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Fitness Articles  ›  Seasonal & Holiday Tips

Winter Running and Workout Tips

Dress for Success (or at Least Warmth)

-- By Julie Isphording, former Olympian
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After a quarter century of lacing up my shoes and hitting the pre-dawn road, I would never question that running has provided me with great health, great friends, incredible physical and mental strength, and a zest for life. However, during cold, dark winter mornings my smile is a little faded and the spring in my step is not, shall we say, springy.

The truth is, winter running and walking (and basic living) is quite challenging. Hey, sometimes the truth hurts. Over the years though, I have discovered some of the best ways to make winter exercise easier and more fun. I would never want something like the weather to control my exercise or yours. Here's a simple guide to healthy winter exercise.
  • Protect those extremities first. Keep your hands, ears, nose and for men, the genital area protected. The extremities are the most exposed to cold and wind and the most susceptible to frostbite.
  • Become a well-dressed runner. In cold weather, the secret is to layer lightweight garments so the clothing works together to keep you dry and warm. High-tech materials like polypropylene and polar fleece are designed to keep body temperature steady, while wicking the moisture away from your skin to the surface layer of clothing. Because these fabrics "wick" rather than absorb moisture, your clothes don't get soggy and heavy as you sweat. Obviously, this means you need to ditch that old pair of sweats and oversized cotton t-shirt. Aim for a balanced approach to dressing that will leave you warm, but not so hot that you start sweating a lot.
  • Dress flexibly. Put on your hat and zip up your jacket when you're heading into a cold wind. Take the hat off and partially zip down the jacket when the wind is behind you. The difference can be dramatic.
  • Protect your torso first. Your legs need much less protection than your torso. Cold feet usually occur at football games and before marriage, not when you're pushing the pace.
  • Don't take chances. Don't tempt fate by trying to run hard and fast in difficult weather. Sometimes the ice and snow coupled with the dark can make for a deadly combination. Take your workout indoors, or simply take the day off.
  • Find a friend. It's much safer and more fun to train with your friends in the winter. Everyone has trouble leaving a nice warm bed. But, if you know that someone is waiting for you, it's much easier to get motivated. It is also much safer in case someone should get in trouble.
  • Watch out for cars. Remember, any weather that makes conditions more hazardous for cars makes things much more dangerous for you. When running in rain, snow, or ice, you must be especially alert and cautious. Be sure you wear reflective gear.
During the winter, one of my all-time favorite thing is to throw my running clothes in the dryer for three minutes before I head out on a blustery morning. Right when the warmth from the dryer fades, I'm already a mile into my run. I'm warm, and yes, there is a nice spring to my step, especially during the first snowfall when I'm the first footprint of the morning.
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About The Author

Julie Isphording Julie Isphording
Julie, a former Olympic marathon runner, is an author, radio host and fitness expert.

Member Comments

  • I enjoyed this article. I always had no issue with staying warm except for my hands. I finally got some Under Armour gloves this week that have helped quite a bit. Running outside is much more fun than the treadmill :) - 12/13/2013 5:38:35 PM
  • Great article. - 7/22/2013 9:59:10 PM
  • Good article. I love to run in the winter, especially with the padded crunch of a fresh, light snow beneath my feet. Ditto on the advice to not overdress...your body is pretty darn efficient at producing heat when exercising. I usually aim to be slightly uncomfortable when I walk out the door, knowing that in 5 minutes I'll be real glad I didn't add on extra layers. Most of my winter running is in parks &/or on trails. That way I avoid cars. I don't like running in traffic to begin with, but much less so in the winter with slippery roads. Also, the colder the air, the more exhaust fumes linger by the roads due to higher air density -yuck. I also like to wear mid-weight wool blend socks on cold days. The wool breathes & wicks nicely, and also insulates well even when wet. For those who haven't tried running in the cold, give it a shot! You might be surprised at how addicting it can be. You've just gotta get past the first couple minutes of chill, and it's great from there. - 9/27/2012 8:53:36 AM
  • The article is great and exactly what I needed to get me motivated to get back outside - I have missed exercising outdoors since the cold weather got here. One tip I will add is to remember sunscreen even in winter especially if going out in the snow because on a sunny day it reflects off the snow and can burn noses just like at the beach! - 12/11/2010 9:18:53 AM
  • For the last few years I've trained outdoors through the winter months for spring events. I've gotten to the point where I couldn't imagine getting through a long winter without running. I think light layers are key... I always dress as if the outsided temp is 20 degrees warmer than what it actually is. That way when my body warms up it isn't too hot. - 2/16/2010 8:15:42 AM
  • When it's really cold (below 20*) carry water bottles upside down. Pull jacket over water belt or camelbak. Pay attention and blow out the valves after drinking. Start with room temp. water or even nuke it for a minute before the run.

    Ben - 1/10/2010 11:10:21 AM
  • ROCKETMAN79
    I joined an outdoor fitness class. FUN. Haven't mastered the clothing issue yet. Still get too hot. I ditched my cotton for this class. - 12/18/2009 10:20:05 PM
  • Excellent article. - 12/1/2009 6:22:00 PM
  • Great article. - 7/11/2008 12:52:34 AM
  • The dryer idea and the footprint part was enough to motivate me...lets go
    - 1/12/2008 6:30:01 PM
  • The dryer idea and the footprint part was enough to motivate me...lets go
    - 1/12/2008 6:29:50 PM
  • The dryer idea and the footprint part was enough to motivate me...lets go
    - 1/12/2008 6:29:15 PM
  • I especially like the dryer idea. I always dress too warm cuz it is cold, then end up sweating in soggy clothes. I will try this with a wicking long sleeve shirt & a fleece shirt over it & see how it goes. Thanks for the ideas. - 11/27/2007 2:07:15 PM
  • At www.PBS.org you can read about the NOVA program which trained 12 couch-potato people so they ran the BOSTON MARATON after 9 months. It is very interesting as they all finished the race. It was controlled by Tufts University and all the major science was used and recorded. - 11/27/2007 10:12:52 AM
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