Outdoor Fitness in Winter: Adjust your gear and your approach


Cold winter temperatures can combine with limited daylight to sap the enthusiasm of even the most devoted athletes.  It is simply easier to stay inside on a bike trainer, hit up a treadmill, or forego a workout altogether.

Reject that inclination.  By injecting outdoor fitness into your routine, you can stay motivated, enjoy winter, and begin to move the needle heading into 2016.

The takeaways

  • Winter training can help you build momentum for race season
  • Adding outdoor cross-training can help you stay engaged and maximize gains
  • The right gear, attitude, and planning can make all the difference

While your individual fitness goals for winter may vary, goals for each workout should share four characteristics.

Stay safe

Darkness, poor footing and inattentive drivers are but a few of the potential pitfalls of winter running and biking.  With so many new variables you need to adapt.

  • Reduce your speed – remember June isn’t won in January, save the Usain Bolt routine for better days – you won just by getting out
  • Traction is key – use a slow warmup to carefully assess conditions, consider investing in Stabilicers or traction cleats; for bikers fat or cleated tires work well
  • Anticipate a spill – adjust your summer routes, never workout in remote areas, pack a cell phone, wear obnoxious colors
  • Keep your head on a swivel – cars aren’t expecting you, can’t stop quickly, and visibility is poor – advice cyclists already know all too well!

Stay warm

A nuance to winter fitness is staying warm but not hot.  Easily-peeled layers are key. A good rule of thumb is to dress like it is 15 degrees warmer.  As you set off, you should be chilly, but not freezing, and certainly not cozy.

  • Head – in extreme cold (under 10 degrees) a baklava is imperative; in less extreme temps a buff can prove a flexible alternative that can be adjusted on the fly
  • Torso – layers and an outer shell to break the wind
  • Hands – lobster gloves or bar mitts for cyclists, simple running gloves for runners
  • Legs – tights are good as a base layer but long underwear work fine too, both need an outer shell
  • Feet – layers work for your feet, too, so plan to use wool socks plus liners; cyclists should consider neoprene shoe covers

Stay dry

A close cousin to staying warm is staying dry.  Sweat during a summer workout can be a nuisance – in winter it is much more dangerous.

  • Gauge the wind – on an out and back route, start off into the wind so when tired you aren’t also sweaty and freezing
  • Wick it good – focus on moisture wicking fabric for layers directly on your skin, just remember they wick away the funk too so get some pre-treater and don’t let laundry pile up
  • Adjust on the fly – undoubtedly you’ll occasionally get your wardrobe wrong. Peel layers if you need to, but make the call early – before you are soaked

Stay hydrated

Winter is dry. As such, hydration is even more important this time of year, so fight back.  Drink copious amounts of water before and after every workout and consider investing in a winter Camelbak.


The Bottom Line

Winter need not be a time for rest, nor a monotonous trudge through indoor workouts.  Regardless of where you live, you can get out in it.  Success means properly assessing conditions, spending time on prep, and choosing the right gear.  Every athlete is different, but by following a few best practices and trial and error, you can dial in a plan that works for you.


What are some of your essential winter gear items?  The best thing about Zoom Performance  is the community.  Hit us up on Facebook and in the comments section share your favorite gear and cold-weather insight.