Five Ways to Weather Winter Workouts

Dec. 31, 2009
Winter weather doesn’t have to derail your exercise routine. As you adjust to darker days, colder temperatures and slippery surfaces, however, it’s important to be mindful of safety issues that come with the territory of winter workouts.

“A change in weather should bring a change to your mindset. As temperatures get colder, it’s important for athletes to adjust their routines,” said Tony Breitbach, Ph.D., director of athletic training education at Saint Louis University. “You need to have a winter sports strategy.

“If you plan well, you’ll be able to keep up with your routine fairly easily. Being aware of winter’s challenges is the best way to avoid injury,” he added.

Breitbach offers the following tips to avoid injury during winter months:

Watch What You Wear

In mustering the willpower you’ll need to continue your workout in sub-zero weather, you’ll make it easier if you dress for temperature extremes. Dress in layers for outside exercise. The layer closest to your skin should be made of breathable wicking material. Avoid cotton, which retains sweat. Next, add a thermal layer of fleece or cotton to keep in heat and use a third, outer layer as a cover. As you start to heat up you’ll be able to peel off layers to manage your comfort level.

Finally, remember that your furthest extremities are the first to be affected by the cold, so watch for pain or tingling in your ears, fingers or toes as a signal that it’s time to go inside to warm up.

Watch What You Eat and Drink

For many of us, the holidays bring temptations in the form of rich foods, holiday drinks and sugary desserts. If you over-indulge, you’ll need to step up your workout just to maintain your current level of fitness.

Staying well hydrated is another concern during cold winter months because of dry air and indoor heat. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol-based beverages, which also lead to dehydration.

Watch for Hazards

An after-work run in August is a chance to enjoy the long summer evenings of daylight. In winter, it’s likely dark before you make it home from the office. Use caution when running after dark by wearing light-colored, reflective clothing so that drivers can see you.

Watch Out for Overuse

Because there are fewer exercise opportunities in winter, be careful to avoid overdoing it with one activity. Exercises like running in the park, golfing and swimming may not be options in the winter; instead, you may find yourself working out on hard, unforgiving surfaces like gym floors or concrete, which can exacerbate overuse issues.

The bottom line? Think outside the gym. Be creative. Try ice-skating, cross-country skiing or a yoga class as your exercise.

Watch Out for Injuries

While you may be alert to obvious winter hazards, like icy sidewalks during a run, some more subtle dangers come from moving the game indoors.

If you play court sports like basketball and racquetball in winter months, for example, you may be sharing the space with more people, so be aware of the greater chance for falling or colliding.

Different activities require different shoes. Your summer running shoes don’t work well on the basketball court. Be sure you switch to shoes with good traction to help avoid collisions and avoid ankle injuries.

For more information on SLU’s athletic training education program, visit

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