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Surviving Cold Weather Workouts

Stew Smith, CSCS

Most people who exercise in the winter either live in temperate climates or stay indoors to burn the excess calories that lead to weight gain. The focus of your goals should not change due to the season, we all still need exercise and to eat properly year round. However, if you are one of the few people who can handle the cold, you should still be careful with ice and snow and properly layer for warmth to avoid injury.

During the “Dark Ages” of winter in many locales of America, mood changes, depression, weight gain are very common. Exercise helps you deal with these seasonal disorders

Here are some tips for warm and cold natured folks for making it through the winter:

Pace Yourself – Build up to exercising in the cold temperatures. It is more difficult to go from any cardiovascular activity when you are used to 60-70 degrees one day and try to run or walk in 20-30 degrees the next. So, over the course of 4-6 weeks, do workouts outside as the weather changes. For instance, starting in October / November you were probably seeing colder weather of 40-50 degrees depending on your location. By December / January, if you continued to exercise outside, you might have gotten used to 30-40 degree weather. As with anything, pace yourself and do not expect to go from 70 degrees one day and enjoy a 30 degree workout the next.

Keep Walking – Walking is one of the best ways to burn calories. You do not need to change clothes (maybe walking shoes if your feet hurt) only add some layers of clothing on your head, torso and hands to stay warm. If you choose to walk outside, walk into the wind the first part of your workout and have the wind “push” you back to the starting point. This will keep you a bit warmer if you have worked up a sweat moving in your extra layers. Also, try to walk in the “heat” of the day such as early afternoon to avoid sub-freezing temperatures if possible.

Indoor Options – Another option is to park at a mall with an indoor shopping area. Here you can walk several miles, shop, and eat if you need to. This works! I know I would rather run ten miles than go shopping with my wife – ha! Walking in a mall can burn calories but you have to stay away from the junk food kiosks.

Join a gym or indoor pool for some activity when at home. Many communities have community center gym / pools that do not require a membership, just a usage fee. Do some research where you reside.

Workout in the house too! Get a second hand treadmill or stationary bike and enjoy some television while working out. If you only exercise during commercials of a television show, you will get 20 minutes in an hour of TV. Commercials are great for pushups, crunches, lower back exercises or dumbbell lifts.

On the Road Fitness – If your travels bring you into the southern more temperate climates from time to time, take advantage and find a park or a high school track, pull out the dumbbells and do a full-body workout plan especially if you are limited to a few good weather days.

Other Cold Weather Tips – If you choose to workout outdoors in below freezing weather, be careful with ice and snow if walking fast or running. Pay attention to wind chill warnings and double check to have no exposed skin. Too many injuries occur just from carelessness in the ice and snow. Lastly, know when to go indoors and warm up. Avoid numbness in hands and feet, slurred speech, uncontrollable shaking or shivering. This could be the start of frostbite or hypothermia which is deadly if not observed properly.

Stay Safe and Stay Fit During the Cold. Good luck and feel free to email me at

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