Working out in the warmer months is easy. You toss on a shirt and a pair of shorts, tie up your laces and get out there. Cold weather cardio, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. In fact, we’ll say it: It can downright suck if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t know what to expect. Our bodies are more prone to injury in the cold, we’re more susceptible to weather-related illnesses and if you don’t know what to wear out there, a half hour 5k can feel like an eternity in a frozen hell.
But just because cold weather cardio is tough doesn’t mean it isn’t possible—or even enjoyable—with the right knowledge, gear and mindset.
If you’re a “no days off” kinda guy like us, and you simply can’t stand to run on a treadmill, then this article is your huckleberry. This is The hims Guide to Winter Running.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what you’ll need to survive your winter cardio, we think it’s really, really important to talk about headspace. For anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time exercising, you know exactly what we’re talking about: The Monday afternoon where you can’t possibly get to the gym after that long post-weekend slump in the office. That Saturday morning lifting session you promised your buddies you’d be at, but the thought of getting out of bed before 9 a.m. sounds like absolute torture. The dreaded Thursday evening, “I just got done food shopping and it’s already 7:30 and if I go to the gym there’s no way I’m going to make it back home before 9, and I still have to figure out dinner” conundrum. We’ve been there.
But at the end of the day, we’re free to make two choices: You can either go put in the work and feel good about getting it done when it’s over, or give in to your unwillingness to make progress and ultimately regret it the next day.
Just like your headspace is your worst enemy on those days, it’s going to be your worst enemy when it comes to cold weather cardio. The only difference is that every day is going to be your Monday slump, your Saturday hangover or your late Thursday evening post-food-shopping session. Let’s face it: You’re never going to be stoked to run in cold weather, especially when the temps really begin to dip below freezing.
Getting up and deciding to go out there and crush that 5k or that one-mile sprint is going to be your biggest obstacle. Everything else is just procedural.
There are a lot of things you can do to get yourself motivated to go run in the frigid temperatures. Things like finding a running buddy, warming up thoroughly before getting out there, giving yourself something to look forward to after the run, etc. Anything that’ll help force you out there to go do it.
The second-most important aspect of winter running is your gear. It doesn’t matter how positive you were when you left the house if you get a quarter mile in and can’t keep warm or your joints start aching. Having the right gear for the harsh colder climate is crucial to any successful winter cardio regimen.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to add 10 to 20 degrees to the outside temperature in order to figure out what you should be wearing. You generally want to be slightly underdressed, so that when your body temperature rises and you begin to sweat, you don’t overheat and risk catching cold.
So, for instance, according this handy guide from the folks at Runner’s World, if you’re running in 20 degree weather, you want to dress like you’re running in 40 degree weather, which means two shirts layered (Either a long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt, or a long sleeve shirt and jacket), as well as tights, gloves and a headband or hat to cover your ears.
If you’re running in 30 degree weather, you’re going to want to wear a long sleeve tech shirt, tights, gloves and a headband or hat. If you’re running in 40 degree weather, you’re looking at a long sleeve tech shirt, tights and gloves and headband are optional.
Of course, that’s all theoretical and each person’s comfort levels are going to vary.
The point is, just make sure you’re not getting too hot. Make sure you’re wearing clothing that can breathe, but also stop wind. Also make sure you’re wearing stuff that’s moisture wicking. When it comes to winter running, the dryer you can be, the better.
If you’re looking for a base line list of gear to follow, here’s some general info:
Shoes: Make sure your shoes are well equipped for the weather. Stay away from mesh fabric, as it lets water and wind in. if you can find something with a Gore-Tex upper, you’ll ensure your feet are staying dry and warm.
Socks: The best way to ruin a potentially decent run is with wet feet. Making sure you have a good pair of moisture wicking socks is crucial to keeping your feet stabilized during your run. You ever try banging out a 5k with frozen toes? It’s downright dangerous.
Running Tights/Pants: Whether you’re a tights guy or a pants guy, having proper running bottoms for cold weather is essential. Look for something insulated, like these joggers from Brooks. They feature DriLayer thermal fabric that not only provides excellent cover from the elements, but also wicks away sweat and dries quickly. For the tights crowd, these Nike Shield Techs feature areas of weather-resistant fabric—like the upper front, which features Nike Shield fabric to help keep out the bite of wind and rain—as well as Nike Power tech behind the knees and on the lower back legs to provide optimal stretch, support and comfort for those long miles.
Long Sleeve Tech Shirts: Yes, we know what you’re thinking: “But, I hate these form fitting Under Armour shirts.” And we hear you; we do. But these things actually serve a purpose when it comes to winter running. The Under Armour Base 4.0 Crew is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. It features an insulated fabric that actually traps hot hair in, while also being moisture wicking, which means you’ve got defense everywhere you need it.
Windproof Runner’s Jacket: Everybody knows how bad and biting the winter wind can get, so why not be prepared for the worst mother nature throws at you? Aside from an insulated base layer, a good, lightweight, weather-running jacket is essential to your winter run. No matter how warm your body is, that brutal frigid wind will cut through most fabrics like a knife. Having windproof outerwear will save you from the elements outside, while your base layer helps preserve body heat on the inside. This Craft Repel Run Jacket is an excellent example, buy look around and find one that you like.
Other Accessories: You should also make sure you’re wearing gloves (or mittens, if that’s your thing), hats, headbands and whatever else you think might keep you warm. Another thing to consider is skin health. The winter cold and tough wind conditions can wreak havoc on your skin. If you don’t want to walk around looking like a molting iguana all winter, definitely invest in some solid face and skin moisturizer. The whole trick is making sure all your bases are covered.
Here’s a fun fact about our bodies: They’re physiologically wired to not be excited for things our brains tell them is going to hurt. Like freezing to death, for instance. Our bodies go through a whole range of motions when we start getting too cold. Our hearts beat faster to keep blood pumping. Our brains fire signals to our muscles telling them to contract when we’re cold (that’s why we shiver). Our bodies will go into survival mode and start chewing away at our fat energy reserves. It’s a whole thing.
When it comes to running, you shouldn’t want your body to go into overdrive trying to keep you warm.
Warm Up Inside
Before leaving the house, try warming up indoors. Do all your stretching inside, and then throw some jumping jacks into the mix. Bringing your body up to speed before you leave the house is an excellent way to prepare for the cold. Spending a little extra time warming up can make a huge difference when you’re out there truckin’ it.
Get a Running Partner
On those particularly awful days when you just want to stay in bed under a mountain of blankets, having a partner there to keep you accountable is an excellent way to stay in the groove and put in the work.
Don’t Feel Bad About Rewarding Yourself
Hey man, cardio is tough even when it’s not below freezing outside. We get it. Been wanting to spend some money on a watch lately? Really craving that post-run martini? Maybe it’s time for a cheat meal. The point is, don’t be the kind of person who feels bad about rewarding themselves for a good work week. Make goals, smash them and reward yourself. Little wins are still wins.
Try to Run During the Day When It’s Warmest
We all have busy lives. Some of us are early morning runners, some of us wait until we get home from the office, etc. And with the days getting shorter in the winter, your odds of running under the sun are slim. But it’s still worth saying that if you can find time to run while the sun is out, it makes things a lot easier. Visibility is up, the sun feels warm on your skin, etc.
Start With The Wind
Every little thing you can do to make your run easier is going to add up. Point in case? When you first head out, try to see what direction the wind is blowing in. Run against the wind for your first half, and then run with it on your return.
The logic here is after you get all sweaty half way through, running against the wind is only going to give you a chill. And that is when things become miserable. But running with the wind, where it’s hitting you from the back, will ensure you don’t get chilled. It’s a game of strategy out there, boys.
Stay Low and Shorten Your Strides
And one more quick pro-tip, especially if it’s below freezing, or you’re that crazy guy running around in the snow: For safety’s sake always stay low and shorten your strides. Staying low will give you needed stability in case you break traction (or worse, take a spill), and shortening your strides will help keep your feet stable under your body, as opposed to over-extending them and watching them come out from under you at the first sign of trouble.
That's it, fellas. It's a lot of reading, but we think if you've made it to the end of this guide, you'll have all the wisdom and information you need to really get out there and do the damn thing. Godspeed!