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Your Winter Workout Woes – Answered!

Written on December 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm , by

Learn to love your workout, snow or shine! (Photo courtesy of Alexa Miller)

Baby it’s cold outside! But for those of us training, sans gym membership, or just yearning for some fresh air, we can’t let the chilly weather keep us from an outdoor workout. If you find your morning runs too cold, have achy joints, or just want to make it through a run without wiping out, we hear you! That’s why we asked Dr. Scott Weiss, clinical director and owner of Bodhizone Physical Therapy your burning cold weather workout questions. Read on below to see how you can have a successful workout no matter what the weather.

The cold weather makes my joints hurt! What stretches can I do before a workout to stop constantly feeling sore?

If cold weather is making you sore, the worst thing to do is go and stretch since you’re more likely to pull a muscle or tear some cartilage. In the cold weather, the key is total body warmth. Spend a little more time warming up, by adding 5-10 minutes to your normal warm-up routine. Stretching while your joints are warm will then enhance flexibility and range of motion while also reducing your chance of injury.

Sometimes when I go for a run in the winter, my toes lose feeling. Why is this happening and how can I fix it?

Most of the time numb toes are a minor circulatory or footwear issue. Try making a fist with your toes, or do some calf raises to get the blood pumping. Once you get home, be sure to elevate your feet to relieve the pressure. If tingling persists, it could be something more serious (like frostbite), and you should contact a physician.

I’m terrified of black ice. What are some tips to avoid it?

Make sure you stay focused on the heel contact portion of the running cycle in icy conditions. Often times we don’t think about how we are landing our feet, and if even slightly unbalanced while landing on ice, you risk falling. If you live in an especially icy area, consider trail shoes, which have a better grip.


Any time I run in the cold it hurts when I breathe! How can I stop this?

Often within the first four to six weeks of training in winter, the dropping of temperature can be rough on the pulmonary system. Cold, dry air can cause irritation and inflammation. If you find yourself struggling to breathe normally, sip on a warm cup of tea with lemon after a run to moisten your trachea. Steam showers before and after a run (pop in for about 5 minutes) will also help your breathing, allowing you to inhale deeper through your nose and mouth.

How much time should I take to warm up before a winter workout?

Increasing your warm up 10 to 15 minutes should do the trick. This is a good number to stick to in addition to trying to break a light sweat, aiming to get your heart rate up about 100 BPM (beats per minute).  It’s also important to stretch the specific muscles being used. For runners, focus on your lower body and joints, but also your spine, since it’s the core of your body and your run.

I never know what kind of shoes to wear in the winter, and my feet always end up too cold or too wet. Any suggestions?

Make sure you have a gore tex lined or waterproof shoe. Light trail shoes will have better traction, a wider toe box, and also control pronation like a running sneaker. This lets your toes move freely and breathe while maintaining the support you need. If you don’t want to sport a new pair of shoes, try a waterproof seam sealer to make your current sneakers more water resistant.

What’s the best apparel to wear when working out in the cold? Should I still be wearing sweat wicking fabrics, or something else?

When getting dressed, make sure you have clothes to keep your hands, feet, and head warm. These are the first places on the body to get cold the fastest. I always recommend the three-layer system for everything else – a whisking layer (silk), warmth layer (fleece), and outer shell (gore tex).