It’s difficult to find motivation during the winter. Days are short, dark and cold. Streets are quiet and empty. Getting out of bed for an early morning workout is extra difficult, when all you want to do is stay under the warm covers just a little longer. Once you get outside, cold air stings against the skin and each breath burns the throat and lungs, while muscles and joints are stiff and tight. But even this is better than the dreadmill.
Here are a few tips:
The main reason that running in the cold hurts your chest is because of the dry air. When you breathe, your lungs humidify and heat the cold air as it goes into your body. This process causes your airways to narrow and become irritated. The effect is amplified because there is no moisture in the air, so it’s easy to dry out your throat and lungs. But don’t worry, it isn’t dangerous and you won’t freeze your lungs!
Hydration is very important, yet often neglected in cold weather conditions. As discussed, your body needs proper hydration to provide the moisture to humidify the air as it enters your body. You can prevent and reduce the burning and tightening sensations of running in the cold by ensuring you drink adequate fluids before and after exercise.
2. Dress Appropriately
Believe it or not, most people wear too much clothing when it’s cold outside and they wind up overheating and sweating. Once you start moving, blood begins to circulate and your body temperature rises. A good rule of thumb is to add 10 to 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your running temperature. For example, if it’s 40 degrees outside, dress for 50 – 60 degrees. It’s helpful to wear layers so that you can adjust as you warm up.
A Quick Guide on What to Wear (Runner’s World)
60+ degrees: tank top and shorts
50–59 degrees: short sleeve tech shirt and shorts
40–49 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts or tights, gloves (optional), headband to cover ears (optional)
30–39 degrees: long sleeve tech shirt, shorts or tights, gloves, and headband to cover ears
20–29 degrees: two shirts layered—a long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt or long sleeve shirt and jacket—tights, gloves, and headband or hat to cover ears
10–19 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, gloves or mittens, headband or hat, and windbreaker jacket/pants
0–9 degrees: two shirts layered, tights, windbreaker jacket/pants, mittens, headband or hat, ski mask to cover face
3. Warm Up
Warm up your muscles and joints before you go outside, with indoor stretching and dynamic exercises, such as lunges, pushups, leg swings and jumping jacks. Use a product like Muscle Tonic to stimulate blood flow and circulation. Or, use Muscle Medicine, which has cayenne pepper and provides an immediate warming effect. Warming up will help prevent injury and allow your muscles to perform at their maximum range of motion.
Short and dark winter days mean low visibility. Wear reflective materials or battery-powered lights on ankles, chest or head. Stay on well-lit courses and sidewalks when possible.
5. Protect Extremities
Heat escapes through the extremities. Wear moisture-wicking running gloves, wool socks and a warm hat to minimize exposed skin and lock in heat. A face mask or scarf will help prevent heat loss and make your body more efficient at humidifying and warming the cold air as it enters your lungs.