For some people, winter is a time to stay indoors. It’s when they swap out their morning hike in exchange for an hour on the treadmill. Stopping at the local gym, on the way home from work, replaces an after-dinner walk. And there’s no talk of winter sports.
But for the rest of us, cold weather is no reason to stay inside. We aren’t afraid of the cold! We’re watching with anticipation for the first signs of snowfall. And nothing can keep us from getting outside and experiencing the crisp, cool, winter air.
If you fall into the snowbird camp, keep on reading. You are definitely not alone. If you find it exhilarating to exercise out in the frigid elements, we’ve got a few simple tips on how to stay safe and injury-free during the winter months.
#1 – There’s a right and wrong way to shovel snow.
Let’s start with the one winter job that most of us are not looking forward to: shoveling snow. It has to be done. And in most cases, you’ve not only got your own driveway and front walkway to clear, but also that of an elderly neighbor or a family member who needs your help.
Shoveling snow may not be the highlight of your day. But there are ways to turn this back-breaking task into a fairly decent workout that doesn’t require a full dose of anti-inflammatory medicine afterward.
First, it’s worth your time and money to purchase a snow shovel that’s just right for the job. Choose an ergonomically designed shovel with a curved or adjustable handle. The curved handle will make it easier for you to stand upright while shoveling. And the adjustability is a nice feature to account for differences in height and reach. At the very least, you’ll want to pick a shovel with a plastic blade. Depending on the water content, one shovel-full of snow can weigh anywhere from 10 to 45 pounds. So a plastic blade helps to reduce the weight of your overall load. Coat the shovel blade with a layer of cooking spray to ensure the snow slides off easily.
Considering that snow shoveling is one of the most common causes of back injuries in the winter, you’ll want to really stretch out your back before you begin the task. Check out these stretches to get your back loosened up and reduce your risk of injury. After you’ve fully stretched out your back muscles, take a short, brisk walk or jog up and down the stairs a few times to get your blood pumping. Bundle up and you’re ready to go.
Before you start shoveling, take the time to scatter salt around the area where you’ll be standing. It’ll help you keep your footing. Then, make sure your body and shoulders are facing the pile of snow that you need to remove. Keep one hand gripped as close as possible to the blade, and the other around 18 inches away. Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
As you move the snow, avoid twisting your body at the waist. Rather pivot on one leg and face the area where you’d like to deposit the snow. Continue to be mindful of your form as you repeat the motions. Take a break every 15 minutes or so and give yourself an upper body hug. Hold that stretch for 30 seconds. When you’re finished with the entire job, take a few minutes to stretch out the back again. We’ve got some simple stretches here that will help you avoid soreness and pain the morning after you clear your walkway.
#2 – Plan ahead for winter sports.
When your best friend invites you along for snowboarding on the weekend, you’ll need to take a little time to put together some adequate attire and gear for your adventure. Two pairs of socks and sweatpants layered under your fat jeans is not the best getup for a day on the slopes.
Snowboarding, skiing and other winter sports require snow, water and wind proof outer clothing with layers underneath. Choose thin, moisture-wicking fabric for the first layer that will be against your skin. For the second layer, fleece or wool is a good choice. And you’ll need fully waterproof pants and outerwear for your top layer. One pair of high quality, wool socks is better than multiple cotton pairs. And it’s imperative that you cover your ears, neck, face and hands as well. A really cool way to protect your face is to wear a winter face mask called a balaclava. It covers your head, neck and most of your face except for your eyes. And surprisingly, it doesn’t make you look like a bank robber. Goggles are important for both skiing and snowboarding. And a helmet is preferred for the latter. If you aren’t wearing a helmet, a warm hat (or balaclava) and your jacket hood will do the trick.
For snowboarding, wrist and elbow guards are really helpful in preventing the most common snowboarding injuries. And regardless of your athletic ability, if you’ve never been snowboarding before, consider taking a lesson from a seasoned professional before going solo. It’ll make your time on that snowy mountain much more enjoyable if you’re confident in what you’re doing.
Before you put on all your snow gear, consider warming up your body with about 30 minutes of yoga. Good warm stretching will reduce your risk of injury once you get out there in the cold. We’ve got some good stretches here that will help you get loosened up before you begin.
Similarly, before you hit the ski slopes, yoga and stretching are great ways to loosen up your muscles. However, the most common skiing injuries are in the knees. So try a couple of tubing exercises here to strengthen the knees and help prevent skiing injuries.
Accidents will happen. And some injuries are virtually unavoidable and outside of your control. Be prepared and plan for the worst. Always engage in winter sports with a friend. Keep your cell phone in a waterproof case (or a zippered plastic bag) within a secured pocket, in case of an emergency. And always stay on marked trails, away from avalanche prone areas.
#3 – Run safely in the winter.
There’s just something incredibly satisfying about running outside in the cool winter air. It’s a feeling you can’t replicate on an indoor track. But you’ve got to take a few extra precautions when the temperature drops below freezing.
If you can, schedule your winter runs in the middle of the day, when the temperature is highest and the sun is shining. Then, scout out some new areas to run. Colleges and high schools are good choices because they normally have a maintenance crew that will plow the campus streets and clear the snow away. Government complexes are your next best option.
Consider your gear. You can wear your normal running shoes in the winter. But if there’s any chance you’ll be running on ice or snow, invest in a pair of grip traction cleats that will attach to your shoes and keep you from slipping. Dress warmly. And do your best to cover any exposed skin. But for those areas that are left uncovered, generously slather them with petroleum jelly. It’s waterproof, windproof and will save your skin from chapping.
Next, take a little more time to stretch and warm up for a cold weather run. Here’s a short article, with pictures and four excellent hamstring stretches to help you lower your chances of a running injury. Follow your stretch with an indoor warmup. Get your heartrate elevated with a few laps around a large room or some trips up and down the stairs. And remember to stay hydrated! Cold air can be drying and may increase your chances of dehydration. Drink water before your run and take some with you if you’ll be logging more than three miles on the road.
Finally, prepare for cold weather emergencies. Find a friend who’s crazy enough to get out there and run in the cold with you. In the case of an injury or another emergency, you’ll have someone who can get medical assistance or provide first aid right away. Keep an eye out for mild hypothermia. It can occur when you partake in cold weather activities without enough warm or dry protective clothing. Symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering, shallow breathing, confusion, slurred speech and loss of coordination. If you notice your workout buddy sounds like he’s taken one too many punches and begins to slow his roll, immediately take action. Mild hypothermia can turn into severe hypothermia very quickly. Get him indoors right away. Remove any wet clothing and cover him in warm blankets. Give him warm beverages to drink (preferably with calories – warm milk is a good choice). And monitor his body temperature to ensure it stays above 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Call 911 if symptoms worsen or fail to improve after a few minutes.
The blustery winter months can be a great time to get out of the house and get moving. If you take a few extra safety precautions and prepare yourself for the elements, you can remain injury-free and stay fit all through the season.
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