"Chilly, isn't it?"
If I had £1 for everyone who's said this to me over the past few weeks, I'd have... well, at least a fiver. Which I could put towards a thermal headband. Because it really has been cold!
I exercise outdoors a fair bit. Between instructing an outdoor circuit training class and a running fitness group, training 1-2-1 clients and my own training, I spend at least 15 hours a week moving in the great outdoors. This, to me, is a blessing.
The benefits of exercising outside are numerous:
It's an opportunity to spend time in nature - a park, woodland or even your own back garden gives you the chance to take deep breaths of fresh air, revitalising the body & mind, and connecting with your surroundings
You are moving on constantly changing, uneven terrain, not a flat, sprung floor. This encourages your body to adapt, challenging your mobility, stability, muscles and connective tissue in very different ways to repetitive movements in a gym environment
As well the positive impact of the natural environment on your mood, you could also get your daily dose of vitamin D - essential for many key body processes, including bone health, muscle function and immunity, and lacking in many of us, particularly over the winter months
With all that said, there must be a reason why, in these darker, colder months, there is a noticeable drop in the number of people taking their movement and exercise sessions outside. Is it the weather? The dulling effects that darker mornings and evenings can have on motivation? The lure of a warm bed & hot chocolate over cold-handed press-ups & soggy trainers?
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing"
This brings back memories of running around a school athletics track in four degree temperatures wearing giant red P.E. knickers and an airtex shirt. (No, I didn't go to school in some kind of correctional facility, just the 1980's.)
The right kit is important to ensure that you're comfortable enough so as not to be distracted by the effects of the weather on your body. Getting a little bit cold/wet for an hour or so is no great hardship in our generally pampered 21st century lives, but you don't want to be at the point where you can no longer feel your feet or everything you're wearing is soaked through. Both hypo- (drop in body temperature) and hyper-thermia (elevated body temperature) are genuine considerations when exercising outdoors.
That said, cold weather doesn't mean wearing every bit of padded thermal kit that you own, like some sort of Michelin Man-Mr. Motivator hybrid. You'll be surprised how quickly you warm up, even on a truly Baltic day.
Use this guide to determine what to wear, depending on the temperature and conditions:
[Click on the guide to download your own copy to keep]
LAYERS! Did you get that? :-)
"Fail to prepare, prepare to fail"
Once you've sorted out what you're putting on your body, you can turn your attention to the body itself.
Warming up before doing any kind of exercise is important, but even more so when you're exercising in conditions that don't lend themselves to increased body temperature and the associated benefits. Higher blood flow to muscles, increased speed of nerve impulse transmissions and reduced muscle viscosity, all mean that muscles can contract and relax faster than if they were 'cold'. Preparing the body for exercise also ensures joints are also lubricated, reducing the risk of injury to the connective tissue surrounding them.
Along with the many physiological benefits of a warm-up come a whole host of psychological ones too. A warm-up is an opportunity to focus the mind, preparing it to take part in exercise. You only need the motivation to get out of the door - your warm-up will take care of the rest. It can help you transition from the challenges of the day into a headspace where you can take the next hour or so for yourself. If the exercise is going to be competitive or intense, it's a chance to prepare for the challenge ahead, reviewing skills and building concentration.
Whatever your form of exercise or reason for doing it, consider these points when warming up:
Start slow: it kills me to see outdoor exercise sessions where the warm-up begins with high knees or star jumps. Is it really a good idea to take people, who may have spent their whole day sitting in the same position, into the cold outdoors and straight away make them do high impact movements that involve large ranges of joint motion? (The answer is 'no', in case you hadn't guessed!)
Begin with the longest, most central group of joints in your body: your spine. Using small movements, take it through each plane of motion: side-to-side bending and forward & back flexion and extension, as well as rotation. Focus on feeling each vertebra moving through the motion. Gradually make the movements bigger and bigger.
Consider your wrists and ankles, particularly if they're going to be subject to movements or pressure they're not used to. Some circular, side to side, and flexion & extension based movements will help to lubricate the joints and prime them for action.
Make it specific (more on this in forthcoming posts): there is precious little point in only warming up your shoulders before heading off for a run. Think about the sort of exercise you're going to do and the type of moves your body needs to make during that exercise.
Build up: think small movements building up to larger movements and low impact progressing to high impact. By the time the warm-up is over, you should feel looser and primed for what's to come, with a raised heart rate and a little bit of a sweat-on.
So, clothing: 'check'. Warm-up: 'check'. Team spirit: ....
If you're looking for coached, friendly outdoor exercise sessions and happen to live in the Kingston, Teddington, Twickenham or Surbiton areas, do consider joining our Running Fitness or Circuit Training sessions each week (both FREE).
Exercising outdoors with others really can lift the spirits and warm the heart, especially when you're freezing your arse off in P.E. knickers.
What's your favourite kind of outdoor workout?