It’s easy to find excuses not to exercise, especially in winter. It’s cold outside and there’s usually not much daylight left anyway after eight hours at work. But you should still keep running, even in winter – and outside, too. We reveal what you can do to make sure you stick to your running program, even through the winter months.
Running in winter
The problem with the cold
For most people, just thinking about the cold outside is enough to stop them going for a run in winter. Yet exercising outdoors in the fresh air is healthy and can strengthen the immune system, particularly in winter. The important thing is simply to make sure you prepare correctly for the cold. And it starts with doing a proper warm-up.
If you warm up a little at home beforehand, then it doesn’t feel quite so icy when you step outside. Your best bet is to do a few warm-up exercises and stretches for five minutes at home. Not only will it prepare your body for the running training you’re about to do and prevent injuries, but it will also get you feeling a little warmer.
Yes, it’s cold. And yes, the icy air can be unpleasant at times – especially when it comes to breathing. But the misconception that cold air can damage the lungs is a long way from the truth. Because our mouth, nose and throat manage to warm up the cold air we breathe in. This means that runners can go out for a run at temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees without it being harmful. Nevertheless, when you run you should adapt your breathing according to the weather conditions. It’s best to breathe in through your nose, as this is the best way for the body to warm the air before it reaches your lungs. You can also wear a scarf or shawl pulled up over your mouth, as that takes the edge off the cold air you breathe in.
You should also adapt the intensity of your running training. In cold temperatures you shouldn’t run as fast as you do in normal temperatures. Instead, run more slowly in winter and pay attention to how your body responds to the cold temperatures. You should never push yourself to the limits of what your body can cope with. It’s better just to run fast enough for you to be able to enjoy it without it feeling like an effort. That way you will be able to go running in winter despite the cold temperatures and stay fit.
The weather and the dark
Many people also find the constant darkness a problem in winter. In most cases, you leave the house in the morning in the dark and it’s already dark when you get home again in the evening. This means many athletes don’t get the chance to go for a run outdoors in daylight during the winter. But there is a fix for anyone who finds the dark a problem: a headlamp. It can be worn on the forehead without getting in the way and can fully light the path ahead for the runner. Not only can you – the runner – see everything, but everyone else can see you too. And that’s really important, especially in the dark. Anyone who doesn’t want to resort to using a headlamp can use the times of the day when it is still light to exercise. Perhaps your lunch break is a good opportunity to get a run in. Then you can even incorporate your running training in your daily routine and leave yourself the evenings free for something else.
Many runners often also worry that rain, snow and ice could make them slip. This fear is justified to an extent, but it’s usually not a plausible excuse. You simply have to adapt your running style to the conditions in winter. Your best bet is just to touch the ground very briefly with your foot, reducing the likelihood of slipping. It’s also a good idea to take lots of small steps, with your foot coming down directly from above and immediately pushing off again. It can actually only be dangerous if there is a covering of snow concealing ice beneath, which you may not see. But there’s really no need to worry about rain or fresh snow. The opposite, in fact. Because you adapt your running technique to the conditions in winter and have to concentrate on it carefully, this even trains your sense of balance and the strain placed on your muscles is different compared with normal running training.
Other helpful tips for running in winter
To finish your running training on a good note in winter, it is important to warm down slowly and then carry on walking for another five minutes afterwards. This is because there is a risk of strains and muscle stiffness, particularly in cold temperatures.
You should also pay close attention to the wind in cold temperatures. If you have to run into a headwind, try to make sure you do it on the outbound stretch of your run. It’s not a good idea to run into a headwind on the way home when you’re already sweaty. It’s better to have a tailwind for that.
Generally speaking, running the best times and the longest distances isn’t important in winter. Don’t put any pressure on yourself, just run when you feel like it. Winter is precisely the time when you can shift it down a gear. But it’s still important to keep running through the winter. After all, you don’t want to have to start from scratch again in the spring.
Even so, it’s important to make sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather conditions as well. Not just to avoid the risk of hypothermia but also to make sure other runners or road users can see you too. Our next article looks at exactly that.