Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Five Tips for Winter Weather Exercise Outdoors

It's winter – time to give up on your favorite outdoor exercise activities, right? Maybe not.  If you are an avid bicyclist, hiker, or runner, repulsed by the idea of cross training indoors because of the cold or snow, here’s good news; thanks to fascinating new technology and new sporting equipment options, there's just about no weather condition that can force you indoors.  Combine this with some good old-fashioned survivalist winter wisdom, and you can happily continue your outdoor routine in the cold and snow.

In this first of two articles on winter weather exercising, we'll focus on tried-and-true techniques for enjoying many of your favorite outdoor sports even the worst of winter weather. In the follow-up article, will introduce you to the latest equipment and gear – new technology to help you stay warm and safe even when the weather outside is frightful.


Common sense first

With or without the right winter wear and winter gear, you will need to work a little harder at keeping yourself safe when the weather is wicked. Here’s some common sense advice from experienced cold-weather fitness folk.
Tip #1 – Layer up!
Active cyclist and runner Heather Connan of  Southern River in Western Australia likes to continue her favorite outdoor pursuits even if it's cold or wet. Step one, she says, is “a moisture-wicking base layer. Good thermal wear doesn't make you cold when it is wet.”
Heather Conan enjoying her favorite sport in good weather

Note that she speaks of layers. This is one of the most important tricks to exercising in the cold. You may be tempted to throw on a big heavy winter coat, but your body temperature varies greatly as you work out. Dressing in layers lets you unzip or even remove layers as you warm up or as the weather changes.

Bikewinter.org advises handling the winter with a threefold approach to layers, starting with the innermost layer – also known as the base layer – making it a wicking material(often a synthetic fabric, designed to move moisture away from your skin), with a middle layer of clothing comprised of an insulating material (wool or fleece clothing works well for this), and topping it off with an outer layer designed for wind, rain, or snow protection when the weather requires it.


Tip #2 – Cover up!

The colder or windier it is outside, the more you need to consider protecting your skin. Canadian outdoor enthusiast Jodi Kalman of Waterloo, Ontario agrees: “Living here in the ‘great white north’ in Canada, winters can be extremely harsh! It's not just the biting cold, but also the wind chill factor.”

Ontario's Jodi Kalman demo's layering technique

How does Kalman fight that skin exposure risk? “I layer up and make sure that I have no exposed skin, including my face; I wear a balaclava to keep my face protected from wind and sunburn. And I wear lip balm and Vaseline to keep my skin from chapping,” she advises. Anther good skin chap prevention solution that even has health benefits for your skin and lips is to coat your exposed skin with coconut oil.

Tip #3 – Don't fight the rain – work with it

Many people make the mistake of trying to stay completely dry when exercising in sleet or cold rain conditions. But the majority of experienced runners and cyclists advise against trying to waterproof yourself when exercising outdoors.  “A wind jacket is a very wise investment, even more so than a waterproof rain jacket," Connan recommends. “With a rain jacket, you will still end up wet on the inside of the jacket due to sweat.”

An overload of perspiration brought on by the sauna-like affect of a rain proof coat will make you uncomfortable at best, or even more susceptible to chill.  But with a wind-breaking jacket, “You stay warm because of the wind protection factor,” adds Connan. 

With the right base layers, getting wet doesn't mean getting cold. The trick then is to think in terms of body temperature management as your top priority, which may prevent you from becoming dripping wet from sweat while trying to stay bone dry from rain.

Tip #4 – protect your feet
Unless you wear thigh-high waterproof boots – nearly impossible and even dangerous to try while running or cycling – it's best to assume that snow or slush will result in your feet getting wet. With the right protection for your feet and ankles, you'll be fine even if your feet get wet.
  • Consider investing in a pair of trail running shoes or light hiking boots that have a reputation for good drainage and for drying quickly. You'll also benefit from the extra traction that most trail shoes/boots provide.
  • Avoid cotton socks, which will stay damp and will make your feet even colder.
  • Better choices are athletic socks made of "technical fabrics," wool sport socks, or a pair of socks that combines these two materials.
If you are dealing with less than five or six inches of snow, you may want to invest in a pair of gaiters to help keep your feet warmer and drier.  Gaiters, available from any wilderness outfitter store (check online if there isn't one near you), are a kind of fabric that holds snug to your shins/calves and drapes down over the top of your shoes. Gaiters are not only a good winter wear solution for running, walking, or hiking in snow, but useful year-round on slippery, dusty, or rocky trails to keep debris from getting inside your shoes or boots.
Tip #5 – Be more cautious!
If your favorite form of outdoor exercise involves navigating through streets or around traffic, stay aware at all times. Winter often causes conditions that hamper drivers' visibility, such as any kind of precipitation or darkness – the shorter days of winter may require you to exercise at dusk or night.
Do not assume that drivers can see you. To be safe:
  • Wear bright colored or even reflective clothing.
  • Leave the MP3 player at home; let your ears listen for approaching traffic.
  • Consider alternative routes to avoid heavy traffic or roads with no sidewalks.
Winter weather may also increase your risk of slipping and falling. To stay safe, tread lightly and move with the assumption that the ground ahead may be slippery. Take smaller steps to keep your feet under your center of gravity, and take extra precaution when turning corners.


Exercising year-round

 
To exercise outdoors in winter safely, and to keep it enjoyable, requires a little more forethought and preparation.  But with a little education and the right attitude, winter weather exercising is not only possible but fun.

For more tips on how to dress for successful winter fitness, check out Bike Winter's how-to page.  Most of their tips are useful for doing any outdoor sport, such as treating your lenses of your glasses with gel toothpaste to prevent fogging.  And to get the scoop on the latest gear for winter fitness, key an eye out for Part Two of this article.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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