, as you’re more likely to “hit the wall” in training or in a long race during cold weather. Dehydration is a big risk too. To make sure it does not happen to you, read more research on the science of hitting the wall.
- Layering is always a good idea in the cold; it is easier to calibrate your optimal clothing level when you have several thinner layers versus one thick one. If you’re going to train or race in cold weather frequently, it’s probably worth investing in some technical cold-weather clothing, especially if you encounter cold and wet conditions frequently. Here is our guide to winter clothing and what to wear for any given temperature.
- Bitterly cold days are often not as bad as 33° and rainy; rain can make otherwise warm clothes useless. If you find yourself running in cold rain often:
- Buy latex gloves. Latex is water proof; you can wear the latex gloves under or over your mittens. This will keep your hands dry. Once they get wet, your fingers are going to hurt!
- Wear tight clothing. Loose clothes will sag more and weight you down. Not only will tight clothes feel more comfortable, but because they are closer to your skin, they can create a layer of warmth similar to that of a wetsuit.
- Put Vaseline on exposed parts of your skin. Vaseline is water-resistant and it will help keep you warm if it’s windy.
- Put newspaper in your shoes immediately after your run. The newspaper will soak up the water and help your shoes maintain their structure. Do not put shoes in the dryer or the oven – it will shrink the material and lessen their shelf life.
- It is better to start out a race or workout with too many layers on than not enough; you can always take something off during the race. Many larger races donate clothes found along the course to charity. Take a trip to your local thrift store and but a few $2 sweatshirts you can wear and throwaway mid-race without concern.
- If you have trouble staying motivated in the cold, read this 5 tips for winter running motivation.
- Finally, it will probably pay off to be realistic: just like you can’t expect to run at your best when it’s 95° out, the same goes for a 15° turkey trot. While you may not hit your PR, you can still get a competitive edge on other runners who aren’t prepared for the effects of cold temperatures.
Will Running Outside in the Winter Make You Sick?
The old adage “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is true about winter runners. While others head inside to indoor tracks and treadmills, those loyal to the outdoors don’t let freezing temperatures, zero daylight and the threat of catching a cold scare them away. “I’ve been running through Minnesota winters for close to 40 years now,” says Dr. Robert Johnson, MD Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. “I’ve run in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero — 77 degrees Fahrenheit below with windchill — and I’ve survived.”
Dr. Johnson says that there is no known evidence that running in the cold has an adverse affect on the immune system. In fact, getting outside in the cold weather can actually stimulate your immune system. The real threat is not dressing properly. When layering, there are two main body parts you want to protect. The first is the head. A lot of blood naturally flows to the head and, in turn, a lot of heat can be lost if it’s not properly covered. The other body part to protect is the trunk, i.e., the chest and torso.
When the body’s trunk is cold, the blood vessels in the periphery constrict, making those areas more susceptible to the cold. “So the trick to keeping fingers and toes warm is to obviously cover them,” says Dr. Johnson. “But you also want to make sure there’s an extra layer over the torso so that the body doesn’t get hypothermia.”
What about that runny nose you get running in the cold? The common perception is that this means you’re sick, but Dr. Johnson says that it’s actually cold-induced rhinorrhea. The body naturally produces more mucous to warm and humidify the air we breathe. “People worry about frostbite of the lung but it doesn’t really happen because our respiratory system is so efficient,” says Dr. Johnson. When we exhale, the warm air combines with the cold air outside, condenses, and causes further mucous buildup around the nose.
One of the main factors that determine whether you can run in the cold, and be healthy, is intelligence. Of course, winter runners should wear reflective clothing (Dr. Johnson suggests a headlamp) and running shoes with extra traction, but they should also know their route and their limits. Runners don’t want to be left fatigued, walking a mile (or more) home with sweat-soaked clothing in freezing temperatures. That’s a great way to drop their body temperature, feel cold and get sick, says Dr. Johnson.
Ultimately, the temperature and windchill should dictate how a runner dresses and therefore whether or not a runner will get sick. Dr. Johnson emphasizes that runners can always take a layer off if they’re warm; if they get cold, they won’t have the same luck. Once it gets around freezing, Dr. Johnson opts for a fleece hat rather than a traditional baseball cap, and a neck gaiter to pull over his nose and cheeks. Usually, his eyes are the only body part that’s exposed. “The air I exhale keeps my eyes from freezing shut,” he says.
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When Is It Too Cold to Exercise Outside?
1. When the windchill is in the negatives, skip the outdoors.
“Extreme wind chill can make it unsafe—even if you dress warmly,” says Lipi Roy, M.D., an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School. As a general rule, if it’s warmer than five degrees (F), your chances of frostbite are low, Roy says. But when the windchill brings temps down to below -15 degrees, exposed skin can get frostbitten in less than 30 minutes. Translation: The treadmill is calling your name.
2. Know the warning signs.
The first sign of frostbite is numbness, followed by a tingling or burning sensation. If you suspect frostbite, head back inside and warm the area gradually by running it under lukewarm water or wrapping it in a warm blanket, Roy says. While you can treat superficial frostbite at home, hypothermia is a true medical emergency. If anyone you’re working out with has slurred speech, intense shivering, or a loss of coordination, get to a hospital stat.
3. Wear synthetic fabrics, fleece, and wool.
“The first layer should be synthetic—something that will wick moisture away from your skin,” Roy says. The second layer should be fleece or wool to help insulate, and the third should be a breathable, waterproof layer to help repel wind. Avoid cotton: It loses its insulating power when we become sweaty.”The one thing I’m always really adamant about is having something dry to change into,” says Chris Lopez, another member of The Rise. “When the workout is over, you don’t want to be stuck in wet, sweaty clothes when it’s 30 degrees outside.”
4. Cover your head, fingers, and toes.
Blood flow stays concentrated in our core, making our limbs more susceptible to the cold. In addition to wearing gloves, consider roomier shoes to accommodate thermal or wool socks. A large percentage of body heat is also lost through the head, so wearing a hat is a must. For extra protection, wear a face mask or scarf. And don’t forget sunscreen on your exposed face—especially if you’re skiing. “UV rays are just as strong in the winter,” Roy says.Lopez also suggests an unconventional idea: Wear latex gloves under your regular gloves. That way, if you’re doing burpees or push-ups on any potentially wet or icy surface, your hands won’t end up wet, even if your gloves do. Same goes for your feet. “Put a small plastic bag on each foot, then your socks, then your shoes,” Lopez says. Admittedly it can look a little goofy.
5. Avoid the rain and wind.
The body has a hard time managing its temperature when soaked; water draws heat away from the body 25 times faster than air because of its higher density and heat capacity. And freezing windchill can be dangerous (like we mentioned earlier). Not only can it quickly make the outdoors feel much colder than the themometer reads, wind pushes air and moisture through our clothes and removes the layer of warm air that surrounds our body. #Rude.
6. Don’t overdress.
Since your body warms up once you get moving, it’s OK to feel cold at first. When performing higher-intensity activities, overdressing can lead to excess sweating, which will cause the body to become wet. Damp skin is an unfortunate conductor of heat loss and will lower body temperature and increase risk of hypothermia.The solution isn’t very scientific: “Just experiment , and see what your body best tolerates,” Roy says.
7. Enjoy the scenery.
Don’t forget that being outside likely means better views—no matter where you live. “For us, we get time to enjoy New York for New York—enjoy all the beauty,” Lopez says. “If you’re at the gym, you always see the same thing.”And let’s face it: Whenever you want, you really can just head back inside. There’s always hot yoga.
Originally published November 2011. Updated January 2016.
“Damn, it’s freezing. I know I said I’d go for a run, but in this cold it’s probably unhealthy, right?”
Sound familiar? It’s this line of reasoning that keeps me on the couch, watching Downton Abbey, crying into my nachos. But is running in cold weather actually unhealthy, or is it just a flimsy excuse?
To find out, we talked to the legendary Dr. Jack Daniels, one of the world’s best running coaches, and got the skinny on cold.
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You’ve already heard of Dr. Daniels if you are one of the gazillion people that read Christopher MacDougal’s Born to Run, where he’s prominently featured. He’s the guy that analyzed the gait of elite runners and came back with the 180 strides per minute figure that you hear so often today. He wrote Daniels’ Running Formula, he is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the world, and he lives in a place with cold winters. The man knows what he’s talking about.
Too Cold For Running?
A lot of people think that at a certain temperature your lungs will freeze and you’ll die. Except in very extreme conditions (a cold day for the Yukon) that’s not something you need to worry about. “The pulmonary system is very very good at warming air,” said Daniels. “That doesn’t mean it’s going feel good to go running at 40 below, but it probably won’t freeze your lungs.” He cited a study, done many years ago, in which doctors measured the temperature in dogs’ lungs while they were inhaling air that was negative 40 degrees F. The air they exhaled matched the dogs’ body temperatures.
At the same time, Daniels points out that when it’s really cold there is virtually no moisture in the air. So even though you’re not freezing your lungs, you can certainly dry them out. Your throat and lungs can even crack and bleed if you dry them out enough. Aside from that, generally the greatest physical danger you face when it’s freezing out is slipping and falling in some ice. We previously gave you some tips to avoid slipping while running, and Jack agreed with those. He added that you’ll want to adapt more of a “shuffling” gait to maximize the surface area of your foot that comes into contact with the ground, giving you more traction, and he notes that you should be especially careful going downhill.
If You’re Getting Over a Cold
I’ve definitely used the “getting over being sick” excuse more than a few times, but was I right to? While Daniels notes that he isn’t an MD, he says most doctors usually advise, “If the cold is below your neck then don’t run. If it’s just in your nose, it’s probably okay.” That true for running period, but it goes double when it’s cold out. When you have a cough, the tissues in your lungs and throat are likely to be weak and inflamed already. You don’t want to compound those problems by pummeling them with cold, dry air.
A lot of people say that when you run in the cold you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. The theory is that taking air in through your nose warms it better than when it comes in through your gaping mouth hole. Daniels points out, though, that the majority of people simply cannot get enough air to run when breathing in through their nostrils. And that’s a healthy person on a nice day; someone with a stuffy nose in freezing weather? Forget it.
A big mistake a lot of people make when it’s cold is that they decide to do their warmup inside, where it’s toasty and warm, and then head outside for their run. Sounds like a good plan, except for one little thing which makes it a terrible idea: sweat. “You’re going to build up sweat, and then it will freeze when you go outside,” says Daniels. “You really want to stay dry.”
Like many other coaches, he isn’t a proponent of stretching before a run, either (it’s thought to cause more injuries than it prevents). His advice: take it outside and start running, just go very slow and easy until your muscles warm up on their own, then you can speed up to your normal pace. Just don’t rush getting there. It’s a lot easier to tear a muscle, tendon, or ligament when it’s cold and tight.
Watch the Wind
“I would say that the most important thing for running in the cold is to determine in which direction you’re running,” says Dr. Daniels. He doesn’t mean north/south/east/west, he means in relation to the wind. Not only is running into the wind a lot harder, but it can freeze you. Jack tells a story of a run he went on when it was 14 degrees F and there was a five or six MPH wind, which isn’t much. Not thinking, he set out running with the wind at his back, and he didn’t even feel all that cold because his speed essentially neutralized it… until he turned around to come back. He’d gotten warm when running with the wind and worked up a sweat, when he turned into the wind, the sweat froze. By the time he got home, his hat had formed a solid ring of ice around his head. Not fun.
When he was coaching in Oklahoma City (which gets rather cold and windy), he would use a van to drive his athletes out into the wind, then have them run back with the wind at their tails. Or he’d have them run out with it at their backs then pick them up. Sounds dreamy, but most of us don’t have personal coaches willing to do that, so Jack recommends first running into the wind, and then turning around to have it at your back on your way home.
What to Wear
There’s always a lot of debate about the best clothes for anything, but there is general agreement that you want to wear a fabric which doesn’t absorb water (e.g. not cotton). Synthetic threads are generally very good about this, but Jack’s pick (and mine) is wool. “Wool is great when it’s cold because it will keep you warm even when it’s wet,” says Jack. That said, preventing perspiration should still be a high priority.
Layers are the best way to go, because as you heat up you can unzip or remove items to keep you right in your perfect temperature range. Jack suggests relatively tight, long-legged/sleeved undergarments. If you can afford it, go wool, and consider doing the same for your socks and a wool hat. On top of that, you want a layer than cuts through the wind better and can be vented in various ways. Gloves, too, should be wind-proof (or wind-resistant, at least). Remember to continually adjust things to keep from getting too hot.
A Better Alternative
If you head out on your run and you’re feeling really uncomfortable, don’t be a martyr. Turn around and head to the gym. A lot of people hate treadmills—(myself included)—but you can achieve real results on them. As Jack recalled:
I had a guy that was a 2:12 marathoner who moved somewhere where it was cold. He didn’t like running in the cold, so he did two 20-mile plus runs a week on a treadmill, then came to New York and and ran the NYC Marathon in 2:09! You just have to find a way to combat the boredom.
Indeed, if you’re going to be running on a treadmill all winter, you may want to invest in a tablet so you can catch up on movies as you pound out the miles. Also, because a treadmill does some of the work for you, you want to turn the incline to at least 1-percent which more closely mimics running outdoors.
There are worse things than freezing cold weather. Jack’s least favorite conditions are when it’s 34 degrees, the wind is blowing, and it’s raining. There is nothing worst than being wet when it’s cold out. To that end, he recommends avoiding puddles like the plague. Get your feet wet on a really cold day, and your misery is more or less guaranteed. He also recommends carrying a cell phone with you just in case you should hurt yourself or need help. You do not want to be crawling along the ground when it’s frozen.
Above all, know your limits and pay attention to your body. Listen to your instincts and play it conservatively. Make sure you’ve eaten enough before your run, as you need calories to generate body heat. If you come home freezing cold, slurp down some hot soup and take a steamy shower. Not only will that help get your core body temperature back up to normal, but the shower will help moisten your dried-out mucous membranes. Above all, be safe, and check back next week for another Fitmodo.
Huge thanks to Dr. Jack Daniels and Brian Rosetti of the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project. If you want personalized training plans, coaching, nutrition information, and other advice, you definitely want to check them out.
Image credit: /<a href=”TKlinkTK”>Blazej Lyjak
Snow, ice, sleet, slush. Winter may not offer ideal conditions for runners, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, falling behind on your training for spring and summer events. In fact, many races, such as the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto, are 10 weeks away, meaning there’s ample time for novice runners to get up to speed for race day – if they start now. The inclement weather simply requires a little more planning. Follow these winter training techniques and you’ll be able to battle the elements and get ready for spring run-off.
Add extra time to your warm-up
Stretching before a run is always advisable, but in the winter, make sure to add an extra 10 to 15 minutes to your warm-up, especially if you are running in the morning, says Jenny Hadfield, author of Running for Mortals. “Your muscles are already shorter and colder because you’ve been sleeping and inactive inside,” she says. Looking for a shortcut? Ms. Hadfield offers this tip: “Sometimes I get in the shower just to wake up my body if I’m going to go a little bit longer. It kind of preheats your body. It’s a MacGyver way of doing it.”
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Plan your route
In the winter, you need to take the time to map out your run before you head out. You don’t want to be 15 kilometres out in the middle of nowhere when you realize you have too many layers on or find yourself on unknown terrain. Alex Coffin, who runs the website marathoncanada.com, suggests running in loops. “That way, you know where the potholes or the ice is,” he says. Once you do, you can run the second loop with more confidence. As well, plan your loop to go by your house or car so that you can drop a layer if you are too warm.
Don’t let the fact that there’s no hot sun beating down on you make you think you don’t need to hydrate. “You’re perspiring just as you would in the summer time,” Ms. Hadfield says. Of course, you may not need to carry as much fluid as you would in summer. As well, if you’re going out for a long run, put warm water in your water bottle rather than cold, she says. “It will take longer to freeze.”
Slow it down
The safest thing when running in snowy or icy conditions is to slow it down. By shortening your stride and slowing your pace a bit, you have a better chance of avoiding injury by decreasing your risk of slipping. Kevin Smith, president of Marathon Dynamics, a Toronto-based coaching company, cautions against suddenly adjusting your stride or tempo when you are on ice or other slippery surfaces. “Because if they change stuff when they’re on it, guess what happens? They fall down,” he says. Keep an eye out for ice and be ready for it.
Join the club
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It’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for a long run when you look out the window and see piles of snow. “Motivation is the most difficult part of running in the winter,” says Lorrie Dobni, president of the Saskatoon Road Runners Association. Joining a group run or finding a running partner will help get you out the door. “Knowing that you’re going to meet your friends out there is great, because you think, ‘They’re all going to be there and if I don’t show up because it’s 25 below then I’m the one who’s wimping out.’ “
Go shorter distances
Running on snow means having to work harder, whether runners realize it or not, Mr. Smith says. It’s likely that every mile run on snow will take one full minute longer to do than running on clear pavement, he says. That means that if you’re heading out for a 15-mile (25-km) run, for example, you’re going to be working an added 15 minutes. Shorten your distances appropriately.
The wind at your back
“Head out into the wind if at all possible. That’s a very good idea, especially the longer the run you’re going to do. It stops the sweat from chilling you down when you’re on your way back. Plus, you’re tired in the last half of a run, so there’s more chance of feeling the effects of the freezing. And it makes it extra hard to return into the wind,” Mr. Smith says. Check the weather channel just before you head out to see what the winds will be, he says.
Put your best foot forward
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If you are going to be running on snow or through slush, you may want to mix up your footwear. Ms. Dobni frequently wears trail shoes in the winter because their tread provides a better grip. “They’re really good on the snow,” she says. Ms. Hadfield prefers Yaktrax, an anti-slip traction device that attaches to shoes. If you don’t want to change your shoes but they have a lot of mesh, wrap each one in duct tape to keep excess water out. Your feet will thank you.
Suck it up and hit the treadmill
“The treadmill is a fabulously convenient tool,” Ms. Hadfield says. She’ll get on it, she says, “when it’s either icy or supersnowy to the point where you’re really not running with your normal gate, or it drops much below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.” No, you might not like it as much as running outdoors, but depending on how poor conditions are outside, getting on a treadmill offers a better quality workout, she says.
As we enter the middle of December, winter has truly set in. As the temperatures drop, runners can become weary of running outside. In Canada, there are few cities where year-round winter running isn’t an option. For the most part, with the proper clothing and footwear, running outside all winter is feasible. With that being said, there are a few scenarios where running inside is the better option.
RELATED: The 7 emotional stages of winter running
How to run in the cold
To run during the coldest days of the year, make sure you have moisture-wicking clothing as a base layer. One of the biggest barriers to running in extreme cold is sweat. It may seem backwards, but sweating a lot when you’re wearing many layers is a bad thing in the cold. If you’ve worn too many layers, especially if they’re not highly breathable, sweat can then freeze and cause frostbite and hypothermia. You shouldn’t feel completely warm when starting your run. Being a little bit chilly at the onset means you’ll warm up to a comfortable temperature and won’t sweat too much. When getting dressed, don’t overlook your first layer. Wearing a pair of shorts under your pants is a good way to keep the muscles around you hips and glutes firing properly.
When dressing for cold runs, make sure extremities are well covered. They’re the first to succumb to frostbite, which can become serious quite quickly.
In addition to dressing right, consider sticking to loops that don’t get too far from home. Staying within a few kilometres of warmth means that you can get home easily if you start regretting your outdoor running decision.
Invest in some winter running shoes. The improved tread, moisture-wicking upper and wind blocking materials will keep your feet warm and moving well.
RELATED: Cold weather dressing: what to wear at different temperatures
When you shouldn’t run outside
There are several scenarios where either a day on the treadmill or a day off are a a better option than an outdoor run. If you’re doing speed work, move your workout inside. Running a workout in extreme cold when you’re trying to go really fast is a bad plan. This is likely to feel quite terrible and could also result in injury.
If you feel like you’ve layered so much that you can’t move properly, it’s too cold. Natural movement is key, and if you’re unable to run comfortably, take it to the treadmill.
Skip the run if it’s icy or slippery. Running on slippery conditions will lead to a sore hamstring or possibly a wipe-out.
With winter running it’s key to know your body. With the right gear, runners should be able to brave almost any conditions, but if you’re someone who gets cold easily or struggles to warm up, pick your winter running battles. On the coldest days it might be better for your training and more enjoyable to sweat it out on the treadmill, rather than freezing outside.
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Newswise — It’s cold out there! Before you head outside for your usual run around the block, it’s important to check the forecast — temperature, wind and moisture are all key factors in planning a safe winter workout.
“Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe,” says Julie Ruane, a nurse practitioner in the Division of Sports Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). “However, we know that in Boston and surrounding areas, it’s common for people to train for the Boston Marathon outside all winter. So we encourage runners and other athletes to take the necessary precautions.”
One of the biggest concerns for winter athletes is pulling a muscle. “When it’s cold, your muscles are tighter, less flexible and at a higher risk for injury,” Ruane says.
Cold weather causes muscles to lose heat and contract, causing tightness throughout the body and reducing the range of motion in your joints. This forces muscles to work much harder to complete the same tasks they easily perform in milder weather.
“To counteract this stress on your muscles and joints, be sure to warm up for a little longer than usual, and be sure to stretch and cool down again at the end of a workout,” Ruane says. “When a muscle is warm, it has better blood flow and stretches more easily.”
Since cold or tight muscles have a higher risk of strain, layering your clothing is important.
“There is a happy medium between bundling up and not wearing enough,” Ruane says. “Listen to your body – you will want to find the balance between keeping yourself warm while not losing too much fluid through excess sweating.”
Ruane recommends layers that can be easily removed and cautions athletes not to forget about their hands, toes, nose and ears. “A hat, headband, facemask, mittens and proper socks are important in the colder temps,” she says.
Stay Hydrated and Eat Plenty of Carbs
Drinking plenty of water – whether it’s still or sparkling water – is just as important during the winter months as it is in summer.
“Even though you might not sweat as much, your body is still burning through its stored carbohydrates, especially in colder weather,” Ruane says. “Drinking carbs such as a sports beverage can help. After you exercise, foods high in carbs and proteins, such as warm oatmeal and nuts or hot chili, are also helpful, specifically for muscle recovery.”
The final obstacle to cold weather exercising is snow and icy sidewalks.
“Be sure to watch your step,” Ruane says. “The ground can be slick and black ice can sneak up on you.”
Dark days and precipitation, however, don’t mean you have to head indoors. “Finding a running route that is well lit and familiar to you is important,” Ruane says. “We tell our avid runners that it’s okay to be out there, just be smart.”