How to Stay Warm — but Not Too Warm — During Your Winter Runs, According to an Expert
Congratulations: it's a freezing Winter day, and you've still motivated yourself to run outside! You're dedicated, you're committed, you're a polar god or goddess. Now: how are you going to survive?
Cold runs are tough for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it's cold out there and that's uncomfortable, especially when you're running, generating wind, and not wearing a puffy Winter coat and thick boots. You'll get warm if you run long enough, but then that becomes its own problem: overheating. There's a fine line between feeling comfortably warm and sweating through your fleecy leggings, but you also don't want to freeze during the first 10 minutes.
And it's not just a comfort thing. Keeping warm during chilly runs actually decreases your chances of getting injured, explained Dave Ringwood, USATF-certified running coach and training program coach at the Formula Running Center in Arlington, VA. A higher body temperature increases blood flow to your working muscles and promotes good form. "Maintaining warmth helps your stride remain smooth and in control, keeping muscle pulls and strains at bay," Dave told POPSUGAR.
So, how exactly do you get to that perfect level of warmth — without overheating in the process?
When you're dressing for a Winter run, think layers. Your body generates major heat when exercising, Dave said, so even though you might be freezing when you first step outside, there's a good chance you'll be hot by the end of your run. To find a balance, wear items you can pull off, such as a running vest or jacket and accessories like a hat or neck gaiter. (One POPSUGAR editor loves this lightweight, insulated jacket from Athleta.) "Stripped layers can be tied around your waist, carried, or dropped off at various check-points" during a loop route or an out-and-back, Dave said. One rule of thumb he shared: dress like the weather is 10-20 degrees warmer than it really is.
Limit Your Exposed Skin
Dave shared a few must-have items for keeping warm on a Winter run:
- A head and/or neck gaiter to cover exposed skin on your head or neck
- Compression tights to protect your legs and increase blood flow
- Mid-crew socks that come up to your mid-calf, so your legs and feet are fully covered
- Gloves with a windproof upper layer, an insulated inner layer for heat retention, and a section of breathable fabric so sweat can evaporate. Opt for mittens over gloves, which will separate your fingers and make them colder.
You want to cover up any exposed skin, which Dave described as "public enemy No. 1" when it comes to running in the cold. "Our body directs blood flow to exposed skin in an effort to keep it warm," he explained. Covering it up will encourage blood flow back to your working muscles, helping you maintain form and avoid injury.
Warm Up Indoors
"Warming up indoors eases the transition from leaving your warm home to the frigid Winter weather," Dave told POPSUGAR. Basically, you want to lessen the shock to your body. Getting warmed up inside will get your blood flowing and your body temperature higher so that it won't feel quite as bad when you step outside. Here's a dynamic running warm-up to get things going.
Start Slow and Gradually Increase Your Pace
You might be tempted to sprint right out of the gate for the sake of getting warm fast, but "the potential risks of this strategy outweigh the short-term reward," Dave said. Going out too fast, before your muscles are properly warmed up, can result in muscle strains and pulls.
Instead, gradually ease into the pace you want. This "maximizes your body's full range of motion and potential speed," Dave explained. "While you sacrifice extra warmth in the first few minutes, you benefit from increased performance."
Running in Winter is tough, but it comes down to is finding what works best for you. "As runners, we are all unique," Dave said. Experiment with warm-ups, pacing, and gear until you find your sweet spot, then get ready to crush your runs all Winter long.