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Warming-up Before Cold Weather Exercise

By Lyndsey McIntyre, PT, DPT | December 8, 2021

Cold weather is upon us, but that doesn’t mean outdoor workouts need to stop! Did you know that you are not necessarily at higher-risk for musculoskeletal injury because of the cold? With time, your body can begin to adapt to exercise in moderate cold; in fact, the American College of Sports Medicine promotes that exercise can be performed safely in most cold weather environments, without incurring cold weather injuries with proper preparation and education. So, get out there and workout! 

 

Benefits of warm-up:

  • Increase core and muscle temperature – helps aide elasticity of muscles 
  • Improves metabolic and neuromuscular performance – prepares your body for hard work
  • Enhance psychological readiness for activity – prepares your mind for the task

All of these factors can help boost performance and readiness for activity and potentially decrease risk for injuries related to “cold muscles”.  

Static vs dynamic warm-up

Your warm-up should mimic some version of the exercise you are performing. For example, before a moderate distance run it would be beneficial to include dynamic movements as described below. 

  • Static: sustained, isolated stretches typically held for 30-90 seconds – commonly taught in past decades
  • Dynamic: active, low intensity movements that briefly stretch muscles in full range of motion – mimics functional movement
    • Examples:
      • High knees
      • Butt kickers
      • Skipping (regular, A-skips, B-skips)
      • Hip swings (forward/backward)
      • Lunge to sweep 
      • Squat to calf-raise 
    • A few laps of 10 yards for each exercise for approximately 5-10 minutes will help induce the benefits described above and prepare your body for a great workout

Clothing

Remember to wear cold-weather clothing such as merino wool or lightweight polyester are ideal for wicking away sweat. Layering clothing is ideal in the cold to avoid moisture retention and loss of core body temperature. 

Cold weather injuries

Hypothermia and frostbite are the most common cold-weather injuries. Prepare appropriately to avoid these and check with your health-care provider to ensure cold-weather workouts are safe for you! If you’re unsure if your workout is up to par, schedule some time with your physical therapist for some tips and tricks. 

 

 

Castellani JW, Young AJ, Ducharme MB, Giesbrecht GG, Glickman E, Sallis RE; American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):2012-29. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000241641.75101.64. PMID: 17095937.

McGowan, C.J., Pyne, D.B., Thompson, K.G. et al. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med 45, 1523–1546 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

Gatterer, H., Dünnwald, T., Turner, R., Csapo, R., Schobersberger, W., Burtscher, M., Faulhaber, M., & Kennedy, M. D. (2021). Practicing Sport in Cold Environments: Practical Recommendations to Improve Sport Performance and Reduce Negative Health Outcomes. International journal of environmental research and public health18(18), 9700. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189700

About The Authors

Lyndsey McIntyre, PT, DPT

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