How to Stay Warm during your Outdoor Workout

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Temperatures are dropping and winter is coming. If you’re a runner you definitely know that cooler weather (especially snow) is not always your best friend. Despite the cold, keeping up with your outside physical activity can still be possible, even in Michigan winters, according to Professional Runner and Michigan State University Graduate, Leah O’Connor. Here are her best tips on how to stay warm during your workout!


CWM: Leah, what do you do to stay warm during the cold months in Michigan?

LC: Layer, layer, and layer! Especially as temperatures drop below freezing, it’s important that you’re wearing the right material and the right amount of clothing during your runs. I tend to be overly cautious when layering my clothing so that I have the option of taking off a jacket (choosing to either tossing it to the side of the road to pick up after the run or tying around my waist) because it’s better to be safe and warm than sorry and cold!


CWM: Is there any special gear you wear or recommend?

LC: There’s nothing worse, not to mention dangerous, than being stuck 5 miles from home with aching, cold fingers and toes. For me, fleece-lined cold weather tights are a must. Planning for the week, I make sure I have three to four pairs of warm tights, warm wool socks, sports bras, short sleeves, long sleeve fleeces, a few lightweight running jackets and running vests. If it’s really cold, I’ll go so far as to bring hand warmers! Also, make sure you keep your ears covered with a warm hat, and if it’s windy or snowing, it helps to have a buff or some kind of face cover to protect your cheeks and nose.


CWM: Is there a special warm up you do to help get the blood pumping?

LC: I always do some rolling and stretching before my runs. If you’re prone to cold fingers and toes, it’s not a bad idea to put your feet in some warm water and wake up your fascia before you get dressed and start your run. On workout days, I have a 20-25 minute dynamic warm up (10-12 exercises that incorporate skipping and activation) that helps my body brave intense work or weather conditions. Remember you need to give your body time to adapt to the run through warming up so that you can get into rhythm.


CWM: Training during the winter months can get long. How do you stay motivated to run outdoors when it is freezing?

LC: Honestly, I take control of my perspective and I try really hard to shift my focus from the fact that it’s freezing, to the fact that I have a run to get done. I remind myself that, though it’ll be really cold and probably uncomfortable at the beginning on my run, I will eventually warm up, start sweating, and it will feel nice to be moving.


CWM: It sounds like even for a professional runner like you, it takes will power to get outside and get your workout in!

LC: [Laughing] Definitely! Improving at anything worthwhile takes self-discipline. I could sit on the couch and come up with hundreds of excuses as to why I shouldn’t layer up and get out the door, or I could direct that energy toward finding ways to make the run possible like locating plowed roads, researching wind directions, or recruiting a running buddy.


CWM: How important is the cool down after a run in cold weather?

LC: After a run in the cold my first priority is getting out of sweaty, wet clothing and into some dry, warm clothes. After I’m comfortable, I take some time to do some stretching and rolling. For recovery, I like drinking warm chocolate milk because it contains the carbs and protein my body needs after a workout, and not mention, it also warms me up after being out in the cold. You just put your body through something pretty stressful and now you have a responsibility to be kind to yourself so you can recover and absorb the run in a healthy, sustainable way. Stretching post run is always important.

CWM: So we have to ask, how cold is too cold to run outside?

LC: I usually don’t pull the plug on running outside unless there’s an active blizzard and impossible footing or it’s so cold that schools are shutting down. If I’m trying to get a quality workout in and I can’t find solid footing or it’s exceptionally cold outside I’ll also move inside to a treadmill or do the bulk of my work on the indoor track! It’s important to always take your health into account and be smart.

Did you like this blog post? For more sports nutrition information and what to eat before and after exercise click here.

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