Although we’ve had a lovely fall, winter is surely on its way. If you find that with the first brisk breeze you’ve already started giving in to the idea that it’s getting too cold or too dark to exercise, now is the time to hit reset.
You already know that if you don’t stay with a good fitness routine, any gains you made during the more active summer season will evaporate by spring. But keeping active in winter isn’t all about gumption. You can also boost your cold-weather exercise regimen by paying attention to your gear and your workout planning.
The British fellwalker (that’s a subject for another time) Alfred Wainright supposedly put it this way: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing.” Twenty Wellfleet winters have made me a believer that the right gear will help you not only endure winter workouts, but actually enjoy them.
No matter your sport, you need to protect yourself from the cold and the wind. Here’s a head to toe review of how to layer yourself for action.
- Base layer: This should be a comfortably snug shirt and pants or running tights. Look for so-called technical fabrics that retain heat and wick moisture away from your skin. On warmer days, these may be enough on their own.
- Insulating layer: Choose a wicking fleece shirt or jacket. Wear this between your base and jacket in very cold weather.
- Outer layer: Get a jacket and pants that are windproof and waterproof. I can’t stress this enough: a cold north wind will go right through ordinary clothes. Windproof running clothes have literally changed my life. The fabric should also breathe, or allow excess heat and moisture to escape. The jacket should have zippers in front and under the arms to allow for quick ventilation.
- For your head: A wool or fleece hat is best. Ever noticed that bike helmets are full of holes? Wear a skull cap or balaclava underneath to prevent brain freeze.
- On your feet: Wool-blend socks keep your feet warm and dry, and they’re not even itchy. Trail running shoes and hiking boots do a good job of blocking wind and water. If you’re biking, you can get covers for your bike shoes or consider trail shoes or biking boots. Walking or running in icy conditions can be dangerous, so proceed with caution about being out. But if you’re really hard core, get some slip-on cleats to give you more grip.
- On your hands: Gloves are great, but lobster gloves and mittens are even better at retaining heat. You can add a silk glove liner for extra warmth. If your hands are still cold, just add hand warmers.
- Light: Don’t let the dark of winter stop you; headlamps and bike lights will light your way. We do have a few streetlights here on the Outer Cape, so think about routes in areas that have them. Be sure to wear some reflective clothing when you’re playing in the dark to make you more visible to cars.
- Swimming: You can certainly stretch your season to include spring and fall with a good full-length wetsuit. A swim cap (or two) will keep your head warm, and earplugs will keep the cold water out. You can also find neoprene booties and gloves. Wait for the middle of the day and swim with a friend for safety.
Even when you’re properly geared up, you should also be strategic about how the weather will affect your immediate surroundings. Check the wind direction and be flexible about your route. Note whether the wind is coming from the bay or ocean side and plan accordingly. And the woods can provide more protection from the wind, so save the beach and other open spaces for calmer days. On a rainy day, look at the radar map. You can often find an opening. Or you can just suck it up and go; you have waterproof gear, after all.
One more thing that you’ll need for your winter adventures is extra motivation. It’s too easy to skip it if you’re on your own, but if you find a training buddy, you can’t bail out if they’re waiting for you. When you’re done, treat yourself to a special hot beverage or meal. You earned it! Competitive types might be motivated by bragging rights. If “it was 12 degrees and we were out there at dark-thirty” gets you moving, power to you.
The main thing is this, don’t wait until New Year’s to set your goals. Think about your winter exercise adventures now, lay in some gear, and have a plan to keep yourself moving through the holidays and beyond.