Health

Winter walking

Expert trainer tips on gear, technique and safety to help you make the most of your cold weather workout

Seasoned walkers don’t let winter weather freeze their fitness goals. Despite the challenges of snow and plunging temperatures, they know that winter walks can be some of the best they’ll experience all year. Sure, that initial step out the door can be a shocker. But with the right gear and sensible planning, it’s actually easier to stay warm in the biting cold than to stay cool in scorching heat and humidity. Follow these tips for safe and enjoyable cold weather workouts.

Dress appropriately

Some inexperienced walkers insist that their baggy cotton sweats and T-shirts will be just fine for a brisk winter walk. But after a few short minutes, they find themselves miserable with soggy clothes and chattering teeth. To avoid this problem, invest in clothes made with the new technical fabrics that draw moisture from your body to keep it dry and warm. Start with a close-fitting top, and then add one or two more upper-body layers. Choose clothes with vents or zippers for maximum comfort in a wide range of temperatures.

For the bottom half, tights are a must. If you’re not a fan of form-fitting clothes, cover them up with a pair of lightweight exercise pants. Be sure your mittens are windproof or buy windproof covers to pull over your regular mitts or gloves. Top off your outfit with earmuffs, a headband, hat or balaclava to keep heat from escaping from your head.

Modify your technique

Winter is an ideal time to focus on improving your technique and style – but not your speed. Walk more cautiously and shorten your stride slightly in case slippery patches are hiding ahead. A longer warm-up is always a good idea too.

When the weather looks too stormy, be sensible and stay indoors. Log your time on a treadmill or, for a change of pace, pop in an exercise DVD or grab some weights.

Reconsider your routes

If your favourite walk takes you alongside a lake, through wide open fields or on infrequently travelled trails, consider more protected routes with better footing. Try walking in the shelter of buildings or trees and on shovelled sidewalks instead. Check out large public parks and properties; their sidewalks are often plowed regularly for liability reasons.

Gauge the wind direction before you leave, and then head out facing into it. It’s always best to have the wind at your back on the way home when you’re more tired and may need a push.

Think safety

Wintertime means fewer daylight hours. So if you walk in the early morning or evening, wear clothes and shoes with reflective material or put reflective tape on clothes and shoes you already own. Reflective vests and armbands and hats with flashing lights are other smart choices.

For more secure footing, choose walking or running shoes with a rugged tread. Or try one of the new lightweight traction devices like Yaktrax that pull on over your shoes.

Sunscreen, sunglasses and water are staples of any outdoor workout no matter what temperature the thermometer reads. So slip on your sunglasses, slap on some sunscreen and drink up. Spring will be here before you know it – and then it will be time to start focusing on how to stay cool!