Keep Winter Workouts Safe and Comfortable

Don’t let the shorter days and colder temperatures get in your way of staying fit

Woman wearing gloves, hat and protective clothing taking a run during the winter.If you like to get cozy as soon as the temperatures drop, you might be vulnerable to staying in, eating comfort foods, and letting you workout routine fall by the wayside. But it’s just as important during the winter months to maintain at least 30 minutes of exercise, 3 times a week. And if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just get a mild case of the blues when the days aren’t as long, moderate exercise can help lift your spirits and give you a much-needed boost of endorphins.

If you choose to exercise outside, it’s essential to take precautions so your winter workouts are safe and satisfying. Being uncomfortable—either from the wet or the cold—should not be something you settle for. So follow these suggestions for making the most of the great outdoors in these colder months:

Dress in layers

There are several advantages to this approach. You can remove an outer layer if your body temperature rises sufficiently during the course of your workout. The flexibility to adjust as you go is a big advantage. If you ease off on your exertion at any point and begin to cool down, you can always add that a layer back on. (Long sleeves are good for layering, because you can tie the extra ones around your waist on the go.)

Layers also make it easier to have a range of motion that’s comfortable. But there’s science to layering as well. Layers of the right kind of clothing trap the warm air between them and your skin, while also moving any moisture away—a key combination. Here’s how:

  • First layer: Choose a thin layer of synthetic fabric to absorb your sweat (see “Choose the right fabrics,” below). Tight clothes, made of Lycra or Spandex, are good, since they insulate you while increasing circulation.
  • Second layer: This extra layer of insulation is a smart idea when the temperatures drop. Polar fleece (also known as “turtle fur”) is a good choice.
  • Top layer: Depending on whether it’s raining, sleeting, or snowing, you might want to wear a waterproof top layer, to stay dry. Something like GoreTex is heavy duty. Just keep in mind that these fabrics will also trap the moisture and sweat that the other layers are absorbing. Another option is a “breathable” layer. If you want to protect yourself from wind, a lighter nylon shell is probably fine.

One tip about layers: don’t wait too long into your workout to take one off, because once you’re overheated you’ll perspire more, and once you’re wet, you’re wet for the rest of the workout.

Choose the right fabrics

You might like the feel of cotton, and can wear it to exercise during the warmer months, but when the temperatures go down, cotton will absorb the wetness, then cool off, and give you a chill. Instead wear a fabric that “wicks” the moisture away from your skin. Look for synthetics, like nylon, polyester, and polypropylene, which will prevent you from feeling as cold when you perspire. It’s worth having a few long- and short-sleeve layers in these fabrics on hand to get you through the colder season. You’ll have to do laundry more often, because they’re effective at absorbing odor, too, but your comfort level is worth it.

When you’re at the store, or looking through your closet, focus on brightly colored fabrics, so you’re easier to see in the inclement weather. Reflective gear is even better if you’ll be roadside before dawn or after dusk.

Think about your skin

Your skin is delicate, so be as mindful about protecting it from the harsh winter climate as you are in summer about shielding it from the sun. Sunscreen of at least SPF 30 is a good idea year-round, since the sun might be lower in the sky but still emits UV rays and bounces off reflective snowy surfaces. And if you go downhill skiing, remember the strength of UV rays increases as you increase in altitude. (Brush up on your sunscreen know-how with these tips from the Skin Cancer Foundation.) It’s a good idea to protect your eyes from UV rays, too, by wearing sunglasses.

Be sure to stay hydrated, so drink at least 8 ounces of water an hour before your workout, as well as afterward. Moisturize your skin, especially that which will be exposed to the elements—hands, face—and invest in a lip balm that has sunscreen. You may want to carry the lip balm with you and reapply—chapped lips in winter are especially uncomfortable, especially if you’re sweating and wiping your face during a workout.

Mind the extremities

Start at the top: Wear a hat! You’ve probably heard about how you can lose half your body heat from your head. Even a baseball cap is better than nothing. But if you find you overheat from covering your entire head, at least protect the ears by wearing a headband. If the temperature is much below freezing, you might also consider wearing a bandana or scarf over your mouth.

Next: Protect the digits. You might not want to bother with mittens or gloves, but your hands are particularly vulnerable to frostbite. So cover them up. If you wear a layer with pockets, it’s easy to stow the gloves away as soon as you warm up.

Finally: The toes also need protecting, so cotton socks are to be avoided, since your feet are likely to sweat. Try synthetic or SmartWool socks. Most running shoes are designed to breathe, but when there’s wet stuff on the ground, you want to keep that added moisture out! Consider waterproof running shoes; these also keep feet dry in the other seasons in wet grass if you walk, hike, or run cross country.

Be smart about the temperature

If the thermometer warns you it’s far below freezing, or the wind chill is making the temperatures that much icier, opt for an indoor alternative. Staying in shape is not worth getting hypothermia or frostbite. If you can’t get to a gym, or even a mall to walk indoors, try doing some squats in your living room to get your heart rate up. Sit-ups and pushups are always good, too. Or try any of these other indoor workout ideas.

Taking the time to prepare for the elements is key to a successful winter workout. As at any time of year, gradually warm up by starting out slow during the first five or ten minutes, and stretch at the end of your workout (indoors—as you’re gradually cooling down) to prevent injury. Keep up the regimen and you’ll be pleased with how you feel, as well as how those clothes fit once springtime comes!

This post is part of the weekly blog of the Harris School of Business. We care about the health and wellness of all our students. We invite you to reach out for more information about the various career training programs we offer at eight campuses in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. Call us at 800.510.7920 for more information or to schedule a campus tour!