While many people tend to put on a few pounds over the winter months because of decreased outdoor activity, there are many dedicated individuals who brave the cold and refuse to let the weather be an excuse for a decreased fitness level. While the risks of exercising in the heat have many risks, there are also special considerations that you should be aware of when exercising in the cold.
While extreme cold does have legitimate dangers of hypothermia and frostbite, exercising in the cold mainly has many unwelcome complications. This would obviously include having proper insulation, but also modifications before, during, and after training.
No matter what the temperature is outside, you should always dress to maintain comfort during the activity, and not for the start of the activity before peak body heat is reached. The first layer of clothing should be a fabric that wicks sweat away from the body, while the middle layers should have strong insulation properties. The outermost layer should be zippered, which can be opened as your body heats up. The goal is to stay warm without having a significant sweat accumulation in your clothing. Much heat can be lost through the head so proper covering is essential, along with protection for areas in danger of frostbite such as the ears, fingers, and toes.
When exercising in the cold it is recommended to take the extra time needed to warm up your core temperature, to consider wind direction and velocity, and to avoid prolonged exposure to the cold after your activity. If you are training in windy conditions it is a good idea to “go out” facing the wind and to “come back” with the wind at your back which limits your exposed skin to wind chill while being sweaty. Any veteran cold weather exerciser will tell you that no matter how cold it is you will sweat if you are exercising at proper intensity!
After exercise it is important to add clothing or seek a warm environment. When you stop exercising your body heat production stops while at the same time the amount of heat loss remains high. This can lead to hypothermia.
Exercising in cold enough temperatures to reduce your core temperature can impair endurance exercise performance, while brief exposure to cold or training in a cool climate can actually improve performance. Optimal performances in long distance cycling and running events usually occur in cool climates.
The colder weather is not a reason to stop exercising, but is often instead used as an excuse. Ha, ha.