How do I exercise in winter?
November 30, 2013 9:32 PM   Subscribe

I have been running 3 to 4 miles every other day since about June of this year. It has become a very important part of maintaining my mental health, and now that winter has arrived it has been nearly impossible to run. What do I do now to stay active and sane?

I see people run in the snow so I know it's possible, but where do I start? Have you had success running in winter? How does one not constantly slip and fall and injure themselves? Can you recommend some motivation techniques for when I have to force myself outside into arctic temperatures? And what should I wear?

What equally endorphin-releasing exercises can you recommend that don't involve buying expensive equipment or joining a gym? I'm looking for activities that will really satisfy. Something like snowshoeing doesn't sound like it would cut it, you know?

Thanks, and please hurry! Every day I can't run I can feel the darkness getting closer and closer...
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Jump rope! You can learn all sorts of tricks and stuff, and it's incredible for making your heart thump.
posted by carsonb at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's 100% possible to run in winter.

First, where are you? What's your winter weather? I live in the Northeast, and there are only a few days out of the year where running is really a no go. Every year's different, but it's still possible to get out there many many days.

Google up some information like this from sites like Runner's World. There are a lot of recommendations.

The major thing is to dress well. You should always dress for temps 20 degrees warmer than what's really out there, as a general running rule, but in winter you have to layer to ward off hypothermia. Make sure your skin is as covered as possible on truly cold, wet or windy days. I like neoprene tights, a neoprene jacket that zips all the way up the neck with a wicking t-shirt under it, fingerless gloves with the optional flip-top, a fleece to go around your neck/chin in place of a scarf, and a tight-fitting wool cap that covers the tops of the ears.

Before it snows, it's fine. If you get a snow that freezes and sticks around a long time, choose your route carefully. You might need to run on back streets or roads where it has been plowed, allowing you to run in the street without too much traffic. Yaktrax or similar cleats can be helpful though I actually hate running in them. Just using your eyes to avoid icy patches is the biggest thing to do for safety.

Try to get long runs in on your days off when you can run in daylight. On weeknights, if you have to run after dark, stick to shorter runs like 20 minutes.

Call your local high school and ask if they have any open track hours for community members. Some do.

An excellent substitute for running that is definitely as heart-throbbing and endorphin-ful is cross-country skiing.
posted by Miko at 9:43 PM on November 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

To add to Miko's excellent answer, if you live in a snowy climate, check with your local running shop to see if they can put studs on your running shoes to help grip the ice.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:50 PM on November 30, 2013

It is totally doable; I live in Anchorage, Alaska and run through the winter. What kind of winter weather are you talking about? I feel like the only time you have a real excuse not to run is actual sub-zero temperatures (still possible, though!) or- way worse- 30-30 degrees and raining.

We don't get much ice here because it doesnt warm up enough to slick up, and running on snow is not really a problem in regular shoes. On the rare occasions when it's icy, these Stabilicers are much, much better than Yaktrax, which have rubber that snaps within a month or two and are more likely to make you do a header if you accidentally wear them for a few steps inside. Some running stores up here will stud shoes for you, too.

I like ear bags much better than hats if it's 20-30 degrees; I run warm when I exercise though so YMMV.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:52 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Where are you? What's your winter weather?

I live in Northern Michigan, almost to the Upper Peninsula. It has already snowed about 6 inches and there is much more to come. We normally have snow until May up here. I live in a larger city with paved streets and nice trails, but those trails (I think) are not maintained again until spring.

Jump rope! You can learn all sorts of tricks and stuff, and it's incredible for making your heart thump.

I would love to jump rope, but I've never been able to do it well enough. I always end up skipping and not jumping. Any leads on a good jump rope tutorial?

Thanks for these answers, everyone! And keep'em coming!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 10:16 PM on November 30, 2013

For jumping rope you can practice jumping up and down with feet together while rotating your wrists in sync.
posted by bleep at 10:33 PM on November 30, 2013

Skate skiing. Its like running but for arms too.
posted by fshgrl at 10:56 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding all of layers, spiky things for your feet, and cross-country skiing. You can get a decent cross-country ski setup used for not much, and it's so much fun. I run on trails, and spikes on the feet are necessary - less so for pavement as mentioned.

My main problem running when it's really cold is having cold hands, feet and ears, but a hot sweaty body. So I need warmer gloves and hat than the 20-30 degree recommendation above, but with two layers so that eventually when my extremities catch up with my core I can take them off.

Some of the best gear I've found for winter running is sold as cross-country ski gear.

Also, don't be too ambitious running in the snow the first few times, it is certainly harder and slower.
posted by lab.beetle at 11:00 PM on November 30, 2013

I live in a larger city with paved streets and nice trails, but those trails (I think) are not maintained again until spring.

I think this is worth checking out for sure. It might be miserable running immediately after a snow dump, but in my winter city after 2-3 days that would all be packed down from foot (well- and ski) traffic even if the city didn't groom for skiing; it is on the state park trails that are not groomed by the city, anyway. Running on hard-packed snow is not hugely different from pavement. I use trail runners rather than street shoes in the winter.

I like light layers. Down to about 35 I find that I can pretty much wear regular running clothes (top of long sleeve shirt + a light nylon jacket, regular running pants on bottom). Below that I start adding progressively heavier jackets and long underwear, warmer socks, gloves and ear bags and then hats and mittens when it is really bad, sometimes if it is around 0 I'll start with handwarmers inside the mittens if that's what it takes to get me out. If it is super crazy cold you can add something like a balaclava or facemask.

Look into XC ski gear...if you don't mind splurging, Sporthill 3SP pants are a cross-country ski pant that I can wear as a single layer down to about 10 degrees; they're made of leprechauns or something. With a thicker layer of long underwear they're good to zero for me.

Get yourself some dorky reflective gear for after-dark runs if you might end up on the streets. Some of my best winter routes are through less-traveled residential streets, but I wouldn't feel good about it without reflective gear.

Also, you can homebrew studs for your shoes, if you really want to commit. My brother uses drywall screws. I don't bother and just throw the spiky dealies on when it is necessary.

This previous thread may help. Go for it!
posted by charmedimsure at 11:04 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kettle bells. You can do kettle bell swings (or other exercises) in a pretty confined space (indoors), and they will smoke you. More akin to doing sprints than a leisurely run though. Also, pricier than a jump rope, but not too bad, and you only need one kettle bell to start. Highly recommend you get some coaching if you go this route.
posted by zanni at 11:13 PM on November 30, 2013

Freezing rain keeps me inside, everything else a Toronto winter throws at me is about clothing choices.

If you google "screw shoes", you should be able to find some tutorials on how to use drywall screws to modify your runners for traction. This is the cheapest option. Many people just use an old set of runners to set these up, which you should have now if you've been running since June. I use Kahtoola Spikes when I'm on trails in the winter, otherwise I just maintain an easy pace and don't have issues on bits of sidewalk that haven't been cleared.

Other than that, smart wool socks, extra layers, warm mitts (if you have cold hands like me), a toque, neck tube and a outer layer that breaks the wind are the essentials.

I'm also a big fan of Kiehl's Allsport Face Protector for the chillier days when you are worried about exposed skin.

For motivation, when running in winter, the streets are less crowded, the air feels more refreshing, the snow muffles noise, you get to take advantage of what sunlight there is and you can go about your day feeling all badass.
posted by TORunner at 1:52 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know the question specifically said no expensive equipment or gym membership, but I would say, if you're thinking of kitting yourself out with XC ski gear or investing a lot in specialty shoes and cold weather gear, it's at least worth considering whether a treadmill would be workable.

I started running a few years ago in the Boston area and far prefer to run outdoors to treadmill running. Running out when its really cold and the sidewalks are clear is doable (layers!) But when there is a lot of snow or ice on the ground, forget it--I'll hit the treads at the Y. Not worth it to go out if I'm terrified of turning an ankle on uneven ice or slipping and falling, or end up soaked with slush.

Of course time/space/access considerations become more complicated if you drop in a gym for the winter or set up a treadmill at home--but ski gear takes up space too and has limited use also.
posted by Sublimity at 4:18 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Sublimity on reconsidering joining a gym: the pants linked above, for example, cost as much as two months of my Y membership. If you find a cheap and convenient gym that offers month to month membership, you may get more out of that than trying to run through snow and ice. And if the gym has a pool or classes included in the membership, you can try different stuff.

The cheapest, most efficient, most space-saving substitute is a circuit-training routine with all bodyweight exercises - push ups, burpees, mountain climbers, planks, etc. If you have dumbbells or kettlebells, you can include those in the circuit. I don't enjoy them nearly as much as a run, but they are effective.

I'm personally uncomfortable running outdoors when there's snow or ice on the ground, and even in good conditions I find winter running less satisfying than in the fall or spring. If you end up not liking it, don't force yourself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:52 AM on December 1, 2013

You mention snowshoeing not cutting it, but keep in mind that you can run in snowshoes. Try an internet search for "how to run in snowshoes." (I'm on a mobile device.)
posted by crLLC at 6:04 AM on December 1, 2013

If your town has lots of trails that don't get plowed and gets as much snow as you've mentioned snow shoes or cross country skiing will be great options. You might try renting first. I'm in SE Michigan and walk all year, adding in snow-showing when we have enough snow and it's a good workout.
posted by leslies at 7:12 AM on December 1, 2013

Winter running means going a little slower, and wearing more. But that's about it. Some of the local snowshoe trails here in Minneapolis have lots and lots of footprints on them from people doing winter trail running. I've gone several winters running here, it's not bad once you get moving. Of course I am wearing minimalist shoes, so I tend to get downright chilly waiting for lights to change. But as long as I am moving it's all good, and my feet are warm after the first half mile or so... YMMV. No pun intended. Check out the SmartWool socks, find a lightweight balaclava for your face and ears, get a decent pair of running tights, and a pair of loose-fitting running pants for a second layer if need be. The new Colombia outerwear with the silver dots in it work really well if you can pick up some of that. Skip running gloves when it is really cold, just wear a pair of mittens. Or mittens over running gloves, so you can shed layers as you get warm.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:29 AM on December 1, 2013

I see people run in the snow so I know it's possible, but where do I start? Have you had success running in winter? How does one not constantly slip and fall and injure themselves? Can you recommend some motivation techniques for when I have to force myself outside into arctic temperatures? And what should I wear?

I expected to fall on my butt a lot when I started running in winter, but for some reason, I don't. Maybe every other year I take a good spill—but I fall more often than that just walking to work. I guess it's because I pay more attention to where I'm putting my feet when I'm running. (I wear Vibram KSO Flows down to about 15°; below that I have to wear something that has some insulation between me and the pavement.)

The guideline for dressing for running is, dress as you would dress for weather 20°F warmer if you were just going outside without exercising. So if it's 30°, I imagine I'm dressing for 50°: pants (actually, running tights) and a light jacket (a windbreaker is nice if the wind has kicked up). If it's 20°, I dress for 40°, i.e. tights, long sleeved shirt or jacket, and a fleece vest, a hat, and some light gloves. If it's 10°, I'm dressing for 30°, so, I add windbreaker pants over my tights, and double up on the shirts, and wear warm mittens. When it's below zero, I wear a fleece balaklava to protect my face, and people pull over in their cars and roll down their windows (which is a bit of a sacrifice for them, in that kind of cold!) to cheer me on.

IMHO, UnderArmor ColdGear running tights are worth the investment. Other than that, I get all my running gear on the clearance rack. The conventional wisdom is: keep your core warm, and the rest will take care of itself. So, wear sweat-wicking underlayers, and warm fleece vests. My feet usually feel cold (sometimes even numb) for the first half mile or so, but after I warm up, they're fine.

As to how to motivate yourself: you just go out, every time, because you are a runner now, and running is what you do. Go out in the snow, go out in the freezing rain, go out when it's -10°, because that is just. what. you. do. Yeah, sometimes your ass is cold. Yeah, sometimes you fall down and skin your knee. But it doesn't kill you, you make it home, and the next morning you put on your running shoes and go out again.
posted by BrashTech at 9:29 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the sidewalks are covered in snow or icy and treacherous (I know that the sidewalks where I love are also bumpy do to tree roots, which would be hard to navigate when there's snow covering the contours), maybe you can find a school track? A high school or college should be maintaining their track while school is in session, and early in the morning or at night when it's not in use, maybe you can run there? I assume it would be fine -- pretty sure I've seen old people using the high school one by my house -- but you may want to ask.

Another option is early mornings before the mall opens they offer mall walking. Maybe mall jogging/running is allowed? I'd check. Where I live, there is a very massive mall about 15 minutes from my house. I imagine going back and forth a couple times on both levels would be a good workout.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:46 AM on December 1, 2013

Back when my knees allowed me to run, I used to run in the Chicago winter. Even without studded shoes, I didn't fall very often; I did have to adopt a different gait on slippery bits, closer to sliding or shuffling than to running, and to go slower. These days I'd try the Stabilicers that charmedimsure mentioned.

Advice above on clothing is spot-on. As a guy, I found it was helpful to have a pair of underwear with a windproof panel in front to wear under my tights and Sporthill pants, though if you get pants with windproof panels on the front, that might not be necessary.

Hard-packed snow and ice is harder than a lot of running surfaces, so take it easy in order to spare your knees.

Now I need to get the studded tires mounted on my old hybrid bike...
posted by brianogilvie at 10:11 AM on December 1, 2013

Are there any tall-ish public buildings where you could run the stairs?
posted by Kololo at 12:25 PM on December 1, 2013

I ran outdoors all last winter in Minnesota. Temperature isn't an issue (at least down to about 0 F; haven't tried colder than that) but wind is. I'll wait for a more opportune time when it's really blowing.

Running on a buildup of ice or through a few inches of snow is a different activity than fair-weather running. Harder work, slower, and less mindless; you have to watch your step and be hyper-aware of whether you feel your feet starting to go out from under you. I only fell once last year, even without traction shoes, and that was coming down our steep alley. But you will love spring all the more for having toughed out the winter!

Around here there's an ice arena that lets people run around the concourse that surrounds the actual ice/bleachers during certain hours. Maybe there's something similar in your area?
posted by lakeroon at 2:34 PM on December 1, 2013

As to how to motivate yourself: you just go out, every time, because you are a runner now, and running is what you do.


There are a lot of individual hacks you can do. But I endorse the basic idea here: just suit up and head out. You'll encounter Specific Problems X, Y, and Z and then you can search the abundant resources on the web for potential solutions to your specific problems. But if you talk yourself out of the whole endeavor thinking there is some special reformulation you need for winter, you'll just miss out. Head out every day you can. If you find it too slippery, try different routes or shoe hacks. If you find it too cold, try different layering strategies. And so on. Just keep going out.

Someone above mentioned running groups. Around here, groups continue to run all winter. I don't know if you're in a busy enough area to have big groups, but check around. I used to do 1x/week runs in NH all winter - we met at a brewery and ran around the well-salted roads of the industrial park nearby, where there was little traffic and good streetlighting. After the run (3 mi) we'd have beer and hot chili. Way to keep interested over the winter! The company was nice too. Just seeing how many people do do this, and maybe learning a bit from their gear and training choices, may be enough to keep you going.
posted by Miko at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2013

i came in to suggest what kololo did: stairs in a taller building. the higher the better but i've had some serious workouts in 4 story buildings. it's always kind of odd working out on stairs so i've always tried to find quieter ones to work out on. parking garage stairs usually are the best but look around and see what's nearby.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:45 PM on December 1, 2013

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