I know, I know. Winter weather and outdoor workouts don’t exactly go together. Usually, the only time most of us—with the exception of some very brave runners and cyclists—voluntarily brave the cold in pursuit of a sweat sesh is during the walk to and from the gym. But instead of thinking of the cold as an obstacle, why not think about it as an asset that you can use to your advantage?
“I think the science can serve as a credible prompt to get people to see cooler climates as an ally rather than an enemy,” says Jimmy T. Martin, co-founder of BRRRN, a boutique fitness shop in NYC that offers classes at cooler temperatures (from 45° to 60°F), in what can best be described as the exact opposite of hot yoga. “Outdoor athletes, such as runners and cyclists, can attest to the benefits of a chillier workout environment. It’s actually quite fascinating the things your body can do when heat doesn’t get in the way.”
Before you balk at the suggestion to get outside and start HIIT training when its zero degrees, consider that there’s some (pretty cool!) science that supports the benefits of working out in colder temps. Research shows that the body can burn more calories at cooler temps. Plus, studies have found that shivering boosts your metabolism, and you’ll be less likely to fatigued when it’s chilly, so you’ll be able to workout (in the words of Kanye West) harder, better, faster, stronger.
While all of this is going on at a cellular level, your body is using the temps to an advantage—allowing you to push yourself for harder and longer than your usual routine since we tend to fatigue more slowly in cooler temps. According to BRRRN co-founder Johnny Adamic, when you’re working out in hot or ambient temperatures, it puts a huge competing cardiovascular demand on your system because your body is trying to cool itself off by sweating (mostly for the sake of—sorry for this visual—preventing your vital organs from cooking) .
“Your perceived rate of exertion is on par in cooler temperatures, you’re working out to your max capacity. Whereas in hotter or ambient temperatures, you’re actually not working out as hard because your body doesn’t want to cook its innards.” The first five minutes of your workout, your body is busy getting used to the cold, but once you start to exercise you tap into the benefits of the cold, which means you don’t heat up as quickly. “You’ll have your sweat being earned, instead of having it be created as a byproduct of being in a hot room.”
Sadly, for now, working out in Martin and Adamic’s boutique ice box requires a trip to New York City. But with the principles of cold weather workouts in mind, there are plenty of ways for you to feel the BRRRN (couldn’t resist) wherever you are during the winter months. “You know how they say in yoga, ‘get to the mat’? Just get outside,” says Adamic. “Go do some sort of physical activity outside, whether it’s walking, jogging, or finding an online video [like Aaptiv] where you’re doing jumping jacks and pushups, and wear less layers.” He actually suggests wearing shorts and a t-shirt, which causes me to audibly gasped at during our conversation.
Martin recommends beginning your training by acclimating to the chilly temps with five minutes of breath work by inhaling, holding, and exhaling for three seconds each. “From there, do a variety of dynamic warmups to lubricate your joints and increase your muscle temperature prior to your routine,” he says. “If there are leaves or snow on the ground, clear a path with a minute per leg of lateral lunges. Then use that cleared path to do a variety of bodyweight exercises in 45 second intervals with 15 seconds of rest in between sets. My favorite move is the ‘brrrpee,’ so I would definitely make sure to add that into the mix.”
And as with any workout, listen to your body and be smart about what it needs. Keep your fingers and toes warm with gloves, socks and shoes, and don’t hang out in the cold for more than an hour, because that’s when the body starts to overwork. Then, when it’s all over, treat yourself to a nice warm bev—you and your body earned it.
Stay warm (but not too warm!) and look cool with some of our favorite cold weather leggings, and peep this argument on why you should log some outdoor miles at least once a week — even when it’s freezing.
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