If you aren’t properly prepared with the right gear or game plan, working out in cold winter temperatures can be rough. But with regular gym-goers trying to keep their routines more contact-free amidst COVID-19, heading outside for your workout suddenly seems worth the extra effort.
If the cold weather just isn’t your jam, use these tips and tricks from certified personal trainers to stay comfortable and motivated during outdoor winter workouts. Chances are, you’ll come to appreciate that brisk air a little more—and feel physically and mentally better come springtime.
1. Cover your head, neck, and hands
“Heat escapes from the head, so wearing a head covering allows you to keep heat inside,” says NASM-certified trainer and nutrition coach Katrina Pilkington, C.P.T. “Same goes for your neck.”
And those chilly fingers? “Your hands are the farthest away from the body without many muscles to power them, so gloves can keep you moving forward,” she says. A good pair of socks goes a long way, too.
2. Layer up and dress dry
“The quickest way to lose body heat out in the cold is to get wet because water is an efficient heat conductor, moving heat away from the highest concentration area (your body) to the lowest (cold air outside),” says trainer Hayden Steele, CPT, CSCS, founder of SHOCK, a home workout app for women.
Your move: “Dress in layers with ‘wicking’ materials against your skin to draw away moisture and breathable, water-resistant materials on top,” she says. “Skip activewear made from cotton, which soaks up sweat and rain and holds in moisture, and wear a base layer made from polyester or silk instead. Your outer layer, of course, should be waterproof, such as a rain jacket.”
3. Find a buddy
Whether it’s your dog or a socially-distanced friend, a workout buddy is especially helpful in less-than-motivating weather. “Having a buddy to help keep you accountable is going to make you more likely to engage in the activity,” says trainer Sarah Pelc Graca, CPT, founder of Strong with Sarah. “Plus, if the buddy is a good friend, the conversation will keep you distracted in the cold weather and make it much more enjoyable for both of you!”
4. Make a fire playlist
“Sometimes taking an extra five minutes to create your workout playlist makes all the difference,” says Tom McGee, CPT, trainer at Performix House. “Listening to a bumping song and getting that runner’s high will help you forget about the cold!”
5. Warm up properly
“Colder temperatures may put a strain on the cardiovascular as well as the muscular system due to the constriction of blood vessels,” says martial artist and NASM-certified personal trainer Prentiss Rhodes, C.P.T. “The muscular system may not receive adequate blood flow, which predisposes the body to injury. As a result, “the heart may work harder to get blood to the necessary areas of the body to meet the demands of exercise, which may cause it added strain.”
Luckily, performing a five- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up can help the body gradually adjust for winter workouts. Rhodes recommends starting indoors with 30 to 60 seconds of foam rolling your calves, hip flexors, quadriceps, lats, and pectoral muscles.
Read More: The Beginner’s Guide To Foam Rolling
Then, perform 10 to 20 repetitions of the following exercises:
- Joint circles: Start with your neck and work down to your ankles. Begin with small movements and gradually increase the range of motion as you warm up, doing 10 reps in each direction.
- Arm and leg swings: While maintaining good posture, gently swing each arm and leg. Start small and gradually increase your range of motion.
- Squats: Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing straight ahead. Keeping your torso upright, sit your hips back and down. Then, press through your heels to return to standing.
- Balance exercises: Try balancing on each leg and reaching your arms up overhead or doing lunges with knee drives to fire up your nervous system and prepare you for winter conditions, like sneaky ice patches.
6. Stay hydrated
“During winter, and especially during workouts in a cooler environment, we’re less inclined to reach for our water bottle, which can have a detrimental effect on our workouts,” says Jeremy Ethier, CPT, founder of fitness and nutrition program Built with Science. Thing is, being even two percent dehydrated can impact motivation and increase your perceived effort, making every step feel harder.
A good habit to get into: Drink about one liter of water shortly before your workout and another during and after, Ethier suggests.
7. Opt for compound bodyweight exercises
Though it’s tempting to limit your winter workouts to cardio, keeping up your strength is still a must in the winter. “While cardio workouts are good to do, you should also focus your efforts on at least two or three strength-based workouts throughout the week,” says Ethier.
Of course, no one’s telling you to do biceps curls out in the snow. Instead, stick to compound movements, which involve multiple joints and muscles. These moves keep the intensity high, elevate your heart rate, and increase your overall body temperature to keep you warm, Steele explains. They also burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
A few must-haves: squats, lunges, pushups, and pullups.
You can turn up the heat on these moves further by adding a plyometric (or power) element. Try burpees, squat jumps, or plyo pushups.
8. Make the world your gym
“Often we get stuck in a creative box by thinking our workout has to look a certain type of way with barbells and kettlebells,” says Max Artsis, CPT, trainer at Performix House. “But go outside and look around. Find a set of stairs to run up. Put on gloves and do pushups in the park. Allow yourself to become a kid again.” The more creative you are, the more workout opportunities you’ll find around you. Heck, you can do pullups on a tree!
9. Crank up the intensity to stay warm and turn up your burn
“For every degree the body’s internal temperature rises, the heart beats about 10 beats per minute faster. Elevating your heart rate is an important component of elevating body temperature,” explains Steele.” Staying in the higher heart rate zones will help you burn more calories in less time and ensure you stay warm.”
Whatever type of workout you choose to do outside, kicking up your intensity is key. “Play with the variables, such as reducing the rest time between sets,” he says.
10. Embrace winter Chores and activities
“One of my clients who lives in Maine made a workout out of shoveling her driveway and then throwing snowballs at her dog as they ran around the backyard,” says Pelc Graca. “It sounds silly, but she said the dog loved it and she didn’t even have to take her dog on a walk that day because he was so exhausted.”
“Build a snowman with your family, take your kids sledding and be the go-to ‘sled carrier’, or try activities such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing,” she adds.
Mixing it up like this keeps you motivated, since you’re less likely to get bored and fall off the bandwagon.
11. Remember to use protection
And if you’re exercising amidst the snow? Wear protective eyewear. “The reflection of the sunlight on the snow can be rather intense, so wearing the appropriate eyewear can protect you from ‘snow blindness,’” he adds.