Baby It’s Cold Outside, and Everything Hurts

Staying active during the cold winter months is difficult for many reasons. Temperatures plummet and so does our motivation for exercise, our flexibility, and our tolerance for being cold. You may notice that your muscles tighten up more often in the chilly weather, and no matter how much you torture yourself on the foam roller, things still don’t relax. All of a sudden your cranky, your joints hurt, and you walk around wearing 2 sweaters and gloves at the office because “you just cant get warm.” Don’t worry – you’re not “getting older.” In fact, age probably has nothing to do with it! Maintaining your health and activity in the winter boils down to these few simple tricks. Trust me – I’m from Wisconsin.

The Warm Up

Yes, I am talking about the 2-minutes you are spending “stretching” and “doing A-skips” before you start your workout. Now let’s be serious. As 21st Century humans, we spend anywhere from 8-10 hours at work in a stationary position – standing, sitting, etc. Then, we spend anywhere from 10 min – 90 min sitting in our car commuting. On top of that, we sit to eat our meals, we sit to catch up on the last season of Great British Baking Show, we sit to read at least 10 pages of the book for book club (which meets in 1 week and you have 200 pages to go), and then we go to bed. With all of this time in sedentary positions, it makes sense that our muscles become tight during the day – even with daily foam rolling sessions, the 1 hour HIIT class, and the 2L of water you drank. AND – it makes even MORE sense that being cold makes this stiffness worse. If it doesn’t, then let’s turn our attention to the wonderful world of Google Scholar. A study by Aguilar et al. 2012 stated that “a warm up before athletic events has been shown to substantially reduce athletic injuries.” This study was included in a meta analysis conducted in 2013, in which all research studies within the analysis demonstrated increased muscle elasticity with heat as well as increased force required to stretch a muscle with cold conditions applied. (2) So, there you go. I am more than happy to provide further research supporting this fact; however, for most of you it is boring to read and I’m sure you are all thinking “JUST GET TO THE POINT!!”

Well fine. You don’t have to be so rude about it.

Google. You have done it again. What a perfect representation of high knees (or maybe A skips??) in the cold weather. Look at the motivation in their faces.

We need to properly warm up our stiff and tight muscles before we ask them to do 20 burpees or run 6 miles. Here is a solid 5-10 minute warm up for the whole body.

  1. Walking Lunges – perform 10 reps in one direction, then 10 in the other direction. Do 2 sets.
  2. Walking Quad Stretch – Bring your ankle towards your butt and hold for 5 seconds, step forward and perform same stretch on other side. Perform 10-20 reps each side.
  3. Butt Kicks – while jogging, drive your ankle towards your bum rapidly as to dynamically stretch your quads. Perform for 20 reps both sides.
  4. Knee Hugs – Hug your knee into your chest, hold 5 seconds, then step forward and perform on the other side. Perform 10 reps each side.
  5. High Knees – While jogging, drive your knees high towards your chest and remember to swing your arms from “hip to nip” as to practice efficient arm swing. Perform 20 reps both sides.
  6. Toe/Heel walks – take 20 steps forward on your toes to engage your calves, and then on your heels for 20 steps to stretch your calves.
  7. A Skips – Drive your knee up and jump for height with the opposite leg. Remember to drive your opposite arm up as well to create upward momentum. Perform 20 reps
  8. B Skips – Drive your heel into the ground while skipping – it should feel like a skip with a forward kick. Perform 20 reps.
  9. C skips – While skipping, open your hip wide as if going over a hurdle making sure to keep your torso pointed straight. Continue to alternate hips while skipping. Perform 20 reps.
  10. Karaoke/Side Skips – Side shuffle for 10-15 steps, face the same direction, then return to your starting place. Make sure to swing your arms open and close (giving yourself a hug) in order to warm up your upper body. If doing Karaoke, switch crossing one leg over the other while rotating your hips. Again, 10-15 steps each way.


Despite feeling ready and warm(er) – that nice 10 minute warm up won’t sis tain your body temperature for much longer into your workout. Wearing proper, insulated clothing is very important for maintaining healthy body temperature so you don’t get injured, sick, or miserable. Consider adding these fun and fancy outfit additions to your outdoor winter apparel!

  1. Pants or tights that are thicker or insulated.
  2. Long sleeve tech shirts (usually wool or polyester blend) in order to whisk away sweat while still keeping your body temperature from dropping. Typically, it is a good idea to start with more than one layer and remove the top one as needed. You can always tie it around your waist and continue your workout.
  3. Gloves/Mittens as well as a Hat – a majority of our body heat is dissipated through the head and extremities. We need to make sure we don’t let any heat escape! Unless you are dying of heat from the multiple top layers I told you to wear. Then by all means, strip the mittens!
  4. Wool socks – again, keep the heat from leaving your extremities. The wool material will also help absorb the moisture if running in snow or that nasty, melty, slushy stuff.
  5. A wind breaker – being from Wisconsin, the wind can bring about a HORRIFYING chill that no tech shirt or balaclava can save you from. For those really cold, windy days it is a good idea to wear a wind jacket. Again, you can always tie it around your waist if you become overheated. Here is a nice example of a wind jacket.
This guy just needs a hat and gloves and he is ready for some fun winter running! Drop the beat DJ, this girl likes AC/DC or Missy Elliot for her long runs.

Stay Healthy – Your Immune System Needs Love too

The winter season brings about many lovely things – powder for the mountains, Christmas cheer and holiday goodies, ski season, and an excuse to put Baileys in your hot chocolate or coffee. HOWEVER – Tis the season for some very not so lovely things. Like the flu. Or a virus. Bah-hum-stomach bug. And to top it all off, increasing your activity and entering a training cycle depletes your stash of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, C, or iron despite the weather conditions. Combine training with cold weather and you are 1 step away from having a bacteria party in your body while you spend 3-4 days in bed. Here are some ideas for increasing these vitamins and having a healthy immune system:

  1. Immune Supporting Tea – 3.99. Enjoy a warm cup any time of day, as it is caffeine free!
  1. Nuun Immunity – toss a tablet in your water or in your favorite tea!
  1. Get your vitamin C naturally in the foods you eat! This could include oranges, cauliflower, kiwi, kale, cantaloupe, chili peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and strawberries.
  2. Try these warm, immune boosting soups:

What if I’m still feeling tight, or have pain?

Well – you are in luck. You happen to be reading a blog written by a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Sarah Ceschin, PT, DPT. She is an orthopedic sports medicine physical therapist at Colorado Sports Performance Therapy and she would be happy to help figure out your injury so you can get back to running year round. To make an appointment with her, call (303) 736 – 9343 or visit email


1. Aguilar AJ, et al. A dynamic warm-up model increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(4):1130–41. 

2. Petrofsky, Laymon, and Lee. Effect of heat and cold on tendon flexibility and force to flex the human knee. International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Researhc. 2013; (19): 661-667.

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