Oh baby, it’s cold outside: cold weather workout clothing


By Joe Stein

Someone once told me that for every day the average temperature falls below 25 degrees, a person’s waistline will increase one-eighth of an inch. An urban myth created by a personal trainer? Who knows? But it does seem that just when we need to work off our holiday weight gain, the mercury falls and determination to go outside decreases.

Walking, running, biking and hiking in cold weather present special challenges. Must we stay indoors to do our cardio, sentenced to three months of treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes with no time off for bad weather? Let me respond to you with an old Norwegian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” So let’s start to build an adequate cold weather wardrobe.

Principles of staying warm

Let’s review the thermodynamics of clothing. First, your clothes keep you warm, right? Wrong … it’s the air trapped next to your skin that is the first layer of defense. Second, water transports heat away from your body 25 times faster than air does, so it’s critical to remain dry in order to stay warm. Third, the outside or ambient temperature does not reveal the entire story: wind speed reduces your body’s ability to retain heat trapped by your clothes. Last, whatever part of your body is left unprotected is where heat will escape.

The emperor’s new outdoor clothes

Your hat should be windproof, waterproof and cover your ears. A scarf or mask will keep your face comfortable as well as prewarm and moisten the air you breathe. This is especially important if you have asthma or allergies triggered by cold. Clothing works best when used in layers, as each layer traps a different stratum of air. In addition, layering allows you to remove an article or two if you become overheated or move indoors.

Long underwear should be made of material designed to wick perspiration away from the body. Shirts, sweaters and vests are effective insulating layers, especially when worn in combinations. Wool and polar fleece provide good insulation and add minimal weight. Avoid cotton and fabrics that absorb moisture and keep it next to your skin. Your outermost layer of clothing should provide protection from rain, snow, and wind. GORE-TEX and many new high tech fabrics allow your body to breathe, which allows perspiration to evaporate as well as provide great protection.

Warm hands and feet

It is important to keep hands and feet warm and dry in order to prevent frostbite and have full use of your body. Cold temperatures will cause blood to be shunted away from extremities to the body’s core. So the first step in having warm extremities is to keep your torso warm. Boots and gloves should be insulated and breathable.

Socks made of wool or a high tech fabric that is both warm and wicking make good sense. My personal favorites are alpaca socks from Dahlgren as well as silk and wool socks from Winter Silks. On days where the temperature falls below zero, thermal liners for gloves and socks will add even more protection from cold. Don’t forget to apply lip balm and moisturizer to exposed skin. Glasses or goggles will reduce the effect of wind on your eyes.

A weather poem

We started with the old Norwegian proverb about clothes. Let me leave you with an old, anonymous British poem:

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

What outdoor sports and activities do you like to do in the winter, and what are your favorite clothing brands and tips? I’d love to hear from you.

Joe Stein, B.S., M.B.A., is a motivational speaker, certified personal trainer, health and lifestyle coach, and owner of Renaissance Fitness & Wellness. He is also the author of, Leave the Cannoli Take the Weights: Practical Guidance on Eating, Exercise and Empowerment. Call 732-345-5151 or email at Joe@TrainerJoeSpeaks.com for more information.