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Cold Weather Running: Injury Prevention

Just because the weather is dropping doesn’t mean you have cool your running habits. Cold weather running can be enjoyable and beneficial -- if you make proper adjustments for the elements and injury prevention. The changing elements had an extra challenge and thrill to your workouts. Your body can burn more calories in cold temperatures while you enjoy the outdoors. Plus, that fresh air and sunshine from outdoor winter workouts can be beneficial in combating cabin fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Winter weather presents season-specific challenges like slippery trails, drying winds, and bone chilling temps. With proper preparation and knowledge, however, you can tackle those miles with less risk of injury or discomfort. Don’t be afraid of the cold, embrace it! Here’s how:

Tips for Cold Weather Running

Multiple light layers. Cold weather presents a unique challenge in clothing choices. You want to be protected enough from the cold -- but not so insulated that you swim in your own sweat. Cold weather could turn that sweat into an icy mess -- and that can lead to sickness and injury. So how do you properly dress? Layers. Ideally, you want to dress in multiple, breathable layers that allow for airflow, but don’t leave you a frozen popsicle.

Start with compression garments. Compression garments make the perfect base layer for cold weather running. When temperatures are low, the body can slow down circulation to redirect blood to internal organs. Compression garments aid circulation in the legs and arms to keep your body warm and performing optimally. Proper circulation is key to avoiding injury and in keeping your comfortable in extreme temps. Preferably, you want moisture wicking, high quality compression for the harsh winter air.

Remember sun protection. When it’s chilly out, it’s easy to forget about the sun -- but that ball of heat and life is still beaming down even when it’s dreary. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses -- especially in the snow -- and sunscreen. A sunburn or snow blindness will throw you off your workout routine and stall any progress you’re making.

Stay hydrated. Just like sun protection, we often associate drinking a lot of water with warmer, sweaty months. But it’s just as important to stay hydrated in the winter months. Cold weather running still causes sweating and fluid loss -- plus the dry air can zap the body of moisture. You’ll be better prepared to face the harsh elements if you are properly hydrated. Helpful tip: if chugging cold water doesn’t appeal to you in the winter, warm teas can count towards your fluid intake. Just be careful to avoid teas high in caffeine, as caffeine is a diuretic that can counteract the benefits of the water in tea.

Wear proper footwear. The snow and ice of winter months presents new challenges for runners outside. If possible, find a route that is cleared of ice and snow often. Then find shoes that have a proper grip. You’ll want enough traction that you’re not slipping and sliding across a frozen tundra -- but enough flexibility that you don’t feel like you’re hoofing it in heavy hiking boots.

Use the wind to your advantage. Design your runs so that you are running to the wind for the first half and away from the wind towards the end. This can be tricky, but it will provide some benefits. Having the wind at your back will make the second half of your run more enjoyable. You are more tired, so the extra boost from the wind helps encourage you to finish. You’re also more sweaty and running away from the wind means less frozen sweat on your face. Now, go run with the wind!

Wear visible clothing. Less sunlight and shorter days means you could be running in the dark. Make sure your cold weather running gear has some reflection elements. At all costs, avoid all dark clothing. One of the biggest injuries you can sustain from running is being hit by a car, so make sure those headlights can see you in the winter darkness.

Protect your delicate parts. Winter weather can be especially harsh to the body parts most exposed -- your hands, feet, and head. In warmer weather, you don’t need product to cover those parts, but in winter it’s critical to cover up to avoid frostbite and dry, cracked skin. Moisture wicking materials can now be found in hats, ear warmers, gloves, and socks. You may want to consider finding a way to cover your neck too -- with a lightweight scarf or jacket with a high collar. The more you can protect your skin from the cold, dry air -- the more comfortable you’ll be during and after your run.

Check with your doctor. The last place you want to find out cold weather running is dangerous for you is when you are out in winter weather. Before you start running in the harsh weather, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you. Cold air can be problematic for some conditions like asthma or heart conditions.

Be ok with saying no. Sometimes it’s just not safe to run outside. If wind chills are dipping well below zero or it’s storming ice and snow -- stay inside. Better to skip a day or jump on the treadmill than find yourself injured from a winter run.

Cold weather is not an uncrossable barrier to running outside -- if you can take smart precautions and use good judgement. With these 10 tips for cold weather running, the world can be your track all year round. No matter where you live. Happy running!

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