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It took a while, but winter arrived and most of the country finally felt its freezing effects. As much as Canadians pride themselves on taking winter’s fury in stride, there’s no doubt that snow, ice, freezing temperatures, freezing rain and biting wind make outdoor exercise more challenging.
It’s not just that winter calls for more layers, it’s the changing conditions and dangerous terrain that make outdoor workouts so challenging. Then there’s the unique combination of being sweaty and cold at the same time, which sums up the worst of winter training. But whether you’re hitting the cross-country ski trails, lining up for the ski lift, running into the wind, playing a game of hockey at the local outdoor rink, or hitting the strides, here are some tips for winter exercise . more comfortable.
Choose your layers wisely
There’s a science to winter dressing, which starts with layering against the elements, keeping in mind that high-effort exercise requires a different layering mix than outdoor workouts that generate less sweat. The main difference between the two is knowing when to keep your body heat in and when to let it out.
Start with a thin, close-fitting thermal layer made from a polyester blend that wicks sweat to the next layer. Moving moisture away from the body prevents a sticky feeling that, when combined with the cold, brings with it a long-lasting chill that only a hot bath will resolve.
Cover the base layer with a fleece that can be as fine or thick as the temperature or level of physical exertion demands. At its most technical, fleece is warm yet breathable with wicking features in high-sweat zones designed specifically to keep cross-country skiers, runners, and outdoor trail rats comfortable. Alpine skiers, on the other hand, will want a thicker layer of fleece that retains, not dissipates, body heat.
Getting the right outer shell is tricky. They’re typically designed to repel water and wind, but without well-designed vents and a system to let out all that steaming sweat, you’ll end up wet and cold. During those first few minutes in below-freezing temperatures, retain body heat by tightening the wrist cuffs, cinching the waist, and zipping up all the way. As your internal temperature rises, let some of that heat escape, but be prepared to zip it back up if the wind picks up or the sun disappears.
Another important feature of your outer layer are pockets for hats and gloves, in case you choose to take them off, and at least one interior pocket to store a phone (which tends to freeze on very cold days). You’ll also want reflective details to help you be seen during early morning or late-day workouts.
Hats, mittens and neck warmers to win
Hats retain a significant amount of body heat, meaning they are an easy way to regulate body temperature. The same goes for mittens and neck warmers. Start with them on and remove them as they warm up. Stay away from bulky hats and gloves that are difficult to fit in a pocket. Fleece is your best option as it is warm, breathable and rolls up well. I prefer hooded gloves, which offer the warmth of gloves but allow dexterity to get into my pockets without taking the gloves off.
Watch your step
Icy sidewalks are bad enough, but add a layer of snow and suddenly your winter run or walk becomes a precautionary stroll. Add snowbanks or slush puddles to the mix and you’ll have obstacles to overcome with every step.
Crampons are an easy solution on icy surfaces, but they don’t work as well in loose snow. Trail shoes with deep soles offer the best grip in the snow, and hiking poles can provide winter hikers with added stability in any weather. Don’t hesitate to contact city officials if your sidewalks are slow to clear during the winter. Safe sidewalks should be a priority for all Canadian cities.
Winter training is not inherently dangerous, but you do need to take some precautions. Don’t leave home without a phone. If you haven’t invested in a smartwatch with fall detection, make it a priority.
Decide what types of conditions warrant staying indoors, which is usually when discomfort prevents you from enjoying outdoor exercise. For me, snow, freezing rain, and temperatures below -20°C are where I draw the line, opting for the treadmill or stationary bike instead of skiing or running. On days when balance is iffy, I put on my cross-country skis rather than worry about taking a nasty fall.
Sure, there are some days when winter beats us all, but when the sun is shining and our equipment is ready, some of the best training of the year happens before the snow melts.
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