The outdoors are the perfect place to work on your fitness. Embracing fresh air—and steering clear of a potentially germ-filled gym—allows for mental clarity and has been shown to help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder—even on cloudy days. Plus, it’s free! So don’t let the cold put a cap on your outdoor step count. Whether the winter months dominate your region, or your snowy season is reserved for just a few weeks a year, these expert tips will help you safely navigate chilly weather during winter runs.
When temperatures drop, layering is key: It gives you the flexibility to shed clothing when you get warm or put them back as you cool down. Think: vests, gloves, arm warmers—anything that’s easy to to adjust on the fly.
Exactly what you decide to wear depends on multiple factors (your personal level of warmth, how hard you’re running that day, what the weather forecast looks like, etc.), but a good rule of thumb is: Dress like it’s 10°F to 20°F (5°C to 10°C) warmer than it is outside. That way, when your body starts to warm up from running, you won’t overheat and sweat through your clothes. “As with so many things in running, the key is to test out various configurations and come up with a layering philosophy that consistently works for you,” says Jeff Galloway, running coach and author of Mental Training For Runners.
Stay out of the danger zone by checking out Galloway’s clothing thermometer. Or, says Galloway, if you’re in a pinch, give a garbage bag a shot: “They’re waterproof, hold in heat, and are also pretty easy to make vent holes in (or tear off) if you get too hot.”
Protect Your Extremities
When thinking about clothing, don’t forget your feet. “Most running shoes are designed to let heat out, which means they also let cold in,” says Galloway. “I’ve had several cases of frostbite myself and I’ve seen people develop nerve issues in their feet because they got too cold.” In addition to wearing warm, dry socks (preferably one of the newer “waterproof” varieties that wick away moisture), he recommends using an insulating sneaker spray on the outside of shoes to keep the cold from seeping in. When in doubt, opt for shoes with waterproof uppers (the part of the sneaker that goes over the top of your foot).
Clipping lights to your outer layers makes you more visible, which is essential now that darkness creeps into the afternoon hours. But don’t just wear lights on the front of your body: “The back is an area that runners sometimes neglect, but they shouldn’t because most deaths while running occur when a motorist hits the person from behind,” says Galloway. The higher up on your body you place the light, the better. Consider clipping it to the back of your hat or along the shoulders of your shirt or jacket.
Whenever possible, make winter runs daytime events. “When the sun’s out, you’re not only safer, but you also get to avoid the coldest part of the day,” says Galloway. “Water on the ground can also freeze once the sun goes down, turning a safe surface into one that’s potentially slippery.”
Know When to Stay Inside
Cold-weather runs should be more about maintenance than speed work. If you’re looking to beat the clock, head indoors. “When I have clients who are training to run fast in the Boston Marathon or some other key race but who live in the north, I have them use treadmills for a good portion of their fast workouts,” Galloway says. His advice: Allow your treadmill workout to mimic the road outside by using a two to three percent incline.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.