- Always Warm-up! I recommend warming up gently indoors as it's much harder to warm-up a cold muscle in the cold. Do you have a long hallway in your house or some serious space in your living room? Do some drills back and forth to prepare for a nice ride, walk, or run outdoors on a chilly day. Then ease into it when you get outside. Don't expect to go 100% (see #4).
- Bundle appropriately. The biggest risk to participating in outdoor activities when the temps are low is hypothermia. You want to make sure that you're wearing the right kind of layers and enough of them. This morning I wasn't quite on top of this. I had on shorts (should have gone with something a little longer despite the fact that I've avoided my razor for the last 5 days), a t-shirt and a performance long sleeved shirt, and that was IT! I did wear a visor, but more about that in a few. I should have also had on some running gloves because my fingers were getting icy while holding Truffle Shuffle and my ears too could have used some good cover. Try to pick layers that you could easily remove if you're going to be working hard for a long time and your body temp will go up (hence two shirts). Make the layers light weight so that you can also carry them with you to replace as you slow down or for rest intervals. Choose fabrics that will trap some air inside against the body (the performance shirt) and avoid things that will get too wet with the sweat you release as the sweat can get cold and make you colder. Keep your head, hands, and feet warm too so that you retain the body heat you need to keep blood circulating away from the core and out to the extremities.
- Look at the temp before you go out. Choose your outdoor exercise activities wisely and at the appropriate time of day. While snowboarding is a great activity during most times of the day when the sun is up (because you already wear a ton of gear to keep warm), running just might not be best even at 9am if your temps aren't high enough. Check out the windchill chart here that references what temps (and windchill) are safest to exercises in. Note that it also states that the green zone ("Safety Zone") is also where there is the greatest sense of false security from the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite.
- Be prepared. This is both a mental and a physical thing. First let's tackle physical...if you haven't been exercising regularly, the cold months are not the time to take up outdoor exercise. There are far more dangers involving slips, falls, accidents with a car in the dark, as well as the frostbite and hypothermia that happen in colder months. And dehydration, which we'll get to in a moment. If you've only been exercising indoors, this is also not the time to switch to the outdoors. Save switching for the milder months of spring and fall to adjust. And mental preparedness means that you have to understand that your body does not function the same in the cold as it does the warm, so you may not go as fast or as far as you'd like. For instance today I did a 1.89 mile run around my neighborhood and I am blanking on why I skipped one part of the run that would normally have been about 2.14 miles. My pace this morning was 10:52/mile! Earlier this week I went for a run that was 2.11 miles and it was chilly out (probably low 50's or high 40's) and my pace was 8:49/mile. Huge differences in time because of the cold. I also couldn't mentally get settled into pushing myself in the colder weather on today's run.
- Gear. By gear I mean a few things including the clothing that we talked about in #2. Ideally you should have some kind of reflective gear if you're going to be running, walking, cycling etc at any time of year, but with less sunlight in the winter I highly recommend wearing it now. Make sure lights on your bike have good batteries. Be cautious if you use your ear buds in the cold, as I am constantly reminded by mine. The plastic and metal get cold and they will make your ears cold too. If I had known (remembered to not have a false sense of security) that I would be suffering from a headache post run due to cold ear buds in my ears, I would have remembered my ear band to keep the buds and the ears warmer.And bring water with you if you can. I'm also a fan of these little numbers and I got them for my ex's mom one year for Christmas because she lives and runs in Iowa year round.
- Cool Down, but don't rush inside to do it. Your body needs to come down slowly and that means slowing down outdoors. You are sweating and running inside all sweaty can only make you sweat more. I'm not saying stay outdoors for a long time after you finish running, but I like to walk around and finish the song I'm listening to before I head indoors. It gives me a chance to catch my breath before I enter the hot zone that is my house.
- Rehydrate and refuel. The cold is a good deceiver when it comes to fluid loss. We rarely think we've done any sweating when we workout in the cold, but the rules of re-hydration still apply. And just because you exercised doesn't mean that you can gorge yourself on Christmas cookies. I'm being moderate in my intake and I hope you are too. Make smart choices about what you're putting back into your body so that you can get the most out of these winter workouts. Here's a great article about Winter Superfoods.
Do you exercise outdoors?
In the winter?
Do you do winter sports?