4 Helpful Tips to Keep You Safe & Warm When Exercising in Cold Weather

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Winter is coming…

Okay, okay, winter is still a few months away. But whether we like it or not, the days will soon become shorter, and temperatures will begin to drop. It’s never too early to start planning to make sure you can keep up with your fitness routine when the weather turns cold.

Is it bad to exercise when it’s cold out?

It’s never bad to exercise, hot or cold. But you need to make sure to practice extra caution and be respectful of your body’s limitations when it’s cold. Even though you might be able to exercise for longer in the cold than the heat of the summer, you’ll want to be sure to have recovery days and refuel your body appropriately based on your level of exertion.

Cold weather benefits

I find the cold to be miserable. I’m at my happiest in the sunshine at a pleasant 75°. But even here in Charleston, we have our days where it dips down into the 50s, 40s, and even (brace yourself for this) sometimes 30s. I know we’re blessed with some pretty mild winters, but it can still be hard to get yourself out to exercise on a day that’s colder than usual. Remember these benefits of winter workouts next time you’re struggling to get out the door.

  • Your body is working more efficiently – It will likely feel like you’re not exerting as much effort to do the same workout in winter vs. summer, which can give you a big confidence boost. This is because your heart isn’t working as hard, and you’re using less energy.
  • You won’t need to cram workouts for bathing suit season – If you keep up your workout routine throughout the winter, you won’t be planning to lose 20 pounds in 30 days when April rolls around. Consistency is key, and keeping up your fitness through the winter months will pay dividends when you’re not starting from scratch in the spring.
  • You’re giving your mood a boost – Seasonal depression is real, especially if you have a job where you’re going to work and coming home in the dark. Getting out for a workout mid-day can seriously boost your mood and help to fight the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Preparing for exercising in the cold

You’ll want to take necessary precautions when exercising in the cold to avoid frostbite and other cold-weather ailments. The below tips will help keep you safe (and warm) when you’re exercising outdoors this winter season.

Dress in layers

Winter is an optimal time to take advantage of the fact that you can always add layers, but you can only take so many away. Different people react differently to cold weather. As such, not everyone is going to wear the same gear at every temperature. My husband is content wearing running shorts and a t-shirt when it’s 50°, but I’m more comfortable in long sleeves and leggings. Below are general guidelines for outerwear in each temperature range.

TemperatureLayers




> 40°F




Long-sleeves, leggings/pants




30-40°F




Sweatshirt, gloves*, ear covering*




20-30°F




Lightweight jacket, hat




< 20°F
Heavy jacket, pants, more layers (Remember, you can always remove them!)

Be smart about material

When it’s cold out, you’ll want to opt for clothing that will work to move sweat away from your body. Cotton is an excellent choice for the heat because it absorbs sweat, but cotton works against you in the cold. By retaining moisture, it can cause the body to lose heat instead of keeping you warm.

Choose materials that are moisture-wicking like polyester, silk, polypropylene, or wool. I love these no show socks*, this long-sleeve moisture-wicking shirt* to layer, and these heat gear leggings by Under Armour* for a winter run.

My ears hurt if I’m out in the cold too long. I like to use a hat or ear covering to retain heat.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

When it’s hot outside, we feel the thirst. When it’s cold, we often have a take it or leave it attitude towards water. But you need to remember that during winter exercise, you’re still exerting effort and expelling moisture through your breath and sweat, even though it may not show as much. You’ll need to refuel with water and electrolytes* post-workout the same as in the summer months.

Respect your limitations

Cold tolerance varies per person. (If it’s less than 30° outside, you can catch me inside doing yoga instead.) Recognize when you cross the threshold from an enjoyable outdoor workout to shivering as this is one of your body’s first signals that you need to seek out more heat. Your body always knows what’s best, and as long as you listen to the signs it’s sending, you’ll be able to recognize how much you can push.

Cold weather is no reason to cease working out altogether. As long as you’re smart about clothing, adequately hydrated, and listen to your body, you can continue with your training plan throughout the winter and emerge come spring as the healthiest, fittest version of you.

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