The Benefits of Training Outside During the Winter

The Benefits of  Training Outside During the Winter
By Coach Jon Falk


The onset of cooler temperatures and the abundance of pumpkin spice lattes is a clear indication that winter is not far off. Many people believe that exercising in the winter is difficult and uncomfortable. The two reasons that are most commonly offered are the low temperatures and bitter winds.  A recent study from sports scientists at St. Mary's University in London shows that the drop in temperature is actually a good reason to train in the winter. In fact, the research shows that cold weather helps improve one’s performance.

Every movement runners make produces heat. One way way in which the body loses heat is by sweating. Heat build up in the body and can be really problematic unless you can offload that heat. One of the mechanisms by which we lose heat is through sweating, but we also lose heat by transporting the blood to the surface of the skin where it can lose heat out into the external environment. Now, that puts more strain on the heart, particularly in hot conditions because it's much harder to lose heat when the external environment is warm as well. The increased strain can be considerable. Exercising in warmer temperatures results in faster heart rates.

The researchers then recreated summer and winter weather conditions in an environmental chamber. The test subjects were asked to run 10,000 meters under both conditions. The scientists then recorded biological measurements of the runners.

When you run in cold weather, your heart rate and the body’s dehydration levels are lower than in warmer conditions. The body also requires less water on a cold day than in warm weather.  The research showed that heart rates are approximately 6 percent higher in hotter conditions.

Also, athletes became more dehydrated by between 30 to 38 percent when training in warmer temperatures. Conversely, they found it about 30 percent easier (the test of their thermal regulation, how they felt, and their perception of heat) was around a third lower when they were performing in cold conditions." This perception is rooted in the fact that the body does not have to work as hard to pump blood to the skin's surface in order to offload accumulated body heat.  As a result, training in cooler temperatures requires less energy because the heart can function at a reduced output level to achieve a given pace.

Athletes can cut valuable seconds off their personal best times by choosing to train (or even race) in the winter.

The most important consideration for people who run in cold conditions is to wear the right clothing. Keeping as dry as possible is most important when exercising in low temperatures. You want to wear a moisture wicking base layer to get perspiration away from your skin. Sweat increases the amount of body heat that is lost. Wear mittens on your hands instead of gloves. Wear shoes that will keep you from falling. And especially, wear more than one layer of clothing to keep sweat away from your skin.

So don’t let winter weather keep you indoors. Simply get ready for the low temperatures and get that training done!!

Jon Falk is a coach with QT2 Run and Team In Training.  Jon is a student of the sport of running, having earned coaching certifications from the RRCA and USATF, as well as a MS in Exercise and Sports Science. 

The Benefits of Training Outside During the Winter
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