Fitness / Outdoor Running

How to Tell When It’s Too Cold to Work Out Outside

Sometimes it's safer just to stay inside.

Low temperatures, dramatic winds, and a chill that seeps from your toes to your nose don’t make the concept of getting out of bed appealing. What’s even less appealing is throwing on sneakers and going through your fitness routine outdoors. We would all love to hibernate in the winter. But maintaining an active, balanced lifestyle year-round is essential for our health and happiness. We certainly applaud anyone willing to brave the cold to continue their outdoor workouts int he colder months. But it’s important to know when you’re body can handle the chill and when it’s best to just stay inside. Read on to learn how to analyze the forecast to ensure your safety.

How do you know if it’s too cold?

Sports Performance Coach Jerry Snider explains that ‘too cold’ is a relative issue since everyone’s limbs respond differently. From your location to how often you power through troublesome conditions, as with most aspects of fitness, routine makes a difference in your ability to assimilate. The best way to see if it’s beyond your level of comfort? Test it out. “Some people will acclimate [better] to a colder temperature than others. If you attempt to exercise in extreme cold and are not able to be consistent with your intensity, it may be too cold for you on that day,” he explains. “You can always build up to working out in that temperature.”

Everyone will have their own definition of cold. However, there are some universal truths in terms of fitness and weather. It’s not just the cold that you should be concerned about, but also the wind chill, which can be paralyzing. “Whether it’s a low temperature or a low wind chill, your muscles will be more susceptible to tightness, pulls, and tears due to the exertion of exercise,” Snider explains. If you are warming up, but can’t seem to get warm, the cold feeling might just be too much. Or, if there are layers of ice on the ground it’s better to take your workout indoors for your own safety. After all, it’s not worth injury just to say you did it.

How can you plan ahead?

If you feel prepared and ready to run or complete a boot camp outdoors, there are some to-do list items to check off before you start jumping jacks or stretching. Routines will naturally shift to ensure our bodies are prepared for the energy required to complete a workout. This is especially true when temperatures are far from normal. Here are some ways to prep for when it isn’t too cold for a workout outdoors.

Warm up longer than you normally would.

Erik Beck, owner of CrossFit 5410, shares that weather can derail even the most dedicated exercise plans. So, a prolonged warm-up will ensure that you keep up the momentum instead of shivering. “Warming up your body for exercise is always important to reduce the risk of injury. But, in cold weather, your body can become even more rigid and stiff,” he continues. This means that if you typically run for five minutes and go through a handful of cat/cows—double the time and consider more stretches that elongate your limbs and give more TLC to stiff hips.

Dress warmly—but smartly.

Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach Jill McKay recommends following the guideline to dress as if it 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature outside. It might feel counterintuitive when you first head out, but it helps prepare for our body’s natural ebb-and-flow. “As you exercise, your body temperature rises. So, if it is 32 degrees outside, once you are warmed up and in your workout zone, it will feel like it’s closer to 52 degrees outside,” she explains.

To prepare for this shift in heat, Snider says that it’s important to not only dress warmly but also strategically. “Wear layers so that as your body temperature increases, you can shed a layer of clothing to prevent excess sweating or overheating, while still having an underlayer to keep from getting cold,” he explains. “Both not being warm enough at the beginning of your exercise and excess sweating towards the end could cause you to be susceptible to illnesses, such as a common cold.”

Don’t forget to drink water.

Snider says that you likely won’t be sweating quite as much as you would in 80-degree weather. But you are still using up the water in your system. You’ll want to sip as much as you would if you were warmed to maintain your hydration levels. “Drink at the same timing as you would for any spring/summer workout outdoors. And, a key is to make sure the water is not too hot. You will be producing heat internally and need the cool water to help regulate your body temperature, even when it’s below freezing,” Snider shares.

And, one pro tip from McKay who trains for marathons in negative-degree temps? Add a shot of vodka in your Camelbak to keep your water line from freezing.

Fitness Outdoor Running


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