If you’re living in the northern hemisphere, you’ll know that the coming of winter presents one of the biggest challenges to working out and staying fit. Yeah, not only do November and December have the longest nights of the year, but chances are that if the sun is shining too, it’s probably colder out there than a squirrel’s butt.
And so, if you rely on the outdoors to stay fit, you will soon run out of options as the first snowflakes hit the ground. Personally, I pack in my bike once there’s snow on the ground so when winter rolls around, I shift gears to some winter sports and activities while bringing some indoor activities into the mix as well. I know: when it gets cold and bone-chillingly damp, it’s very easy to stay inside reading while consuming a hot beverage by a sunny window. But we all know that staying fit doesn’t come without some sacrifice so you’ll need some tips and tricks to keep the routine going so you don’t need to start all over again in the spring.
Don’t Let the Cold Weather Stop You From Enjoying Outdoor Exercise
Cold and snow are great deterrents if you are a runner of a cyclist. However, if you’re passionate about running or cycling, it’s really hard to just give in and pack it in for 4 months. Of course, the key lies mostly in your motivation and attitude, but that won’t keep you warm so you’ve got to be prepared on the clothing side of things.
The most important thing is to make sure that you are prepared to face the cold, wind and wetness. If you’re cycling, make sure that you bike is winterized and that the tires have studs so that you can brake on snow and ice. As well, getting your bike equipped with internal geared hubs will protect your gears from the elements.
If you’re running or even just walking outside, you need to have quality clothing that will protect you from the wind and cold and one of the major mistakes that many people make is to not layer enough. Layering is a great way to stay warm while giving yourself options to unzip or remove a layer in case you get too hot. As well, it’s also very important that your layers are quality, or at the very least NOT cotton. Cotton will never dry if it gets wet and will make you very uncomfortable, so make sure that the fabric closest to your skin is synthetic wicking material and at the very least, breathable.
Layering for Winter Exercise is Key to Actually Enjoying It
Full disclosure: When I talk about doing exercise in cold conditions, I’m referring to cold days that are complete deal-breakers for a lot of people because I’m talking about Montreal winters. Our winters can see days of -25 or -40 with the wind. Is that Celsius or Fahrenheit, you ask? Trust me. It doesn’t even matter at that point. The point is, once you’ve experienced that, -10C starts to not seem like such a big deal and the way we get through it (aside from trying to convince ourselves that it’s all going to be ok) is to layer like your life depends on it.
Layering is THE most important way to stay warm whether you are running, walking, skiing, cycling, or hurling yourself down a hill on an inner tube. The general rule of thumb is to wear three layers although I usually end up with four layers which includes one layer that I can remove and stuff in my small back pack in case I get too warm. Simply put, layers capture heat and you can easily adapt your layers to the weather or situation. Many people meet the cold wearing a big heavy coat which is fine for casual scenarios, but the moment you unzip that coat, all of the warm air inside will escape, leaving you cold and expending a lot energy just to warm up again.
With that said, when layering, make sure that the first layer is thin but synthetic and has wicking properties so your don’t stay wet in case you sweat while the second layer is something like a long sleeve shirt or pullover or thin hoodie. My third layer is usually a thin packable down jacket which I then cover with a soft shell or something slightly thicker as my fourth layer. This is my set up for short runs in below 0C weather.
Legs and feet: A layer of regular long johns will usually do the trick under a pair of track pants. If it’s very cold, fleece pants may be your best bet. For socks I’ve been wearing my trusty cross-country ski socks that come up to my calves. They are snug and do not cut off the circulation in any way. This is something to look out for in socks: not too tight, and long enough to cover the calf.
Head and hands: If there’s any one essential item that you need to stay warm, it is a balaclava. We lose so much heat from our heads and a balaclava will keep your forehead warm and save your ears from cold air which can cause the nastiest (trust me on this one) ear infections ever. This is just essential gear which will protect you from the coldest cold and the windiest wind making cold weather workouts not just bearable, but enjoyable too. You can usually find them for under 20$. For hands, don’t overthink it. Get some comfortable gloves that your hands are happy in.
Can’t Handle the Cold? Exercise Indoors
Of course, exercising in the cold is not for everyone. You can sometimes use the cold to your advantage but if that’s really not an option for you, then it’s time to bring it indoors. It’s important to always see an alternative and not to give in to excuses or compromise when it comes to your overall health and keeping fit. The answer to “cold aversion” of course is to exercise at home or join a gym. There is so much competition in the gym/fitness class industry these days that if you’re in a metropolitan center, then you can usually find gym that is offering a no frills membership for around 100$ a year. This is all you need if you just need a place to go to run on a treadmill, ride an exercise bike or simply need a place to stretch on a gym mat in a positive environment. In fact, just getting out of the house and going to the gym can be a huge boost to your morale even if you stay for less than an hour.
An other alternative is to exercise at home. There are many, many ways to do this even if you don’t have the space for a home gym. Everyone should have a set of free weights or at the very least a pair of dumbells which don’t require much room at all. If you don’t like weights, you can also follow a HIIT workout or any of the thousands of yoga classes on YouTube which is something that we talk about quite a bit on this website. Anyone can crank out a class in less than 15 minutes and will get the added benefit of being able to vary your cardio, strength and core work at the swipe of a finger.
Feed Yourself: Food is Your Fuel
There are a lot of fad diets around and while some of them do show promising results when it comes to losing weight, they often walk a fine line when it comes to omitting certain items which we need for keep our energy levels up. If you are getting yourself outside in the winter to exercise, then you will need carbs regardless of what your no-carb diet tells you. Your body has an engine and it needs fuel, which it will burn rapidly in the cold. We’re not saying to go ahead and eat a pizza before hitting the frozen jogging trail, but consider that you need the fuel and the carbs to build heat and to stay warm. Think about oatmeal, energy bars or even some thick whole grain toast with honey prior to setting out for a run. And yes, bring a few energy bars with you in case you need a boost along the way.
It is completely possible to enjoy and succeed in working out during the winter months. You just need to be prepared: the right warm clothes, feed yourself properly and maintain a healthy perspective. Don’t push yourself if you don’t feel good as this can lead to injury. As well, cool down carefully if you generate a good sweat. Keep in mind that you may feel warm after an intense run but the cool air combined with your sweat can result in some nasty chills or at worst, a case of hypothermia. So play safe, stay fit, have fun!