Winter Workout Tips

The big secret to exercising outdoors in the winter is to wear as little as possible. Yes, you read that right. You want to wear as little as you can get by with and still be comfortable. Think of this as the "20-degree rule": Dress for weather that is 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. That way, you'll be a little chilly when you first head out but toasty once you get moving.

Your clothing should cover as much surface area of your body as possible and protect you from the three major winter elements: cold, wind and precipitation. Instead of wearing one or two pieces of big, bulky clothing, wear three thin layers:

Winter Workout Tips

 For the innermost layer, choose a material made from polypropylene or olefin. Both are better at wicking perspiration away from your skin than natural fibers like cotton or wool, which tend to get damp and clammy with sweat.

The second layer serves as an insulator. A loose, lightweight sweater, sweatshirt, or long-sleeved T-shirt traps warm air generated by your body heat but lets you move without restriction; Gore-Tex works well because it breathes, but natural fibers are also good choices.

A light, easy-to-open jacket acts as a shield from the wind, rain, and snow. Look for a garment that's both breathable and waterproof -- that is, something that allows your sweat to evaporate yet still prevents outside moisture from seeping through. Gore-Tex and other synthetics are your best bet.

Shed a layer or open up your jacket as soon as you feel too hot so that body heat can escape and air may circulate freely. Keep your legs fully covered, but don't overdo it. When you exercise, a tremendous amount of blood is shunted to the legs, and their metabolism increases dramatically. Thermal underwear and a pair of tights or sweats are almost always adequate.

Winter Workout Tips

Your head and hands are prime frostbite targets, so finish off your outer gear with a hat and mittens. Add a face guard or bandanna if it's windy. And just because it's cold out doesn't mean you can skip the sunblock: You'll burn just as quickly from the combination of wind and sun reflecting off the snow as you will from a day at the beach.

Weather and terrain are two other winter workout concerns. Always check the weather report before you head out so you don't get caught in a total whiteout by surprise. It's a good idea to leave your route and an estimated workout time with someone so they know to look out for you in case of a problem.

You can't always tell what kind of terrain is underneath snow cover. As a result, if you're not careful to keep your eyes on the road ahead, you may be surprised by a pothole or slick patch of ice. Icy hills are especially dangerous. Lateral stability on snow, slush, and ice presents real opportunity for injury; you can easily twist an ankle or turn your knee in an attempt to stay upright.

High snowdrifts and unplowed streets require an extra effort too, especially from your buttocks and thigh muscles. Take shorter, quicker strides than normal and hold your arms slightly away from your body to improve balance. Whenever possible, travel along well-worn paths where the snow cover is minimal and you can see what's coming up. On extremely cold, windy, snowy and icy days, head for the gym.

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