Cold, wet winters can test event the keenest exerciser’s resolve and many people turn to indoor workouts or even take time off exercise when the cold, wet winter arrives. However, if you are made of sterner stuff and want to maintain or even improve your fitness over the winter, you need to learn how to dress appropriately. The right clothing can make winter outdoor exercise much less of a chore!
Remember – start cold and finish warm!
When confronted with bad weather, many exercisers make the mistake of wrapping up to such a degree that they head out of the door already warm and then, as their workout progresses, they get hotter and hotter until they are actually too warm to comfortably complete their workout.
While starting a workout all warm and toasty is appealing, it’s much better to start a little bit cold as you are all but guaranteed to feel warmer after a few short minutes of exercise. That being said, when faced with extreme weather, you should always dress appropriately as if you get too warm, you can always strip off a layer and carry it or tie it around your waist.
In clothing terms, your base layer is essentially your underwear. A good base layer helps to trap warm air next to your skin and is a vital part of stopping you getting cold. Traditional underwear, even “thermal” underwear is made of cotton but this is the last material you should be considering for your base layer. Cotton may help keep you warm initially but once you begin to perspire it can become clammy, heavy and cold – exactly the opposite of what you need. Instead, choose “technical” fabrics designed to “wick” perspiration way from your skin so you stay warm and dry. Silk is an excellent if expensive material for your base layer but there are several manmade fabrics that compare very well.
Your base layer can be simply a snug-fitting T-shirt or a full length pair of leggings and long-sleeved shirt – it all depends on how cold you feel and the activity you are going out to do. For example, in cycling where your upper body remains relatively stationary while your legs are moving constantly, you may want a long-sleeved top for your upper body base layer but don’t actually need a base layer for your legs as they are in constant motion during your workout and stay warm all by themselves.
Your mid layer is quite likely to become your outer layer once the weather warms up a bit and could be something as simple as a traditional “tracksuit” or garments made of fleece. Again, cotton is not really a good choice so seek out wicking, technical fabrics designed to let sweat evaporate easily from your skin so you stay dry and comfortable. Ideally, your mid layer should be easily vented so you can control your temperature easily during your workout. Underarm and front-zipped jackets are ideal for this purpose while crewneck sweatshirts are not as you have no means to let out excess heat.
Your outer layer should protect you from rain, snow and wind and is likely to be some form of rain suit made from a breathable manmade material such as Gortex. Gortex and similar materials are wind proof and water proof but also allow sweat to evaporate so you do not become overheated or damp from the inside out. Cheaper materials are available but are generally not as breathable which means you may finish your workout in a soggy, uncomfortable mess! Just like your mid layer, your outer layer should be easily vented to let out excess warmth and prevent overheating.
Your head, feet and hands are especially prone to feeling the cold because your blood is diverted away from your extremities to your working muscles when you exercise. Because of this, winter exercisers need to pay particular attention to gloves, hats, socks and shoes.
A hat can make even the coldest day more comfortable so definitely wear a hat when you work out in the winter; one that covers your ears is best as your ears can get painfully cold. If the temperatures are very low, a ski mask is also a good idea and will help keep your neck warm too.
A neck baffle, sometimes called a snood, is a tube, normally fleece, that you pull over your head and wear like a scarf but can also be pulled up to cover your head and face. Popular with motorcyclists, because you can roll a baffle up over your face or just wear it around your neck, these cheap items of winter clothing make a versatile and useful addition to your outdoor exercising wardrobe.
Gloves or mittens are a must on cold days. Running/cycling gloves are designed especially for exercise and while they are usually thin and light, they are warm enough to prevent you from losing the feeling in your hands!
To stop your feet getting cold, make sure your socks are made from a similar material to your base layer. While it might be tempting to wear thicker-than-normal socks be aware that doing so may make your shoes too tight and uncomfortable.
Cyclists often wear booties which are a type of rubber or neoprene overshoe designed to keep the cold and wet out. While there is no such garment for running, there are shoes designed specifically for running in bad weather and mountain approach shoes also make excellent winter running shoes especially if you have to run on snow. What they lack in lightness, they more than make up for in grip.
While you don’t need to dress to impress for winter workouts, you do need to dress for the elements. The right clothing can mean your winter workout is as comfortable as a summer one. Don’t let winter derail your workouts – dress smart and show Mother Nature who’s the boss!