How to Fall in Love With Your Winter Workout
Your guide to cold weather training, ahead.
Hibernation mode is an easy escape from winter’s uninviting weather forecast, and it often comes complete with a mindset that slows down your sweat schedule. But, while working out in the cold can seem daunting, what if we said that these next few months could actually become your favorite for fitting in that winter workout?
From thorough warm-ups and cold-weather gear, to winter workout safety, our Peloton Tread instructors Becs Gentry and Rebecca Kennedypeloton.com/instructors/tread/rebeccakennedy share their expert tips for exercising in cold weather. Plus, ultrarunner and author Sarah Lavender Smith—who regularly hits the trails in Telluride, Colorado, a mountain town where winter temperatures typically hover in the 20s and 30s, reveals her approach to cold weather workouts.
Is Working Out in Cold Weather Good for You?
First up, why even work out in the cold when you could just work out indoors? Well, there are actually many benefits to cold weather exercise. Recent studies show that working out in cold weather makes your body work harder to generate heat to keep muscles and organs warm, which can lead to improved endurance, metabolism, and cardiovascular function. It’s also great for boosting your mood and supporting mental wellbeing too. Not convinced? These are just a few other benefits of cold-weather workouts:
1. Cold Temperatures Can Improve Endurance
Temperature plays a key role in endurance levels. If you’ve noticed becoming tired faster in hotter temperatures, it’s because your body is using up more energy by cooling you down via sweating, which increases your heart rate and reduces your stamina. Studies have shown working out in colder temperatures may actually benefit endurance as you sweat less, allowing you to exercise for longer periods.
Wondering what the best workout temperature is? Research suggests that 50-55 F is the optimal temperature for working out.
2. Cold Weather Helps Burn More Calories
The human body contains several types of fat, each serving a different purpose. Studies show that exercising in cold weather actually helps transform white fat—associated with energy storage around the belly and thighs, into brown fat—a calorie-burning fat that helps manage body temperature. When you’re working out in the cold, brown fat burns more calories to heat your body and raise your body temperature, breaking down blood sugar and fat molecules in the process.
3. Metabolism is Boosted by Cold Weather
Your metabolism is affected by many factors including genes, diet, and daily activity levels. Recent research has shown that brown fat can actually help boost metabolic function. Working out in the cold activates brown fat, which burns more energy to regulate the body temperature, in turn helping to create healthy metabolic shifts and appetite regulation.
4. Cold Weather Workouts Can Improve Your Mental Health
It’s no surprise that regular exercise is good for mental health—releasing serotonin and endorphins, but in colder weather, seasonal mood disorders due to lack of sunlight and inactivity are more common. Exercising in cold weather can have a positive impact on your mood. “Winter days can be some of the most beautiful of the year,” says Becs. “The low sun always casts a stunning light on the world, so use outdoor runs or workouts as a way to appreciate all that’s around you.” And if you live in a city that’s constantly busy, use the early morning hours to take your run to the clear and quiet streets. “As the weather gets colder, I appreciate the city even more because the streets empty out and I can enjoy the stillness and soak up the meditative qualities of my run,” says Rebecca. And, as Becs says; “Breathe it all in and enjoy that vitamin D.”
A lower body temperature is also thought to give your brain more access to glucose which fuels brain function and improves memory. Better brain function and mood? Yes please.
"As the weather gets colder, I appreciate the city even more because the streets empty out and I can enjoy the stillness and soak up the meditative qualities of my run."
Rebecca Kennedy, Peloton Tread instructor
5. Cold Weather Can Help us Focus on Our Self-Care
During a hectic winter season, Rebecca loves to handle stress and anxiety with a workout. “Whether I’m taking it easy with a low impact workout on days when I feel sluggish, or boosting my energy levels with HIIT, exercise is hands down the best way I feel better in the colder months,” says Rebecca. And, don’t forget the sweet stuff–the recovery! Take advantage of all the different ways to recharge your mind and body in the winter, especially those that add some extra warmth. “Infrared saunas are my go-to in the winter,” she says. “They provide a hit of dopamine, an increase in your serotonin levels, and they heat your body from the inside out with incredible detoxifying benefits.”
How To Find the Right Cold Weather Workout Gear For You
Getting outside for a winter workout will seem way more doable when you’ve got the right gear, but where do you start? Keeping warm and dry will be your main priorities in your gear selection. And, the trick to this is layers. “I try to dress for about 20 degrees warmer than what the temperature reading is to avoid ending up too warm,” says Mollie Morgan, a Peloton Member, marathoner, and triathlete in Los Altos, California. “Layers are key and having some kind of wicking material next to the skin helps to avoid a chill from being sweaty in the cold.”
Staying dry is vital—and this includes from the weather and your own sweat, adds Becs. “Invest in tech fabrics that are designed to keep you dry from all the elements–sweat, rain, or snow—but also warm,” she says. “Thermal layers are ideal for this because they’re breathable so they dry off at the same time as locking in heat.”
Your body temperature will fluctuate throughout your workout, so make it easy to alter your outfit. “Start with the most on and end with the most on,” advises Becs. “As you warm up into your session, take off as many pieces as you need to maintain a sensible body temperature. Just remember to pop them back on when you’re cooling down!”
Becs’ favorite running pieces are heat-helpers that can fit into a pocket once she’s warm enough. “Hats, gloves, neck warmers, and even vests are so important and can be easily tucked away mid-run. Don’t forget high socks to cover your ankles—they give off a lot of energy, especially for women, so keep them covered up in cold temps!”
If you’re running in rain or snow, a lightweight, waterproof jacket is also a must. “My favorite has zippers under the armpits, so you can open a vent under your arms for more breathability,” Sarah says. “Remember, if you’re comfortably warm at the start of your run, then you’ll feel too hot a mile into it.”
Padding your wardrobe with cold-weather garments may seem like a big investment, but when you figure out what pieces you’ll need for your terrain and temps, it’s worth it. “Once you own the right things, most of them last a long time and enable you to get out in almost any weather,” Morgan says.
Why You Should Warm Up Before a Winter Workout
Once you're layered up, don't forget to warm up. Your muscles need to be warmed up so they’re at their strongest and most flexible. For winter workouts, your warm up will be even more crucial to avoid strains and injuries in those colder temps, as well as to get you hitting the ground running.
Sarah relies heavily on stretching pre-cold weather workouts, doing it inside on those freezing winter mornings. “I recommend taking five minutes indoors for dynamic stretching—which is stretching with movement to increase range of motion and warm up your muscles,” she says. “My routine includes moves such as ankle circles, toe taps, leg swings, and walking lunges. Then, when you go outside, start with walking to further loosen up and get used to the cold air in your lungs.”
Cold Weather Workout Safety
As with all workouts, safety is your number one priority, and there are a few extra things to be mindful of when working out in cold weather. From frostbite to sun protection, make sure you’re equipped for the elements.
Check the Weather Forecast Before You Workout
Working out in extreme temperatures can irritate and hurt your lungs. Sarah suggests heading inside if it’s colder than 10 degrees outside. Running in snow, slush, or ice is also dangerous. Avoid any extreme weather conditions like storms or high winds, and if your area is under a weather warning stay home and exercise indoors.
Working Out in Snowy Areas
Simply can’t bear to skip that outdoor workout? While it’s not advised that you workout in icy conditions, Sarah advises “If you live in a snowy area with ice on the roadways, you need to be careful to avoid slipping and should wear a traction device. I recommend the NANOspikes by Kahtoola, because they’re lightweight and small enough that you can run on them on dry pavement, but then they prevent slipping if you hit a section with ice or snow.”
Know the Symptoms of Frostbite
While you may be in your stride, it’s important to recognize the risk of hypothermia or frostbite is real the longer you stay outside and the colder the temps. Early frostbite feels a little like pins and needles, with throbbing and aching in the affected area. Your skin can become cold, numb, white, or swell. If you feel even the slightest sensation, that’s your sign to head indoors immediately.
When you're cold, there's less blood flow to your hands, feet, and nose. Be proactive by wearing gloves, socks, and a scarf or ski mask to protect your extremities when it's extra chilly.
Always Wear Sunscreen
Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen on the daily, even in winter (yes, really), is imperative for keeping your skin protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Apply a high-factor sunscreen—anything upwards of 30 SPF, on your face, neck, and any other exposed areas, just before you head outside for your workout.
Drink Plenty of Water Even in Cold Weather Workouts
Even in cold weather, you can still work up a sweat and it can also diminish thirst by up to 40 percent, so replacing lost fluids once you finish your workout is key. Always carry water with you, and if you’re outside for longer than an hour, an energy drink can help replace lost fluid and electrolytes.
And, if the outdoors are not optimal for training safely? We’ll meet you on the Tread. Becs believes there are benefits to using both environments. “In order to maximize safety, I do the majority of my speed work indoors on the Peloton Tread,” says Becs, “I love using Interval and HIIT classes to work on increasing my power or a long run if I need to get my miles in.”
Eyes on That Spring Prize
One of the best parts of staying consistent in the winter is being able to make a strong entrance in the spring. During the winter season, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize, whatever that is for you. If signing up for a race sounds fun, commit now and be ready for it once the next season hits. “For most runners, it’s the big spring marathons that get us through winter training,” explains Becs.
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