Here’s Why Tight Clothes Aren’t the Best Way To Dress for Cold Weather

photo: Getty/ Maskot
You’ve probably been there: tightly bundled up and wearing so many layers that you’re already starting to sweat. Well, it turns out that bundling up in super tight clothing for an outdoor workout is not necessarily the best way to dress for cold weather. The reason? Tight clothes can slow your circulation, reduce your body’s natural warming processes, and prevent warm air from insulating you inside your clothes.

There’s nothing wrong with bundling up, don’t get me wrong. However, it becomes a problem if anything limits your range of motion, gives you tingling sensations, or leaves your skin with marks. You shouldn’t have red lines or indentation marks on your skin. There should be a little bit of room between the item and your body so that the air can keep you warm. So, if your strategy to dress for cold weather workouts involves super tight clothes, we break down a more effective way below.

How does the body keep warm, anyway

Humans and other mammals maintain their body heat through processes like sweating, shivering, or behavioral adjustments (like taking off a jacket or grabbing a blanket), according to Statpearls, an online medical research library.  There are other ways your body maintains homeostasis, too. Your cells generate warmth by converting stored energy into heat. This heats your blood which travels throughout your body.

When you get cold, you begin to shiver, making your skeletal muscles contract. Your body conserves energy through a process called vasoconstriction, which happens when tiny muscles in your blood vessels squeeze together to slow blood flow. The thing is, reduced circulation means that wherever the blood is not reaching will not be as warm. Do you know how your hands and feet can get cold easily? These outer extremities are some of the first to experience a reduced temperature.

Additionally, your body hair traps the heat you generate. You know that sensation of getting goosebumps? That’s actually an attempt to keep you warm. The tiny hairs all over your body exist for many reasons, and insulation is one of them. The warmth that your body generates warms the air nearest to your skin. These tiny hairs work to trap that warm air and keep you nice and toasty.

Why is this important for your wardrobe choices

Tight clothes are not the most efficient items to wear because they make blood circulation harder, and they don’t work in tandem with the body’s existing heating process. “Blood flow is a necessity for exercising and heating the body and just, in general, being alive,” says Jordan Allison, PT, DP, cold weather athlete, ultra runner, marathoner, trail runner from Colorado In Motion. “If you slow it down, you won’t be able to heat yourself as efficiently, and you will also have trouble regulating your temperature if you are doing different activities.”

To dress for cold weather, it’s important to consider how the body keeps warm. Since you naturally give off heat, the best way to insulate yourself is to dress in clothing that traps warm air in your clothes. For example, mittens are more effective than gloves because they have extra room for holding in warm air. If you’re wearing tight clothes like socks that are too small, layers of tight pants, or shirts that suction to your body, they won’t leave room between the material and your skin.

For optimal toastiness, there should be a slight amount of room so that this warm air your body generates can radiate off your skin, and accumulate within your insulating garments. Clothes that are too tight or too thin don’t offer that warm air the chance to hang out around your body and do the work of keeping you warm. And, the tighter those clothes are, the more they will slow your blood flow which prevents your body from efficiently heating itself.

What to wear instead

“I would encourage people exercising or moving outside in cold conditions to wear mittens and wear layers instead of compression attire. This is because you can better adapt your clothing to your body’s temperature and any changing elements like snow, wind, or rain,” says Dr. Allison. He adds that blood flow is essential for your body during exercise to get the necessary oxygen to your muscles, which is important for power, endurance, strength, and recovery.

Layers are incredibly effective, Dr. Allison adds. “Just make sure that you are layering without tightness or form-fitting in mind. You also don’t want to be weighed down by a bunch of heavy tight garments. The best guideline to consider is less is more,” he adds. This is why wool is a great material to wear in the winter. It traps heat and keeps you insulated quite efficiently.

Dr. Allison also recommends that you check the weather before you go out. Waterproof gear can be vital for keeping your body warm if you’re heading out for a winter run and it’s going to rain. Sweating too much in your winter clothes can also contribute to getting colder faster, he adds. Staying warm has so many benefits, including injury prevention, improved performance, and the ability to stay out in the cold doing the sport you love—for longer.

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