Nothing proves your dedication to a fitness routine like an early morning run in freezing weather. It's just you and the pre-dawn quiet, your breath crystallizing under streetlights, and you're burning calories while the rest of the world hits the snooze button.
But while an ultra-cold workout can be a rewarding start (or end) to your day, it does carry a few risks of its own. Here are three ways to make sure you survive that blizzard run.
1. Know when to add and subtract layers
“It’s easy to overheat in the cold if you’re dressed inappropriately,” says Air Force search-and-rescue specialist Doug Kechijian, D.P.T. “Dress for how you’re going to feel five minutes into training.”
One key strategy is to heavily insulate vulnerable areas, like your hands, face, ears, and toes, because they'll suffer the most with even a small amount of exposure. Sweat-wicking material is especially valuable in cold-weather workouts. Even slightly damp clothes can seriously inhibit your body's ability to warm itself, and a sweat-soaked undershirt puts you at risk if you have to stop and take a breather.
2. Warm up where it’s warm
The best way to start your workout with warmed-up joints is to get your heart pumping inside. Jump rope, do some air squats or pushups, row on an erg for a few minutes—anything to cue up your body for a workout before you subject yourself to cold temperatures.
Alternatively, if you do have to warm up outside, know that it may take longer than usual to reach the targeted range of motion. Give yourself an extra five minutes to warm up, Kechijian explains, and make sure to perform dynamic stretching and mobility work at the end of the workout to ensure all your critical joints are limber and ready for a tough workout.
3. Stay hydrated
“When blood is shunted to your core in cold weather, the nervous system doesn’t perceive fluid loss as well, because the hormonal messenger is sending mixed signals,” says Kechijian. This makes it especially important to drink up even if you’re not thirsty.
And under no circumstances should you eat snow for water mid-workout—snow takes a lot of energy to melt, and that robs your body of precious heat. Always make sure you head into a workout with plenty of water, even if you don't think you'll need it.