Winter Outdoor Fitness: What to Wear

March 2, 2021

We have a saying at Outdoor Fitness: There’s no such thing as inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Since 1995, I’ve canceled only two classes because of weather—one due to high winds and the other due to lightning. Outdoor Fitness is made for all seasons. However, all types of weather pose challenges and often hazards. In seasons that include severe weather—hot or cold temperatures, or high altitude—you’ll need to put your body through a period of adjustment, or acclimatizing, as you gradually help your body to grow accustomed to the conditions.

The key to being safe while exercising outdoors during winter months is to be aware of the possible hazards that inclement weather and cold pose. Here are simple strategies to consider before heading out—no matter what the forecast.

Dressing for Winter Safety
• Wear proper clothing for the environment
• Wear shoes made for the activity
• Limit time your time outdoors in extreme cold
• Change out of wet clothes immediately after your workout.
• Choose alternate routes if your regular route seems risky. Consider shorter loops, rather than traveling far from your starting point.
• Wear colorful clothing to be visible to drivers
• Use caution on snow-covered surfaces, which may be hiding obstacles—pinecones, rocks—underneath
• Carry a cell phone

Cold Weather Clothing
For cold or wet weather, you want to invest in high quality gear. In the outdoor industry the term “Technical” is used a lot. Technical clothing basically means textiles and fabrics engineered for protection and function. For example, you’ve likely heard the term “waterproof, breathable” as it relates to a jacket, or “wicking” when it comes to workout pants or socks. Look for apparel that is designed to adjust to your body’s temperature. Cold weather clothing can be classified according to function and layering categories:

Base layer is the first layer next to skin. Choose lightweight fabrics that breathe, wicks away sweat, keeps your body insulated and allows freedom of movement.

Middle layer will absorb moisture, and provide insulation. Depending on the temperature, choose tights or legging for the lower half and choose a long-sleeved, zip neck jersey. Or if it’s really chilly, choose fleece for this layer.

Outer layer or shell layer will protect from the elements. You’ll want a quality garment for protection from wind, rain and snow, so go technical all the way. Whether the weather warrants a lightweight waterproof shell or blizzard proof shell, select garments that have been seam sealed, and allow body heat to evaporate while shielding your skin from the elements.

Perhaps the most hazardous part of cold weather workout is post workout, when your body is cooling down. Problems with chilling can arise due to wet skin from perspiration, while the blood vessels in the skin continue to dilate to dissipate heat. It is potentially dangerous because this is when the body feels warm and most people don’t feel the need to bundle up. If you are not heading home right away, always have a change of clothing available. The effects of chilling from wet clothing and wet skin come on rapidly and are difficult to abate without a hot shower or bath.

Rain and Snow
There’s no reason to halt your workout because of precipitation. In the event of a showery, wet day, you’ll need to take some extra precautions. Consider the effect of the rain or snow on the route you’ve planned, and make a change if you think the conditions will be too slippery. Pay extra attention to wet leaves, twigs, and rocks on the path or under the snow.

Time and time again, I’ve seen clients begin their session a little intimidated by the rain. After the warm up they’ve forgotten it’s raining — by the cool down all I see are sets of teeth, smiling. The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming, the feeling is invigorating, and the outcome is right on track! I liken workouts in the rain to jumping into the pool. The first couple of minutes take some getting used to. The rest — you forget you’re wet!

You might not give a second thought to the effects of a wind on your workout, but windy conditions can bring about many changes and new obstacles to your route. Be sure to wear sunglasses or other protective eyewear, since blowing dust, dirt, sand, and snow can spoil a session. Watch closely for debris on your path, from small twigs to branches and pine cones. Dress to protect yourself against the wind — wind chill accelerates cooling, so make sure to add layers if its already cool outside. Familiarize yourself with a wind barrier — a large tree or a wall — to use as a shield if the wind conditions become severe.

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