Exercising In Cold Weather: What To Do When Training Outdoors In Winter
Finding the motivation to train is difficult enough but in winter when it’s cold and the days are shorter we need an extra dose of willpower.
The easier solution is to go to the gym, and I do just that a couple of times per year. ~98% though, I choose to exercise outside. Calisthenics parks are less busy then and I find the fresh air invigorating.
Exercising in cold weather outside is more taxing on the body and it is important to choose the right clothing, prepare the body for the additional challenge and modify the workout appropriately.
Below are a few tips you can follow to make the most out of your winter training without getting sick or injured.
It’s always important to include a short warm-up in your workout, regardless of the weather. In cold it’s even more essential to spend a few minutes doing some light cardio to warm up your muscles and get your blood flowing before you start exercising. The goal is to elevate your heart rate. Usually, 5-10 minutes are sufficient.
Any dynamic exercise does the job, for example:
- jumping jacks
- shadow boxing
- running in place
- skipping rope
- high knees
Dress in layers
It’s important to choose clothes in a way that allows freedom of movement while also keeping you warm without making you sweaty. Wearing multiple layers of clothing will trap heat against your body and help you stay warm. Start with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric, which will help keep you dry and prevent your sweat from cooling you down. Put a T-shirt and/or long sleeve sweater on top depending on the weather. I’d advise against a hard shell outer layer as a non-stretchy fabric will restrict your movement.
I usually do my workouts at medium intensity, meaning that my average heart rate is usually around 100-110 BPM and this is how I’d dress:
- 0-10°C (32-50°F):
- Long sleeve base layer
- T-shirt on top
- Wool hat
- Thin grippy gloves
- -10-0°C (14-32°F):
- Long sleeve base layer
- Wool hat
- Merino socks
- Liner gloves under grippy thin gloves
Protect your extremities
Your hands, feet, and head are most vulnerable to the cold, so make sure they are properly covered.
At below-freezing temperatures, it’s painful to hold onto metal bars with bare hands. Having a pair of good quality gloves will be crucial to complete your workout sets without suffering. The gloves should have a grippy outer surface and should be tight enough so they don’t move around too much on your hand.
When it comes to protecting your head I’d recommend a wool (merino or cashmere) hat or cap as its breathable fabric will minimize sweating while keeping you warm.
I have a sensitive throat so at freezing temperatures I always wear a snood on my neck.
To protect your feet from the cold I’d advise wearing a pair of merino socks. My feet are not overly sensitive so merino socks in sneakers are all I need in winter. If you need more warmth use a double sock layer.
In winter we sweat less and as a result, may not feel that thirsty but even in cold weather it’s essential to keep hydrated.
Dehydration can make you feel colder and may even cause hypothermia if coupled with a long workout in freezing temperatures.
Be sure to drink plenty of liquid before and during your workout. It can be cold, warm, a bowl of soup, or even from fruits.
Since my workouts are rather short in winter I drink a large glass of water just before leaving for the workout park, and it’s sufficient for me. For longer endurance workouts I put lukewarm isotonic drink into a thermos bottle. My goal here is to be able to drink without burning myself but at the same time prevent the liquid from freezing and replenish the lost electrolytes.
Shorten your workouts
At freezing temperatures, you don’t want to spend over an hour working out. Normally my workouts consist of about 4-5 exercises and 3-4 sets each. Completing this takes me about an hour. In cold weather, I reduce the number of exercises to 3-4 and shorten the rest time between sets. By doing so I’m able to complete the workout in about 35 minutes. To keep my weekly volume on target I increase the frequency of workouts, meaning that I train 4-5 times per week instead of the normal 3-4 workouts.
Use less rest time
When exercising in cold weather, it’s important to keep your heart rate elevated in order to avoid cooling down. In the unlikely event of feeling like sitting down to browse your phone when it’s freezing, I’d urge against it. Always keep moving.
Shorter rest time allows you to maintain your body heat and momentum, keeping your muscles warm and ready to work. This can help you avoid feeling stiff or fatigued between sets and can also help you maintain your focus and intensity throughout your workout.
Try to keep the rest time between 30-60 seconds and use it to ace around, circle your arms, or maybe even do some jumping jacks. Shorter breaks will make your workouts feel more intense and result in a different cardiovascular stimulation compared to your standard workouts.
What matter at the end of the day is that you move and stay consistent with your workout routine. It’s great to train at home or at the gym but if you decide to start exercising outside I hope you found some tips helpful. How do you make winter training more fun? Feel free to share in the comments.
Written by: Andy Toth
Andy is the founder of calisthenics.com and he writes about topics related to strength and hypertrophy training.
Andy has over 15 years of experience in calisthenics and before that he spent 8 years practicing and later coaching martial arts (Kyokushin karate). Besides bodyweight strength training he enjoys Olympic weightlifting and cycling. He tries to stay active every day and rides an average 5000 miles per year.
Written by: Andy Toth
Andy is the founder of calisthenics.com and he writes about topics related to strength and hypertrophy training. Andy has over 15 years of experience in calisthenics and before that he spent 8 years practicing and later coaching martial arts (Kyokushin karate). Besides bodyweight strength training he enjoys Olympic weightlifting and cycling. He tries to stay active every day and rides an average 5000 miles per year.