Congrats on bravely deciding to keep exercising during the darkest, coldest, rainiest months. Now, before you head out...
By Lynn Andriani
1. Don't Throw on an Old Pair of Sweats for a Twilight or Dusk Jog
Exercising in the dark -- or at least starting or ending your workout in the dark—is a tough reality for many during the winter. Save the comfy sweats for after your workout, though.
Do choose something with reflective strips on the arms and legs (not the back or torso). When you're running or walking outside, those body parts will be in motion, making it easier for drivers to see you. During the day, wearing eye-catching colors not found in nature will make you more visible. A neon top may even come in handy if you wind up taking a wrong turn and get lost. Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, knew someone who got lost in Rocky Mountain National Park and was rescued because he hung his bright blue coat on a tree and a helicopter saw it.
2. Don't Go for the Michelin Man Look
John Stanton, founder of Running Room (a chain of running stores in the U.S. and Canada), has finished some 60 marathons and exercised in temperatures as low as 40° below zero. While he doesn't recommend such extreme conditions for the rest of us, he does have some useful advice for bundling up -- and it involves making sure you don't overbundle. You'll start to sweat, and your clothes will become damp. At best, too many layers of cold, wet clothing can set you up for a very uncomfortable workout; at worst, they put you at risk for hypothermia, which can occur above 40° if you become chilled from rain or sweat.
Do follow this rule of thumb: Dress as if it were 10 degrees warmer, so if it’s 35° outside, put on clothing appropriate for 45°. Once you start moving, your body will warm up. And the more you exercise outside, the better your body will get at dealing with the cold, as a scientist known as Professor Popsicle explains in this video.
3. Don't Stash Your Phone in Your Pants Pocket
It's smart to carry a phone while exercising outdoors in the winter; even if nothing terrible happens, you might just be ready to call it quits -- 3 miles from home. However, it's important to put your phone someplace you know will stay dry in rain, sleet or snow.
Do look for jacket or pants pockets that zip shut and are fully waterproof when closed.
4. Don't Put Your Wet Sneakers on Top of the Radiator to Dry
In many areas of the country (the Pacific Northwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and parts of New England and the Midwest), November to January are the rainiest months. Chances are, if you're hardy enough to exercise in the rain, you'll be dealing with soggy sneakers at some point. Stanton has tried all kinds of strategies for drying his out (including putting shoes in the dryer -- a big mistake, since the heat melted the glue).
Do stuff newspaper inside wet sneakers—Stanton swears this works best.
5. Don't Hop Right on the Treadmill, Elliptical or Nautilus at the Gym
The transfer of germs is higher in winter than in other seasons because the cold virus survives better in dry air, says Yael Halaas, MD, FACS, a board-certified ear, nose and throat specialist in New York. Then, you have sick people sweating, coughing and spreading that virus all over the incline buttons on your treadmill.
Do wipe down remotes, touch pads, handlebars and any other shared surface with antibacterial spray or wipes. Some gyms provide bottles of spray (and if yours does, you should wipe the handle of the bottle before cleaning anything else). If not, bring your own wipes.
6. Don't Walk in the Door and Immediately Start Making Dinner
Chad Ruf, director of personal training for Snap Fitness, a gym with outposts in 47 states, works in Chanhassen, Minnesota, where the average high temperature in January is 22°. Once you get home from a run or a workout at the gym, he says, don't let your email, dinner or even a warm mug of coffee distract you from what’s most important.
Do take those sweaty clothes off. Sitting in them will make it nearly impossible to warm up, says Ruf (it's also bad for your skin).
7. Don't Sit in the Steam Room After Your Workout
Halaas knows the humidity can help moisten dry nasal passages, but cleanliness is her number one concern. A slightly neglected steam room plus two or three sniffly people can be the worst place to warm up after an outdoor workout.
Do confirm that your gym's steam room is clean (staff should wipe it down hourly, and you shouldn't see any cracks in the walls, floor or ceiling), says Halaas, and wrap yourself in a clean towel and wear flip-flops.