Cold Exercise

Exercising in the Cold – Embrace the Chill Factor

When winter hits, getting out of bed to exercise isn’t particularly appealing for most of us. Winter also heralds an increase in colds and flu. So why would you want to keep exercising in the cold, and what’s the best way to prepare for it? Accredited Exercise Physiologist Caitlin Feeney gives us her insight into why you need to keep moving and the best tips to keep you on track.

Why you need to move even when it’s cold


Preparing for summer

You might have summer training goals or simply want to maintain all the work you have done in the previous summer. While aiming for a ‘beach body’ shouldn’t be a primary goal – it should always be in pursuit of good health and a balanced lifestyle – cramming your training for summer in the month or two preceding can significantly overload the body. Do consider having a month where you train less to allow your body to recover from 6 months of competition or diligently completed training, but then gradually return to your normal activity levels.

You can burn more energy

To keep your body warm in the lower temperatures, your basal metabolism increases slightly. Most of this energy goes towards rewarming exposed skin and warming the air in the lungs. Take advantage of this by exercising in winter to expend more energy than you would in the summer. This is why some people use heavy punching bags in cold conditions, which are great for MMA and kickboxing by the way.

Keep up the vitamin D

Staying indoors removes us from the largest source of vitamin D – the sun. Vitamin D is needed to manage calcium, which has flow-on effects on our bones, muscles and overall health. During the winter months, staying indoors and thick cloud cover reduce the amount of sunlight that contributes to vitamin D production. If you can, get active in the middle of the day with some skin exposed. Sun protection isn’t needed unless you work outside for extended periods or near highly reflective surfaces such as snow.

The usual benefits of exercise

We go on about it a lot, but exercise is just plain good for you. The benefits keep coming even in winter, and the rule ‘use it or lose it’ still applies. Look after yourself and keep moving.


Some tips to make it easier:

1. Wear the right clothes. It helps you go out in the cold if you know you’re actually going to be warm. Layer up if it’s going to be wet or windy. Base layers such as merino wool singlets help the body breathe and wick away sweat so you don’t overheat, but also insulate you from the cold. Also consider getting water or windproof gear to stave off the elements if you’re very committed to training in all weather.

2. Drink lots of water. The air is usually very dry and we don’t feel as thirsty in the cold, so remember to drink up.

3. Cover the extremities. Our fingers and toes are often the first part of our body to feel cold. That’s because the body shunts blood to our core to keep the internal organs warm. We also lose a lot of heat through our head (using your brain is hot work), so wear a beanie, gloves and socks to keep the heat in.

4. Warm-up. Allow yourself a little longer to warm the muscles up and get the heart and lungs going. This helps your body adjust to the cold and prepare for exercise.

5. Go with mates. It’s easier to get out of bed if you know you have someone waiting for you. Agree on a time and place to meet and have your clothes ready by your bed so you can get dressed straight away. Agree when you should call it off too, such as heavy rain or strong wind.

6. Don’t think about the weather. When the brain focuses on a stimuli e.g. the cold, we can ‘feel it more’ than if we didn’t think about it. Acknowledge that it’s going to be cold – that’s hanging around for a while – and get ready anyway. The hardest part is getting changed.

If you have any exercise questions, contact your local accredited exercise professional.