cold weather fitness

This is the time of year when the temperature drops, and people take their fitness routines indoors. Typically, this involves heading to the neighborhood gym at least a couple of times a week. But 2020 is anything but typical. With pandemic-related lockdowns, gym access has become unpredictable and challenging, even despite the considerable efforts gym owners and personnel have put into creating and maintaining a safe environment for their members.

At the time of this writing all counties here in the Bay Area are listed as Tier 1, meaning many non-essential businesses are closed. Gyms are allowed to open, but only outdoors with COVID safety modifications, which defeats the whole purpose for those who do not want to exercise out in the cooler winter weather.

As a result, people are looking at other options for maintaining their fitness routines. In the sections that follow, we’ll take a look at several options, with benefits and key considerations.

Home Exercise Equipment

As a result of the pandemic, an unprecedented number of people have invested money in exercise equipment to set up in their garage or spare space in their houses, or are considering doing so. In particular, demand for weight training equipment has skyrocketed. While providing cover and shelter from the elements, garage spaces are seldom heated to a comfortable temperature, so cold is still a key consideration.

Portable space heaters are available, but are not especially effective at heating poorly insulated garages because any heat generated quickly dissipates. Furthermore, in colder parts of the country, it may take too long to heat the space to anything even near room temperature. Also, it is critically important when going this route to make sure any heater used is rated for safe indoor use.

A spare bedroom, guest room (is anybody hosting visitors during the pandemic?) or a basement room may provide a more appealing and warmer alternative.

Another factor is expense. The initial cash outlay for multiple pieces of equipment can be hefty, to say the least, and you’re still unlikely to have the budget or space to outfit your home gym with the variety of equipment available at a commercial gym. The good news here is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money buying tons of equipment to get a decent workout. You can get a lot of bang for your buck out of a modestly priced weight set and bench. There are also many low-cost alternatives such as exercise bands, inflatables, and so on. All it takes is a bit of creativity and thought.

Outdoor Exercise

For those undaunted by colder weather, moving to or continuing with an outdoor exercise regimen is still a good option, but carries some considerations in order to maintain safety.

Even in a low-temperature setting, exercise is safe for almost everyone. However, certain conditions, such as asthma, heart problems, or Raynaud’s disease warrant a conversation with your healthcare provider first, in order to review any special precautions you need to take based on your condition or medications.

Clothing is the next key consideration. It is especially important to dress in layers and protect extremities, especially hands, feet, and ears. Thick socks and a winter hat are strongly advised. Hand protection is a bit more complicated, particularly where weights are involved. Barbells and dumbbells can become so cold that they become uncomfortable, or even dangerous to grip. Most winter or work gloves are too thick to ensure safe or comfortable gripping of metal handles. Briefly heating the handles and wearing gloves designed for weight training are both effective remedies.

If the temperature with wind chill factor is -18 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, it is too cold to be outside, much less attempt exercise. Frostbite can affect exposed skin in under 30 minutes. Under these conditions, outdoor fitness routines are strongly discouraged.

Understanding Body Heat Loss

Whether you’re exercising outside or in a garage gym, it is important to maintain an awareness of your body temperature and how heat is lost. The body loses heat in five ways:

  • Conduction
  • Convection
  • Evaporation
  • Radiation
  • Respiration

Conduction, evaporation, and respiration are of greatest concern when exercising outdoors or in a cold weight room. For example, conduction occurs when the heat from your hands is transferred to the cold metal grips of your weights or equipment. Similarly, respiration plays a significant role when breathing heavily, such as while performing squats and deadlifts. Awareness and caution can prevent problems and ensure a safe and beneficial workout.

Warm-up and Stretching

Proper warm-up and stretching are important when exercising under any conditions, but exercising in a cooler temperature environment raises particular considerations in order to both optimize workouts and avoid injuries. When working out in colder conditions, it is important to ease into your routine with 5-10 minutes on an exercise bike and/or multiple warm-up sets with lighter weight before moving on to heavier lifts.

Stretching is a bit less clear-cut, as there is some debate as to whether stretching before or after strenuous exercise is better at reducing soreness and preventing injury. Recent research suggests that stretching prior to a workout may in fact inhibit optimal gains. A muscle is composed of fibers, which become looser and more limber and flexible when stretched. This is great when flexibility is needed, but for exercise such as weightlifting, the muscle is actually able to do more work when the fibers are tighter and more densely packed. On the other hand, research also indicates that stretching routines before working out improve stability and balance. Therefore, it’s a balancing act between range of motion, stability, and strength, where moderation is recommended for pre-workout stretching. When working out in a colder environment, some advantage may be gained by stretching indoors, in a warmer environment when possible, prior to a cold space workout routine.

While some research indicates that there is little difference in the relative value of pre- and post-workout stretching routines, there is a growing trend among many trainers and coaches to emphasize post-workout stretching and cooldowns to reduce soreness and the risk of long term injury. Regardless, there is no strong evidence that stretching before or after workouts is harmful. Again, moderation is key, as over-stretching can have undesired effects.

Not Sure Where to Start?

At Performance Sport Care, we have experience setting up indoor workout environments, and would be glad to work with you to ensure that your exercise space is optimally set up to meet your specific needs. Call us at (925) 945-1155 or schedule an appointment to discuss your particular situation. We’d love to help!

We are are the leading Sports Chiropractic and Rehabilitation facility located in Walnut Creek, CA. Feel free to contact us with your questions or concerns at (925) 945-1155 or request an appointment.

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