We saved distribution of our January newsletter until the forecasters confirmed the ongoing Icelandic conditions which are around at the moment. We wrote last February a little about some of the benefits of utilising cold weather but we had just a little burst of winter then not like now.
It is likely to curtail many of the usual outdoor training activities and also social joggers. Even club and pro runners will find it difficult to get track training sessions in as most are deluged with snow. Some main roads are still useable for the extremely focused, or distance athletes, but getting progressive sessions in will prove difficult under present conditions.
But like a lots of things in life – normally the more difficult something is to do – the greater the rewards.

Outside activities in these cold conditions, can provide increased thermogenic activities as the body strives to maintain body temperature.

Provided you are continually active when exercising outdoors, it can be an excellent stimulating mechanism for protecting the body by adaptive climatic change and can strengthen the immune system

You will find that many of those individuals, who never expose themselves to the cold and live in a permanently heated environment without venturing further, will have a poorer tolerance to these conditions. No matter how fit or active you are, no one is completely immune to viruses, but those who do not acclimatise easily are likely to suffer more intensely with longer periods of discomfort.

Unusually exercising in cold conditions can produce both higher usage of muscle glycogen and also higher rates of fat metabolism. Shivering when not training or effort when you are, can empty muscle glycogen stores quicker, forcing increased fat metabolism. Insulin levels have been shown in some studies to be lower in winter and cold conditions which can also spur on fat breakdown. In other words this is an excellent time to capitalise on if you want to loose weight and improve body composition! (NB. Although great for immune and body conditioning – This may not apply to swimming in cold water as the body promotes more subcutaneous fat retention to stop heat loss through the water)

The cold weather trainingcould also make a dent in your most dangerous fat stores, as again studies have managed to show that it may be more deep internal fat stores that are subject to change (the type that surrounds and encompasses your internal organs – not the subcutaneous type under the skin). This is most linked to high blood fat levels and suppression of the protective HDL (high density lipoproteins). Deep fat is hazardous, when fat cells inside your abdominal cavity release fat into the blood stream, this fat moves directly to the liver where it can be transformed into LDL’s and VLDL’s – these are the ‘bad’ fats associated with an increase in an individuals chance of heart disease.
Athlete’s muscles have a high consumption of this fat when training and there is a consummate increase in blood concentrations of HDL’s. This is Good!

Are there any dangers to exercising in cold weather?

Poor traction can be a problem or dangerous in built up areas. If its slippery outside, excellent, grippy cross country trainers are available some with shorty spikes, these can be removed in better weather or on tarmac.
You can get too cold. This doesn’t arise from the ambient temperature and frosty air. But a combination of several factors which could include sweat accumulation (even though it may not seem so – cold air will not shut off the sweating process) and water is not a good insulator, and conducts heat away from the body. If you reduce activity or stop through fatigue or injury you can be left shivering and wrecked if some way from base or you have no decent protective covering in reserve. Also you still need to keep well hydrated – yes even in cold weather. So a little while before activity and straight after is the key. Trooping around the streets with a bottle in your hand is not necessary and spoils good running posture.

Once muscles are warm and blood flowing freely the cold makes little difference to performance, but be carefull to warm up gently and stretch well first as dynamic activity on cold muscles is not a good recipe.

Are there any special routines that be be utilised?

A 30 to 60 min bout of continuous activity is best. Interval training is good but do not allow the pace to drop too much between ‘spurts’ or stop for very long as body temperature will drop. So keep to a pace or level you know you can finish on.. Try to include several bouts of squat jumps and press ups (yes even in the snow) you can even use these as slight rest intervals if getting tired, but still keeping active – AND WARM! Unless you are out training in a frozen wasteland miles from anywhere, major health problems are unlikely.

One technique to really stoke up your fat burning abilities is to exercise late in the evening, at least an hour after dinner. Then refrain from eating anything afterwards. Get up early the next morning and have a vigorous session again before breakfast. But make sure you have your porridge after. Muscles are likely to be glycogen deprived from your evening session, then forcing fat to be metabolised at a higher rate than normal. The system is best used only when you are feeling good and well rested. (This can be applied to gym training as well)
The heart as well as muscles and other components in your body may have to work harder in colder weather; this is good if you are fit and healthy as this can provide extra suppressive stimulation. This a bit like running in sand or under increased gravity. You may be surprised at the extra reserve built up when weather conditions improve.

The bottom line is its tough but winter training can be very good for you on a number of fronts which are not all available in better conditions. A perfect time to carry out lots of endurance building, fat burning, body composition improving workouts which can lead to remarkable effects in the warmer weather.

How should gym training be affected?

Many benefits can follow through to gym training in the right conditions. If you go to a health club which is plush, warm and closeted with air conditioning and central heating you could be losing a lot of brownie points on your getting in shape ladder.

Training in an ambient temperature is always best. Hot environment when its hot and …Cold when its cold.

Of course in these conditions you cannot stop for too long and chat, pass the time of day or twiddle your thumbs for too long in-between sets. Once your set is completed, try using active stretching or other style of active rest periods – it will do you more good than you know. (If you are uncertain how to go about this why not book a 1-1 session with one of the Maximum Fitness team) You have to keep moving – that’s what gives you progress and that’s why you go to the gym.

You may notice at MAXIMUM FITNESS we keep as much as possible to ambient temperatures. Of course we have a little heating on which takes the edge off the bite of cold weather, but the gym is as it should be to enhance your efforts.

Your training routine should encompass an efficient 5-10 min efficient warm up. This can be on the treads/bike/rower. But equally, which is actually better, is a brief light warm up with free squats/leg raises/calf raise/leg swings/light non stop dumbbell work encompassing shoulder, chest and arm movements together with pulldowns. Weights must be light enough so you can move easily, non stop from one to another for 10 mins. This is especially useful to pass blood through all peripheral muscles and ensure the whole body is ready to rock at a worthwhile intensity to do some good, and avoid injury or strain from ‘cold’ muscles. If you are strength training don’t worry about losing power – or not enough energy for that heavy bench press…. That’s not going to happen. If proper warm ups threatens you this way you are sorely unfit and prone to injury, so try and get your head around this now to get your future training on track.

So all in all despite some difficulties for many – you can use nature’s torrent of cold weather to your advantage …there are many available to you now that are absent in better conditions.