Cardio is an incredibly important part of any sports training program and the cardio shouldn’t stop just because there’s a chill in the air. Yet, it takes a special person to wake up on a cold, frosty morning in February, strap on those runners, layer-up on the clothing and go for a run in the fresh fallen snow. With these tips and ideas you can be that person and here’s how to do it safely and effectively.
Why Do Cardio in the Winter
There are a number of reasons to go for a run in the winter rather than heading to the indoor gym.
Strengthen Your Mind
It is incredibly cathartic to go for a run while the snow is falling all around you. It can be so peaceful to see the flakes dropping from the sky as you leisurely jog down a wooded path or through a quiet city street. It can be exhilarating to run as the wind blows flakes past you giving them a laser like effect, prompting you to push harder to make them fly by faster. This feeling is even greater in the evening light as the streetlights highlight the falling snow.
How Tough Am I
I get a rush from knowing that I’m tough enough to get out there while everyone else is warm in their homes or working their basketball moves in a gym. It makes me feel like a hardcore running animal to be so determined to get that run in that I’m willing to brave the elements to reach my goals and better myself.
Better Air Out There
The air inside in the winter can feel stale but once you’re out that door everything is fresh and cool feeling. It’s positively psychological the way the fresh air can lift your spirits and give you a feeling that your health is improving with every step.
Sure, you can reap the same muscle building rewards from an indoor run or treadmill run but the psychological and elemental benefits that running outside provides are huge and I just can’t see them being duplicated in any manner on an indoor track.
Winter Running Safety
As wonderful as running in the winter can be, we can’t overlook the fact that there are some real safety concerns that need to be addressed to make each and every one of your runs a resounding success. You don’t want to not make your next basketball game simply because you didn’t pay attention to some simple safety measures while getting your cardio in.
Your number one concern should be visibility in my opinion. You can put a real quick end to your running career by not being visible to those around you. Roads just aren’t as wide in the winter as they are in the summer. All the snow piling up on the sides of the road can make it difficult for cars to safely get by you and see you at times.
Wear reflective gear to help with visibility. Headlamps and flashlights make it much easier for motorists to see you and avoid you. Run on the sidewalk where appropriate and possible, just be aware that roads are generally kept cleaner than the sidewalks so adjust your running path accordingly.
If your city has designated, paved running paths through it, you could make a request to your city council to have those added to the snow removal schedule. They are already doing the sidewalks so it may not be too big a deal for them to add the paths as well. This could also be a task for running clubs to undertake.
Slips, Trips and Falls
Most winter running accidents happen when a runner slips or trips on slippery roads and sidewalks. Running cleats are a way to increase your traction without having to wear heavy boots. Some say they take a bit to get used to and that’s my feeling towards them as well but once you do, you’ll feel much more at ease and be able to really put some miles on those bad boys.
Whenever possible, run after the snow ploughs have gone by. They often clear the snow while salting the ice at the same time and this can make for much safer running conditions.
Increased Heart and Lung Strain
If your not used to running in the cold, it can be a bit of an adjustment. This is especially true when it comes to breathing. Icy and colder air can be a bit more difficult to breath.
This can be especially true for someone who has asthma related health issues. The air in the winter can be dry which makes matters even worse. But there are ways to make it easier to breath during the run.
Start with a scarf or something similar. This will allow the air to warm up a bit as it’s passing through the material. Your exhaled air will warm up and moisten the scarf a bit allow the inhaled air to warm as it passes between the fabric and your skin. Keep your face and neck covered at all times and it can make a huge difference.
Extra Warm Ups
Getting your body fully warmed up before going out in the cold is incredibly important. It may not take you long to warm up for a run in the summer but in the winter and on cool fall evenings, you really want to take your time and really get limber. You wouldn’t rush a basketball warm up so take the same precautions for your running warm up.
It can be difficult to warm up properly outside due to the cold temperatures. This can lead to strains, pulls and sprains of the joints and greatly increases your chance getting injured and not enjoying the run.
Take the time to do a full, dynamic and complete warm up. Get the blood flowing and the heat built up and you may find it that much easier to start warm and keep warm throughout the entire run.
Oh the mighty stretch. If you thought it was important to stretch in the gym or in the warm weather, multiply that by 5. Your body has been trying to stay warm in the cooler temperatures all around you so you may find your muscles tighter than normal. Take your time and really focus on each area of your body. Start at one end, top or bottom, and work towards the other. Ankles, legs, hips, torso, arms and neck. Get it all in, don’t limit yourself to just your legs. Make sure you are very thorough. Those extra few minutes could make all the difference and can make your run safe and fun.
Run With a Buddy
Running alone can be peaceful but once in awhile it can be beneficial to run in a group or with a friend. It can be really motivating to have others around to push you to work harder and go that extra mile or two.
Don’t underestimate the value of running with your basketball teammates. There is an extremely important safety aspect to running with a partner, especially in cold or snowy conditions. If you get injured there is someone there to help you back home. It can be a long way to limp if you get injured halfway through your run. Which brings me to another important tip.
Run in Circles
Running in a circular route around your home can help you return quickly if you injure yourself. For example, if you were starting your run at the pink circle in the image below and decided to run for 25 mins in a straight line, then twisted your ankle at the halfway point (the red “X”). You would then have to hobble back 25 mins to your house.
If you instead ran 50 mins in a circular route similar to the one in the image below starting again at the pink circle, you may be able to cut back across some streets (the purple dotted line) saving you valuable time and pain.
Follow the Snow Plow
In the winter some streets tend to get ploughed more than others. Keeping to the main streets where possible may give you the best chances of being able to run in freshly ploughed areas. These roads and streets tend to be better lit at night, salted sooner than other streets and salted more often than the back and side streets. Just keep in mind that they may also be busier with traffic as well.
Know When NOT to Go
There will be times when even the most seasoned, the most hardy and the most adventurous runner should know enough to cancel the run for the day and stay inside. Freezing rain can be a major bummer and cause all kinds of accidents to happen so check the weather before you go and when in doubt, play it safe.
That being said, it doesn’t mean you need to forgo the workout all together. I doubt many people have an indoor basketball court they can train in at home but many families do have a treadmill, stationary bike or my favorite, an elliptical they can use from the comfort of their home instead. Take advantage of these otherwise, glorified clothes hanging racks and put up some miles.
As much fun as it is to run in the winter, staying safe and keeping things fun should be your top priority. Sometimes this will mean being flexible about your run routes and schedule.
It may require cutting back on your distance or pace to get the run in before dark.
It may require you to stick to streets that you don’t normally take.
You may need to alter your route from time to time in order to run into the wind at the start of your run and with the wind at the end.
It may require you to run during the day when you may be used to running at night. Running in the daytime does have it’s advantages including warmer temps and safer conditions.
Clothing for Winter Running
Just as a good pair of basketball shoes or ankle braces protect you on the court, your best protection off the court from the cold and snow are the clothes you wear there as well. The cold can take all the fun out of running if you don’t dress appropriately. “The right tool for the job” I always say and proper clothing is the right tool in this case.
Shoes for running in the winter
A normal everyday running shoe is fine when the weather is clear and the roads are dry but for really moving in the ice and snow you need something with traction and perhaps even picks. Choose a shoe that offers deep treads while also providing the ability for your feet to breath. If your feet sweat and your socks end up wet then your going to end up cutting your run short to get back where you can warm up your toes. Allowing air to circulate within the shoe will help keep those feet warm and toes toasty. Again, the right tool for the job.
Keeping Your Face Warm
It’s amazing how big a difference a scarf can make but when it comes to keeping your face warm and making it easier to breath, you really can’t go without one. Even just wrapping it around your neck to keep the cold from going down the front of your coat can go a long way to keeping you warm.
I’ve seen some runners wear slim, light ski goggles to protect and shield their eyes when it’s snowing or extra windy outside.
Ski masks are another great way to beat the cold just be careful not to scare any children. Remember that its fabric should breathe well.
Dress in Layers
It can be difficult to regulate your temperature while pushing up a hill in the cold weather. One of the easiest and best ways to reduce the chances of frostbite or hypothermia is to keep an even temperature. Keeping an even temperature can be done by adding and removing clothing as needed.
Dressing in layers allows you to remove clothing to cool down and add it to warm up.
Make the layer closest to your body one made of materials that can wick away moisture such as high-tech polyester or polypropylene clothing. These will help keep you warm and dry as you work up a sweat. It can trap that moisture in tiny pores that help keep it off your skin.
By wearing several layers you don’t need to worry about underdressing but overdressing can be an issue. As you begin your run your body will generate heat and you’ll find that you don’t need as much clothing to maintain a good temperature as long as you keep up a good pace. It’s alright to feel a little bit cool when you start your run and as you get running you should warm up quickly.
Overcoming the Mental Barriers
There is a very strong mental aspect to basketball, to most sports really and running is no exception. For some people, running can be a real challenge. Some need to push themselves hard to get out the door for the first few days before it becomes truly enjoyable. For me it was about a week. It got easier and easier with each run until I found myself running for really long distances without even thinking about it. BUT the winter? Well that’s a whole new basketball game.
If you have been running all summer and into fall, the transition into the winter months is much easier. But if your just beginning your running career in the dead of winter, say as a New Years resolution than not only are you a real trooper but your battle will be a bit of an uphill one.
Here are some ways to get over the mental hurdles that can accompany winter running.
Rewarding yourself for a run well done is a great way to keep that motivation up. A warm shower and warm drink after a cold, brisk run is truly a thing to look forward to as well as an important part to getting your body back to a good temperature. Maybe a gift card for every 40 miles or 65 kms you run to a sporting goods store. Hint hint, new basketball shorts?
One thing to keep in mind is that warming up after a run should be done safely. Rapid temperature changes can be harmful to your body so remember that slower is better.
Dr. Cari Dillard, an Emergency Department physician at Forsyth Medical Center cautions that “You don’t want to go from extreme to extreme.” She recommends warm, not hot water when preparing in a bath. I would avoid hot tubs until after your body has warmed up to room temperature.
My favorite drink after being out in the cold is a warm hot chocolate. It makes you feel good and gives you some extra calories.
Dr. Cari Dillard also suggests that changing your clothes once returning from a run will help you get warm quickly. She says “It is really important to remove those outer layers that are also chilled, because otherwise you just insulate yourself from the warm air in your home. You want to make sure that you take off that layer, put back on warm clothes and therefore you can make sure that you have a nice, warm layer next to your skin.”
Invite a Friend
A running buddy can make getting out in the cold so much easier. If you are holding each other accountable that can be some serious motivation and will help you get out there.
Find a friend that is motivated like you. If you are the only one in the relationship pushing to get that run in before dark, there is a good chance it could backfire on you and that friend ends up holding you back. Be selective about who you pick as a running partner.
Another motivating factor can be the music you listen to. If you have 5 songs on your phone that end up playing on repeat you may actually go insane before completing your run. Find some music with a beat that makes you want to move. If the beat makes you want to dance, it may also make you want to run. Running’s like a dance with only one move anyways! Keep the beat, move those feet!
By starting or continuing to run throughout the winter you are getting a head start on being beach-ready. Think about how toned your going to be after a long winter of hard-core training or how much faster you’ll be on the basketball court then all those players that stopped training in November.
Just do it
As with all runners, there is a point at which we need to just get out there and get it done. We need to take ownership of what it is we want to accomplish and put our thoughts into action. At some point we have to say to ourselves “today is the day” and not let anything stop us from getting those shoes on and start running.
Overcoming the Physical Barriers
Just getting out there and doing it may work for the mental side of things but there is a very real physical side of running in the wintertime that should be addressed as well. There are a number of tips and tricks to make it more enjoyable and easier on your body as you venture out into the cold.
Should I Run on the Road or the Sidewalk?
There are advantages and disadvantages to running on both the road and the sidewalk. For instance, running on the road allows you to take advantage of the cleaner streets. Streets are often kept clear of ice and snow buildup whereas sidewalks tend to be paid less attention, in smaller towns at least.
Roads also benefit from being cleared sooner than sidewalks. I’ve seen where a street will be ploughed an hour after fresh snowfall but a sidewalk on the same street will go days before getting a sweeping.
Roads however also add an element of danger in that you find yourself running alongside cars and other vehicles. If your running on the road, remember to run against traffic so that you can easily see oncoming vehicles and be seen by them as well.
Running on the sidewalk can be a much safer way of avoiding a traffic accident but can be deadly for your ankles. One misstep and you may find yourself twisting your ankle on a chunk of ice that hasn’t been cleared from the last snowfall. Snow ploughs will often take two or three passes down a busy street but rarely are they going to hit the sidewalks more than once unless the snow really piles up.
Endurance Running or Sprinting in the Winter?
Basketball players do a lot of sprinting. Quick starts, quick stops then a full court dash on a breakaway. Winter running doesn’t really allow for a lot of quick starts and quick stops due to ice, snow and just an overall need to be more cautious. Save your really hardcore sprinting for the gym in the winter and focus more on endurance running outdoors in the winter.
If you are someone who has troubles breathing in the cold of the winter you may want to go easy on the sprinting. You can slightly reduce your amount of cold air intake by choosing a slower distance run over a fast paced or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) type run.
Start off slow and long then work up your speed as you feel able. Your distance and speed should change each day with the changing temperatures. If it’s a nice sunny warm-ish kind of day, go ahead and push yourself a bit, but if its rock bottom cold out there than try to limit the amount of cold air that you have to breath in by reducing your running tempo.
Just as staying hydrated in the summer is a key concern, winter running can be just as dehydrating to the body. The cold air is dryer and it’s easy to forget that you still need water even though your body isn’t overly warm. This will not only increase your stamina but can assist with your bodies ability to moisten the cold air, helping you breath easier.
Keep a bottle of water close to you, even under your clothing as you run to keep it at about room temperature and to prevent it from freezing.
How to Prevent Cold, Wet Feet
Cold or wet feet can be an instant buzz-kill on a run. As soon as your feet get wet they will begin to lose heat and make your outing much less enjoyable.
When I was younger, I would come in the house at lunch time with wet shoes after playing outside in the snow. After lunch I’d be all warmed up and ready for another outdoor adventure but my boots would still be sopping wet on the inside. My mother would give us extra socks and put plastic bags over our feet. We could then, somewhat comfortably continue to play outside.
You can take the same idea and use it as a preventative measure. Simply slide some plastic bags over your feet to give them an extra layer of protection on extra wet days. I would not recommend doing this all the time as it does prevent your feet from breathing properly but in a pinch it can really help keep out the water.
How to Prevent Blistering and Chapping From the Wind
Similar to skiing, running in the cold wind can quickly dry out exposed skin and cause blistering. Prevent chapped lips and dry skin by applying a bit of vaseline or lip balm to your lips. Body Glide is a great product to prevent drying as well.
After your run, as you are getting out of your warm shower, consider using some sort of moisturizing cream to really get your skin feeling good again.
Cold Weather Warm Up and Cool Down
It’s more than likely going to be a warm-down rather than a cool-down as you may come in a bit chilly from your cold-air-run but stretching is so important both before and after. You may find you’re using some extra muscles to keep your feet from slipping and sliding on the ice and snow while running.
Take the time to stretch out your muscles and tendons, especially your calf muscles and achilles tendon both before and after you run.
Run During the Day
There is no better feeling than running on a beautiful summer evening. The fireflies are out, a warm breeze against your face. It’s magical! But in the winter running at night can be even colder than during the day and even a bit perilous at times.
Temperatures plummet when the sun goes down, drivers have a hard time seeing you and you miss out on the opportunity to increase your vitamin D intake. You may not have as many hours of sun during the winter and if that’s the case you want to make sure that you’re getting as much vitamin D from your runs as you can.
Runnings great. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall. And making the most of each season is simply a matter of getting some of the strategies under your belt.
Make yourself get out there and you’ll enjoy it. Keep up your momentum from the rest of the year by continuing right on through the four seasons and don’t let those winter blues slow you down.