Sun is Shining but still Warm Up: the Essentials of Cold Weather Exercise

Disclaimer: this article is written for information purposes only and does not constitute health advice. Always speak to a medical professional for health advice.

Few shall critique someone getting out and about for some exercise when it’s still cold. Sure, you may not quite be Braveheart staring down your mortality, but when there’s the chance of another hour snoozing under the blankets – or an evening where your greatest trial could be ordering another pizza – the idea of lacing up the sneakers to get the heart racing is surely commendable. When it’s sunny outside this feels easier – but this can be deceptive if planning a cheeky workout in cold weather.

Exercising in the cold comes with some unique challenges and concerns, whether you’re residing in a chilly part of the world, battling through a really bad winter, or even confronted with a rare but cold summer’s day. A 50 degree day (10c) will not see you risk overheating like an 82 degree (28c) day will, but the potential for injury – as well as just a miserable workout all over on account of extra pain – is very real.

So, before heading outside be sure to run through a checklist…

Dress Up 

If exercising outdoors you will warm up a little, but no matter what it is still essential to dress up a little more before you run out the door. Even if it just means you ditch your jacket or hoodie once up and firing be sure you don’t go out running in minimalist shoes  while wearing minimalist workout gear. When the sun is out there will be time to run in firm adherence to your muscle-celebrating ‘suns out, guns out’ policy – but don’t put your health at risk meantime.


‘Wait…I should probably go back and get my thermals.’

Though it is not a shortcut to warming up (nor a ‘rubber band’ solution for an inflamed injury) using thermal or compression gear can be a great way to keep you feeling warm when out in the cold. Usually you acquire either compression OR thermal gear, but there are brands out there that offer a combination of both.

Unless a combo brand it should be noted they may look the same there is a distinction between the two – compression can keep you warm but is designed to compress, whereas thermals can compress but are designed to keep you warm – so be sure to select carefully which one you need depending on whether your aim is to keep warm (compression ) or very warm (thermals) when running.  Ultimately, whatever you choose, if you are the sort of athlete who finds your arms or legs get really chilled by a cold burst of air then be sure to get some extra gear on.

Start Slow

When your muscles are cold in the winter it can be easier to pull a tendon. So, whether running, cycling, or doing any sport be sure you start slow.  How exactly you do this will vary given your normal routine, but be sure to allow at least 10 minutes and pay attention to your whole body (don’t be that guy who warms up his legs then pulls a shoulder muscle).

This actually applies to both indoor and outdoor workouts. You may be set to hop onto the basketball court and throw down like Shaq in this Laker prime,  but if you’ve just walked in from a chilly winter outside, the’re still the need to warm up.

Stay Hydrated and Fuelled

You may not be drenched in sweat but working out in the cold still takes a toll on your body. You may wish to forgo splashing water on your forehead and palms to cool down mid workout, but be sure you keep up your fluid intake throughout the workout, and drink water after to replenish.

And if on a long stints like a 100kms bike ride – or maybe you just were a bit bored with Netflix tonight and decided to go run over the whole mountain instead – be sure to take some food with you. A banana, some dates, or energy gels are favourites to keep you well-fed while powering away.


Mountain Ice

‘It may be cold and Bigfoot’s after me but this so much better than watching that lame season finale.’

Call it Off it Gets too Cold

Pushing through a bit of a pain barrier is a common feature of physical exercise. This is true throughout the entire athletic world from the hobbyist runner at your local park all the way up Usain Bolt speeding into history at Rio2016.

Yet, physical exercise does come with its dangers – and just as the heat can see you overheat – so too can the cold place unique pressures on your body. If you find yourself feeling pain beyond what is reasonable, stop. Call an Uber, get home safe, and try again when your local running track looks less like the North Pole.

Don’t Go For Bests in Bad Weather

It sounds obvious but when in the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget. When it’s raining or snowing, be sure to forgo your chance at a best time. Missing out the chance to get down a personal best is unfortunate, but it’s far worse to slip in the wet, blow out your knee, and then have to stop your workouts for 6 months.

Just the same, this need not be read as only in perfect conditions can you get “Faster, Higher, Stronger” – it’s just about safety and minimising injury risk as you do it. So, sad about being unable to break your 10kms run personal best due to it being rainy and slippery outside? There’s surely other areas of your fitness you can work on.

Head down to your gym, pick out the biggest guy and challenge him to a push up contest.  Sure, some may say this would increase your chance of injury, but it overlooks the reality many great friendships have been made with ‘first to 100’. Have fun!

Polar Bear

‘Man I thought I was the only one into cold weather and push up contests. Wanna be besties?’

Disclaimer: this article is written for information purposes only and does not constitute health advice. Always speak to a medical professional for health advice.


Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

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