Winter is coming. Along with it come festivities, family gatherings, food, eggnog, warm fireplaces, cold weather, short days, long nights, seasonal depression, flu season, the second wave of COVID, the second wave of lockdowns, all of which threaten your physical resilience. This winter, probably more than any other winter, you need to build physical resilience by getting outside and exercising. With the right training plan, gear, and safety considerations, you can make it through this winter healthier, happier, and more resilient.
Before you head out into the cold, take some time to gather your thoughts, set your goals, and chart a path to reach them. Winter tends to disrupt everyone's training schedule, as family gatherings and holidays pull you from your normal routine. This year will be even more difficult to stick to your normal exercise schedule, as a second wave of lockdowns may mean your gym will close once again. Decide now what you want to accomplish this winter. Make it realistic for your individual needs. Winter is a great time to reset your training for the year, and build a good base of endurance. Cold weather may make it harder to do many of the sports you enjoy during warmer weather, but by focusing on longer, slower activities, you can be ready to quickly bounce back to your favorite activities. Leave interval and high intensity workouts for warmer weather. Plan to build on your weekly mileage throughout the winter, and don't worry about your speed. Try hiking, snowshoeing, or long, slow runs. You can even try winter camping. With the right gear and experience, it can be surprisingly comfortable. Social distancing won't be a problem, because there won't be anyone else out there.
Track your activity on a calendar. plan your goals for each day, then track your actual activity to compare. Make sure your weekly plan has the right mix of activities to reach your seasonal goal, and allow you to change your schedule, as needed. Whether you set your goals in distance covered or minutes of activity, this will give you an idea of your progress toward your goal for the season. Make your goals challenging, but realistic. While it may be difficult to set aside time every day around the holidays, try to find time to get outside, even for a short walk. A mediocre workout every day is better than an occasional great workout. Adjust your goals, as needed. Your training plan will need to be flexible to adapt to any injuries you may have, weather conditions, or COVID restrictions. Keeping an adaptable day-to-day schedule will keep you on track for your seasonal goal better than a rigid one that could derail you completely.
Gear and Clothing
One of the unique challenges to winter training is keeping a stable core body temperature. To address this, you need to make sure you have the proper clothing and gear. Proper winter clothing is more than just dressing warmly. You need to make sure you have the right materials and multiple layers. Ideal winter clothing will be lightweight, breathable, and will not absorb water. Polyester and smart wool are great base layers for winter training. Avoid cotton, as it will hold sweat next to your body, and could cause your temperature to drop suddenly. Multiple layers of clothing allow you to put on, or take off clothes as needed. Overdressing for cold weather is a more common mistake than underdressing, and could even be dangerous. When you exercise in cold weather try to keep your temperature stable. If you overheat, you will sweat. Sweating in very cold temperatures can be deadly. Remember, as you work out, your body temperature will rise significantly. Anticipate this by starting your workout with fewer layers than you would wear if you were at rest. By anticipating your rise in body temperature, you will make sure you don't overheat. Likewise, if you stop exercising, or slow your pace, anticipate your body temperature dropping, and add a layer before you get cold. Keep in mind that temperatures will plummet at sunset. If you are out as it becomes dark, add a layer before you get cold, because your body may not be able to regulate your temperature once you become hypothermic.
Plan for contingencies with your gear. Getting wet can quickly turn a pleasant hike into a life-threatening situation. Wear (or bring with you) a water resistant outer shell to protect you from sudden rain. Bring an extra fleece jacket and wool hat as emergency extra layers. If you unexpectedly stay out longer than you anticipated, or are unable to keep up your pace, you will want to have extra layers available. Consider your environment, and adjust your gear accordingly. If you are going for a short run around the neighborhood, you likely won't need much extra gear. If you are going for a long hike in the woods, then you will need redundant gear with you. This is a great time to train with your bug out bag, so you become accustomed to how it feels, and how it will affect your pace. If you plan to do an overnight, or multiple day camping trip, then your gear will be especially important. Find the right balance between redundancy in gear that will save your life, while keeping the weight down.
In warmer weather, you can survive a long time with nothing more than water. In the winter, something as simple as a sprained ankle could quickly escalate to a life-threatening situation. Before you head out into the cold, make sure you are prepared for various contingencies. What if it starts to rain or snow while you are out? What if you fall through some ice? What if you get lost?
With advanced preparation, you do not need to be afraid of these possibilities, but you can be prepared to address any unexpected scenario. Proper planning and the right gear can help you address most safety threats before they happen. Prior to going out on your workout, check the weather conditions. Is there ice on the ground? does the forecast call for rain or snow? Will it be getting dark soon? Will you be in a populated or remote area? Will you be out on your own? Do your training partners have first aid experience? Have you discussed emergency planning with them? These questions can prepare you to address most incidents before they become emergencies.
Preparing the proper gear can also help you address unexpected mishaps. Bring additional layers with you, even if you don't end up needing them. Bring a headlamp or flashlight, in case it gets dark before you get back. Carry a small level one kit with a space blanket, hand warmers, lighters, a cell phone, and other items to help you get through the night, even if you only plan a short daytime hike or run.
With proper planning and gear, you can address most safety emergencies, but you still need to be alert to your surroundings. Watch for ice on your path. Be aware of hazards hidden under snow. Slow down. Injuries can set back your training substantially. Consistent, moderate training throughout the winter will set you up to increase your intensity once warmer weather comes around. There is no need to risk injury or worse throughout the winter.
Make the Most out of this Winter
2020 has been a difficult year. COVID has disrupted our lives, our economy, and our freedom. This winter promises to bring more uncertainty, lockdowns, and threats to our health. We can still take charge of our lives and make the most of this winter. Commit today to physical resilience this winter. Make a plan now, and start training before winter comes. If you wait until January 1st, it will be too late. Get out now, make fitness a habit. As the days get shorter and colder, you will already have established a routine. Your body will get used to the colder weather, and you will have perfected your gear and clothing choices. Act now to take control of your physical resilience before winter locks you down for the season. You may even find that with the right experience, you actually enjoy training in cold weather.