Winter is coming. For some of us, that may elicit a cheer, but for most, it’s time to hang up our summer runners and head inside. A little snow and ice shouldn’t deter you from continuing to train outside, but there are definitely some key things you need to be aware of to adequately prepare yourself for outdoor cold-weather training that's safe and effective.
Outdoor training during the winter is more taxing on your body not only because of the temperature difference, but also because of the additional layers you’re carrying around on your body. This is where we will start – how to dress appropriately. It’s a given that if you are running outside at sub-zero temperatures, you will want to ensure you’re warm, but also that your clothing has breathability. The second you step outside, your body temperature will start to drop naturally.
You want to wear something breathable that will allow sweat to escape. On top of that layer, you’ll want to find something that is insulating and has a looser fit. Finally, for the last layer that faces the elements, you will want something waterproof or windproof. As your body starts to get warmer, you can start to remove clothing to avoid feeling too hot. If you reach a high enough training intensity, the metabolic heat you generate will be sufficient to keep you warm. It’s still advisable to keep your hat and gloves on to avoid extensive heat loss even while you’re working hard.
It’s important to fuel your body with fast-digesting proteins and carbohydrates so you have that initial fuel to allow your body sufficient time to adapt to the weather and use fewer calories before cutting into your existing fat storage. It’s always advisable to have a fast-digesting snack with you, as you’ll be working at a much higher level naturally than you would if you were training or running during the summer months.
You’re working at a higher effort, and due to the effects of the climate, you will most likely not be triggered to drink as much fluid as you would during the summer months. Because you’re sweating much more, it’s important to maintain good hydration. One tip is to take a warm bottle of water with you on your run to encourage a more frequent intake of water that’s less of a shock to the body.
Warming up is critical for cold-weather training. Its purpose is to increase your internal body temperature and encourage blood flow to your external limbs and joints in preparation for exercise. The warm-up should be longer and more strenuous than your typical warm-up to ensure your body is ready for the work ahead and blood flow is sufficient.
Did you know cold-weather training requires a lot more post-workout recovery, and the more aerobically fit you are the more energy you can produce to offset heat loss? Take to the treadmill as a warm-up to prepare yourself for outdoor runs, or split your runs between the treadmill and outside to maintain the level of aerobic capacity you are accustomed to. One to two extra recovery days will also benefit you in the long run.