Warm ups are always important. They gradually raise your heart rate, and get you breathing a little faster. This sends more oxygen, energy, and nutrients to your heart, lungs, and muscles so they can perform at their best. Warm ups also get the aerobic energy system started, which takes several minutes. Getting it going before your activity also helps you perform better.
When the weather gets cold, you should make some changes to how you exercise. We’re not talking about starting earlier because of the shorter days or making a playlist that motivates you to leave your warm house. There are some physiological changes that occur in your body in the cold that you need to consider. Joints become stiffer, your body reduces blood flow to your skin and muscles to stay warm, and your heart has to work a little harder. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be active in the cold, it just means there are a few changes in your routine that are warranted.
Our bodies have a few tricks to stay warm in the cold. One of these is to narrow the blood vessels closest to the skin. That means that the more superficial muscles get less blood flow, making them more likely to be injured if you place too much demand on them before they’re ready. This doesn’t mean you can’t be active in the cold, it just means that you should take a little more time to get your body ready. Here are a few suggestions:
Warm up well
A good warm up is always important to get your heart rate up, more blood to your muscles, and it gets your aerobic system started. In the cold, it’s even more important because of the changes we just listed.
First: Get your heart rate up with a brisk walk or light jog.
Second: Do a dynamic warm up rather than static stretches. Things like walking or jogging while pulling your knees up high to your chest, high kicks in front of you with straight knees to get your hamstrings loosened, or a walking lunge with an upper body twist can get you ready for more intense activity.
Cater your warm up to what you have planned in your workout. If you’re not sure how it should look, ask your physical therapist!
Drink water before, during, and after your workout. The temperature may be down, but you’ll still sweat and you’ll still lose water vapor in your breath. The drier air in winter makes your sweat evaporate quickly, so it’s easy to underestimate how much fluid you’ve lost.
Consider your clothes
Dress in layers so you can adjust your clothing to your activity level. After you warm up, you might want to take off a layer to avoid getting too hot during your main activity. You can always add layers back when your activity level drops or the temperature changes.
Even though it’s cold, cool down
We know it’s tempting to rush inside to a warm blanket and hot drink, but don’t skip the cool down. Keep moving with a walk or another form of active recovery so your heart rate can come down gradually. A cool down also helps your muscles to transition back to a relaxed state and can reduce soreness following your workout. Since your muscles are still warm, your cool down is the right place for static stretching. Head inside for some foam rolling or self massage.
The shorter days and lower temperatures don’t mean that you’re stuck inside for all of your exercise. Follow these tips and you can safely keep moving outside. If you’d like a customized warm up or cool down, or have questions about your exercise routine, your physical therapist is a great person to ask!