4 Tips to Safely Workout in the Cold

By: Armando Arellano II, M. Ed.

The cold never bothered me anyway…who says that!?

Well, are you tired of being stuck inside and feeling like you‘re on a hamster wheel every time you step on a treadmill? If the cold really doesn’t bother you, then maybe it’s time to think about doing a workout outside in the cold! There are many studies associated with the benefits working out in cold weather, but I will be discussing how you can workout safely in the cold!

Getting ready to weather the weather!

Before you just head outside, there are some measures to take before working out in the cold.

#1: Drink Water: It is essential that you are adequately hydrated prior to and during your cold weather exercise. Exercising in the cold can decrease your sensation of thirst by as much as 40% compared to exercising in warmer weather, but your body needs to stay hydrated just as much! Lower hydration during cold weather exercising can constrict your blood vessels, which can decrease blood flow to your extremities. So continue to drink water even if you are not thirsty!

#2: Proper Cold Weather Attire: Making sure you have the proper attire for cold weather exercise is important for your safety and effectiveness of your workout! Having too few or too many layers can affect your workout negatively. There are few things you should consider when picking your attire for cold weather. You’ll come to find that layers are the way to go!

  • Base Layer: The first layer you should consider wearing in cold weather should be a lightweight material that is moisture wicking like polyester or polypropylene. This will help draw sweat away from your body when you begin to sweat, and will help the sweat evaporate through the top layers.
  • Insulating Layer: This layer is the layer that will ensure you stay warm/comfortable during your exercise endeavors in the cold. You will want to consider wear an insulating material such as wool or fleece to help keep warmth in. Avoid using cotton as an insulating layer. Unlike wool and fleece, cotton starts to lose its insulating abilities when it gets wet.

Pro-Tips:

-Make sure you are wearing adequate gear for your hands, feet, and head.

-Your extremities are more susceptible to frostbite because they are farther away from the heart, and blood flow will prioritize vital organs first!

  • Outer Layer: This is the layer that will help protect you from the elements. I would recommend wearing a breathable wind/rain repelling layer for your outer layer. This will ensure that moisture does not build up when you begin to sweat, and will also help break the wind and repel rain! I would suggest this layer to be easily removable if you begin to overheat, and also easy to put back on if your body begins to cool down!
  • Sunscreen: Yes, I know it might sound weird to have sunscreen on a list of proper cold weather attire, but I have to state its importance! When we get those nice sunny days during winter, it can be a great opportunity to get some Vitamin D and a great opportunity to exercise outside. That being said, the sun’s UV rays are just as harmful when it is cold out! So do yourself a favor and protect your skin when you’re out in the sun! (your future self will thank you for it)



Now that we have our gear prepared for the cold, let’s go over a few things before we start exercising.

#3: Know the Conditions: To safely exercise outside in the cold you must first know the conditions in which you are exercising in!

  • How Cold is Too Cold?: Yes, I know this whole thing is about how to safely exercise in the cold, but sometimes we have to know how cold is too cold when it comes to exercising outside. The risk for hypothermia and frostbite increase as temperature decreases especially below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or if wind chills are -17 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite can develop on exposed skin with as little as 30 minutes of exposure at wind chills of -19! So keep in mind the temperature before heading out! It's also important to know the signs of frostbite, in order to keep yourself safe.
  • Watch for Ice: According to the CDC, about 1 million people suffer injuries from slipping on ice. Take caution when you are outside exercising and watch for ice! The last thing you need is slipping on a sheet of ice, getting injured, and not being able to exercise at all! If the weather/surface conditions are not ideal, it is best to take your workout inside for the day. The outside can wait one more day!

#4: Warm Up: I’m sure you have heard your trainer or exercise professional to warm-up prior to exercising, and that is especially true when exercising in cold weather! Colder temperatures make everything shrink/contract, and that includes your muscles! Taking the proper precautions like dynamic stretching prior to exercising in the cold will help decrease the chances of injuring a muscle during exercise. Take your time and don’t rush into your workout!

Now that we have gone over what to do to ensure a safe and effective workout in the cold, you can now do your best impersonation of your favorite winter character and start your cold weather endeavor! Once you get going and warmed up, I guess the saying was right; the cold never bothered you anyway!