6 Tips for the Best Cold-Weather Workout

December 6, 2022

With temperatures getting colder, it may be tempting to get back to the gym.

Henry Ford Health logoBut it’s still possible to get your exercise outdoors if you prepare properly to counter the chillier conditions that accompany living in Michigan this time of year.

Winter Weather Workout Tips

While cold air can make it challenging to breathe, our bodies adjust to reduced temperatures over time. The key thing to watch for is hypothermia (dangerously low body heat).

"Viruses are more likely to attack our bodies if we're in a cold state," says Ramsey Shehab, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. "If your internal body temperature drops significantly, it can suppress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection."

The good news: Adopting these six strategies can help ensure your outdoor workouts are safe and effective.

Check the forecast. Know what the outdoor weather is and plan accordingly. Pay attention to the temperature, wind and moisture level. If temps dip below zero, the wind chill is extreme, or it's raining or snowing, exercising outside can be risky.

Dress in layers. Dressing too warmly can increase your risk of overheating (even in frigid air). Instead, dress in layers so you can remove layers as you warm up. "The innermost layer should be made of moisture-wicking material," Dr. Shehab says. "The middle layer should have thermal protection like wool or fleece, and the outermost layer should be waterproof and breathable to protect you from wind, rain and sleet." If you get wet and moisture soaks through your clothing, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature up.

Pay attention to your hands, feet and head. When you're engaged in a heart-pumping workout, blood flows to your core, leaving your fingers, toes and head vulnerable to the cold. Wear a hat, gloves and warm socks. If it's especially chilly, consider wearing a scarf.

Take time to warm up (and cool down). Instead of leaving your cozy house and launching straight into a sprint, take time to warm up your major muscle groups. "Your joints may be stiffer when it's cold, so warming up and stretching out is especially important during the winter months," Dr. Shehab says.

Stay hydrated. People tend to think more about dehydration during the summer months, but you can get dehydrated in the winter, too. "Proper hydration before, during and after exercise is very important, not just to maintain health and well-being, but also to stave off infection," Dr. Shehab says.

Take a vitamin D supplement. Even though you're exercising outdoors, sunlight is in low supply in Michigan during the winter. To keep your immune system humming, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. "Making sure you have sufficient vitamin D can enhance your bone health, boost your immune system and keep your hormones in balance," Dr. Shehab says.

Get Savvy About Outdoor Workouts

Frigid temperatures can create obstacles for even the most enthusiastic exercisers. While it's tempting to table exercise until warmer weather returns, there are things you can do to make outdoor — and indoor — workouts more enjoyable.

You don't have to stick to the same routine of running, walking and circuit training. Take advantage of the winter chill to participate in activities like ice skating, sledding, hiking, skiing and cross-country skiing. You can even take interval workouts outdoors. Climb stairs, hike up hills or just play with a kettlebell in the snow.

"Exercise is medicine," Dr. Shehab says. "It can sometimes replace medication for people who have diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions. It's good for the mind and the body, and it can help stave off infections, including COVID-19."

The caveat: Working out, outdoors or indoors, is not recommended for people who are currently battling the coronavirus. Instead, it's important to preserve your energy. Once your symptoms begin to improve, you can gradually increase your exercise level.

To find a doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Ramsey Shehab is the deputy chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.

The Dangers of Returning to a Sport Too Soon After an Injury

September 12, 2023

Henry Ford HealthWhen you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.

"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."

Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury

If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.

"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.

Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.

A Safe Return To Play

The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.

"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."

Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:

Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.

Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.

Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.

Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul

Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.

"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."

Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.

Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.