7 Ways to Make Winter Running Enjoyable

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Whether you are a veteran runner or just getting started to accelerate weight loss, the winter months can be a deterrent. While conditions may motivate some, the threat of below-zero temperatures, ice, and snow may cause some people just to want to stay inside.

Keeping up with your regular exercise routine is vital for staying healthy and maintaining a strong cardiovascular system. Try utilizing a few of these tips to make your winter runs safe and enjoyable!

Do your warm-up indoors

Because of the chilly outdoor temperatures, there is nothing more important than adequately warming up. To allow your body to heat up efficiently, it is best to do so indoors before running.

Take yourself through a series of ballistic and dynamic stretches that will elongate your muscle fibers to prevent injury. If your muscles are tight and you start running outside, the cold will make those muscles even tighter, encouraging a strain or tear. You do not want to be caught out in the cold and have to walk home when you were planning on running back!

Before every workout, take 5 to 10 minutes to perform a routine that includes the following stretches:

  • Alternating side lunges
  • Standing figure four
  • Leg swings
  • Arm circles
  • Quad stretch
A woman stretching before a winter run

Go easy on yourself

Whether you are running to lose weight or to train for a marathon, you may mentally benefit from setting aside your goals for a few months. Simply getting outside and moving your body is an accomplishment, especially when the temperature is in the single digits.

While it is essential to stay motivated, and having a goal is a great way to do so, you need to go easy on yourself — the extreme conditions of winter running make achieving your usual distance or time a bit harder.

By giving yourself more manageable goals or simply running until you feel tired, you will prevent pushing your body too hard or making it easier for yourself to get sick.

Dress for success

You must keep your core temperature as high as possible while you are running in the cold. A great way to protect yourself is by wearing the proper attire to keep your body temperature at a safe level and let others know where you are if you happen to be running in the dark.

Find yourself a pair of shoes that will keep your feet dry and prevent you from slipping, as well as comfortable, sweat-wicking socks. Wearing gloves and a hat are also necessary; you lose heat primarily through your head, hands, and feet.

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As for the rest of your body, try to cover up as much as possible. Wear a tight base layer against your skin, and then layer up as much as you feel is appropriate for you to stay safe. Keep in mind that you will warm up as you run, so don’t overdo it.

It’s also important to keep yourself protected from the sun.

It may seem unnecessary, but remember that sun rays can burn and damage your skin all year round, especially when reflected from snow and ice. So make sure to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to all exposed skin and wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect yourself from snow glare. In addition, use a thick moisturizer and lip balm to help with dry skin and chapped lips. Even better, if they contain SPF already!

If you are running in the early morning or evening, try wearing reflective gear and a headlamp to let cars know your location.

Plan your route

During the winter months, the amount of available daylight shrinks. To avoid accidentally putting yourself in the position of running in the dark, plan what time you will start your run while giving yourself ample time to get back before the sun sets.

Planning your route will also give you a sense of security, as you typically do not want to run where you are unfamiliar. If something happens, you want to know exactly where you are and how far away your home or car is.

Planning your route and what time of day you run is always crucial for your safety, no matter the time of year. But there is no harm in being extra careful during the winter months!

A man running outside in winter

Have a backup plan

No matter how much you may enjoy running outdoors, some days it will simply be too cold or hazardous. However, when this happens, there is no need to get discouraged! While you may not be able to do your exercise of choice, you can still get your heart rate up indoors.

If you have access to a treadmill, whether at home or in a gym, try doing your workout on that machine.

You can even up the time or mileage, as you will not have the added challenges of wind resistance, temperature, or varying terrain.

If you do not have access to a treadmill, try doing a HIIT workout to replace your running! While they will be of different intensity, HIIT workouts are great for strengthening your cardiovascular system and helping you burn a lot of calories in a shorter period.

Trying some bodyweight exercises can also help you strengthen your legs for your runs in the future. Doing a few sets of 10-20 reps of the following exercises can give you a great workout:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Calf raises
  • Step-ups
  • Wall sit

Don’t forget why you started

Some days, you may look outside and tell yourself that it isn’t even worth it to go out. This can be very understandable, as some days it will simply look too cold and miserable. But, in these moments, try and remember why running has been a goal for you.

This applies to all areas of exercise and eating; you can set a long-term goal, but then you may forget about it as your mind gets lost in the process. Remembering why you started can give you a new sense of purpose for the daily actions you take.

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If you are not able to motivate yourself with mental talk, commit yourself to a marathon. Whether it be a 5k or 26.2 miles, giving yourself a date that you need to be ready for can be all you need to get out there and train.

Heat up post-run

Once you arrive home after finishing your run, it is essential to take quick action to ensure that your body temperature doesn’t drop too low. Immediately hop in the shower or change into dry, warm clothes.

Keeping on your running clothes for too long can put you at risk for conditions as serious as hypothermia. This can happen as the sweat cools on your skin and your metabolic rate drops, leading to your body struggling to produce heat.

Having a warm drink such as coffee can help raise your core temperature quickly, as well as keep you hydrated. Hot soup can also provide a variety of nutrients while heating you up as well.

Final thoughts

While you may not enjoy the cold as much as the warmth you experience during the summer, a regular running schedule can still be maintained in the winter! Dressing appropriately, planning ahead, and taking specific steps to keep yourself safe can make running enjoyable, no matter the temperature!

March 15, 2023