Safe Habits for Winter Workouts

By the middle of February our winter-induced cabin fever hits new heights. We’ve stared at the four walls of our gyms for weeks, dutifully taking advantage of our monthly memberships. But when the inevitable fatigue of our treadmills and ellipticals sets in, there are ways to take it outside (your workout that is). We’ve gathered some friendly advice to keep you safe while outdoors this season, so you can face the arrival of spring like a champion.

Do Your Check-Ups (Not just sit-ups)

Before you can even consider jogging, walking or riding a bike outside during winter, there are two levels of clearance: your doctor and your weatherman. Cold air is dry and as humans, we’re not meant to take large breaths of it. Asthmatics especially will find that their breathing passages constrict suddenly at the slightest exertion in the cold air. It is best to consult a primary care physician or a pulmonologist to see if there are medicines to take preventatively or tests that can be administered to check severity of asthma conditions. Those with heart issues must also check with their primary care physician or cardiologist, because outdoor exercise can elevate the heart rate and lead to a sudden attack when working out alone outside.

It’s wise to check the weather report to ensure the temperature is not too severe—we recommend staying indoors once it dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for your safety. Also, be sure to avoid working out during winter storms. The ice on roads and sidewalks can lead to slips and falls and a higher potential you’ll encounter a swerving car.

Layer Up

We all remember our grandmother telling us to bundle up. There is some virtue in this statement, but in this case it might not be best.  Remember, you’ll be generating a lot of your own heat as you run or ride through town. Dress in layers that you can shed as needed. The first layer should be a synthetic performance material that wicks sweat from the body as opposed to those made of cotton, which will absorb it and keep it uncomfortably close to you. The second layer can be the wintry insulation you imagine, like performance fleece. To keep all of it dry, you’ll need to opt for a waterproof and windproof outer shell as the third layer. Don’t forget the accessories such as gloves and a hat either—as you exercise, blood rushes to your heart and your extremities are left to endure potential frostbite if exposed.

Feet First

Be sure to have footwear that offers traction in the event you come across snow or ice. It is recommended that you size up or bring your heavy winter socks with you as you try on sneakers.

For the Journey

As with any workout, hydration is essential. Dehydration can occur more quickly in the cold due to the amount of respiratory fluid loss through breathing, sweat quickly evaporating in the cold air and under the multiple layers of clothing and people not drinking water as often due to not feeling as thirsty as they may feel in the heat. If you want to forego gloves or tend to have cold hands, you should consider bringing pocket heat packs to help mitigate frosty fingers during the workout. If you’re running, try shortening your stride. In doing this, you will reduce the risk of falling.  Be sure to stay on paved surfaces and trails and be careful as you run over salted surfaces, which can cause you to lose your grip on the ground.

Consider Your Reflection

Sure, the days are getting incrementally longer but it still gets dark early. Be sure to time your workouts so that you’re home before sunset. If you find that you cannot make this happen, a reflective material is essential for alerting drivers to your presence.

The Buddy System

Convincing a friend to tag along is a great idea, but it’s also wise to let someone know of your route when going out alone (in the event you fall or face injury.) A mobile phone is a safety tool, but you’ll feel better with additional peace of mind.

Take it Indoors

If in the end, it’s just too cold… or another Nor’easter blows through town, it’s best to just opt for a trip to the gym. Between the cardio equipment and the availability of classes, it’s just not worth the risk of injury to be outdoors.

By Jag Physical Therapy