How to continue safely working out outdoors during autumn and winter

As the sunshine starts to fade and the cold weather sets in, we don’t blame you for wanting to swap your squats for the sofa.

However, while it can be tempting to let your training fall by the wayside in autumn, don’t let your fitness goals slip.

We all know the benefits of training outdoors — from topping up our vitamin D and boosting our immune systems, to reducing the stress hormone cortisol — and with a little care and caution it’s still perfectly fine to carry on as normal in the winter months.

‘Exercising outside in the autumnal period is still fine as long as you take some precautions,’ says Dr Elijah Behr, Cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London.

‘The physiological effects of exercising in the cold means it’s more demanding on the body and often means you burn more energy than you normally would.

‘Your body needs to create more heat when its outside in the cold while at the same time expending energy for fitness, so you burn more calories. This means it’s important to have a reasonable intake of calories before you go outside for a training session. People also tend to drink less in the cold, but you are still losing a lot of fluid through sweating and evaporation. I always suggest rehydrating with isotonic fluids, so you’re rehydrating with what your body is losing rather than just water alone.’

Preparation is key when it comes to an enjoyable outdoor session so plan ahead. ‘First and foremost, dress for the weather conditions and for the activity you’re doing,’ says David Rigg, a Sports Rehabilitator at NK Active and former Special Forces who spent nine winters teaching survival training in Norway.

‘Layering is important, so have a number of thin layers that you can remove as you go. Venting is important and zips can be undone, while thumb loops allow you to expose hands and wrists to cool the blood,’ he says.

‘A moisture-wicking fabric helps to keep the skin dry and comfortable during your activity and man-made fabrics such as polyester or polypropylene are the best for this. They are lightweight and generally cheap but can hold odours. Merino wool is a natural product that has excellent wicking and insulating properties but can be expensive and is not always hard wearing.

‘You need to protect your extremities in the winter so long trousers, long sleeves, hats, headbands and gloves are important. Also, consider the end of your session. How are you going to stay warm and will you need a change of clothes? Ensure you also have the right footwear. If you are going to be on dry pavement the risk of slipping is less, but muddy paths and trails, need specialist trainers to help reduce the risk of injury.’

Motivation booster

How do you summon up the enthusiasm to get outside in the first place? Running coach and UK Peloton Tread and Strength instructor, Becs Gentry, shares her tips for getting yourself out the door.

Set yourself a challenge: ‘Increase your “get out and go” motivation by picking a goal you want to achieve — whether it’s a distance per month or a certain number of runs per week — keep yourself accountable by sharing with friends or putting it somewhere you will see daily.’

Tune in and follow: ‘Music is great but with wet and dreary days requiring extra motivation, you also need someone in your ear willing you on, so why not download a guided class. No matter if you’ve got only ten minutes or 30, let your instructor take you on a journey and that’s one less item to worry about.’

Keep it fresh: ‘Parks will close earlier as days get shorter, so there is a tendency to stick to a road route near your home. Use this as an opportunity to scout out areas you are interested in, perhaps that pub you always wanted to see or that plaque you wanted to read.’

The body also takes longer to warm up in the cold. ‘In lower temperatures, your muscles lose more heat and contract, making them feel more stiff and tighter than usual,’ says Steve Paterson, People Development and Product Trainer at Runners Need. ‘You may not have your usual range of motion and it’s easier to sustain an injury by overexerting a tight muscle. Some low-intensity cardio exercises like star jumps and high knees will help to get the heart rate up while dynamic stretching will help to prepare your body for what’s to come.

‘After your workout, try a five-minute walk before heading inside to stretch and cool down. This will help flush out lactic acid and prevent soreness.’

The cold can cause your airways to be more reactive, so people with asthma should exercise with caution. ‘Breathing in cold air can irritate the airways and lungs, and can cause the upper airways to narrow,’ adds Steve. ‘Cold air tends to be dry, so your lungs will be working hard to humidify the air. This can dry out your throat and lungs, causing discomfort. Make sure to stay hydrated and focus very closely on your breathing. Try to develop a rhythm by inhaling and exhaling every three steps. This will help you feel more in control.’

Finally, being seen in the darker months should be a priority. ‘Fluoro is great in daylight, but once there’s no UV light to reflect it’s no more effective than any other colour,’ says Nassrin Chamanian, from sports retailer Wiggle. ‘This is why most cycling/running kit will incorporate retro-reflective details. You can also add them to your bike for more visibility.

‘Remember that darkness exists in the daytime, too, particularly in the winter when the sun is low. Mist and rain can further hamper visibility so a set of flashing lights on handlebars gives other road users a better chance of noticing you.’

Stay safe on three surfaces

‘The surface on which you train is a key factor in how well you perform an exercise and thanks to rain and autumn hazards like leaves, these can get very slippery,’ says Daine Mitchell, Fitness Expert and Brand Ambassador for Maximuscle.

‘On top of this, as we approach the months of December to February, wet surfaces can freeze leading to ice which is a real hazard for training outdoors. In winter, I recommend running in a straight line, avoiding sharp turns and no incline and declines.’ With this in mind, Daine shares his top exercises for common outdoor floor surfaces.

Grass

‘Grass can be one of the best surfaces for bodyweight plyometric-style movements. The soft, absorbent nature reduces the impact when landing. However, with the increased rainfall in autumn and at times, harder ground, it’s best to only conduct exercises that offer less room for slipping.

‘Laying a towel down is a good foundation to place your hands when conducting exercises such as burpees. As the friction on grass is reduced it also makes it a great surface to perform walking lunges, which when paired with some bodyweight plyometric exercises can get pretty spicy.’

Try these instead:

1. Burpees

2. Walking lunges

3. Lateral skaters

Uneven

‘Unstable, uneven surfaces increase energy demands due to recruiting more stabilising muscles. It’s a great way to improve proprioception (the body’s ability to perceive its own position in space). This in turn improves strength, balance and joint stability.

‘Some surfaces can become loose and cause you to slip so have good footwear.’

Try these instead:

1. Med ball toss and catch

2. Single leg balance

3. Single leg deadlift

Pavement

‘Pavement can be much harder than other floor types so static- based movements, walks or carries are great challenging exercises. An effective way of working out on pavement is to grab a bag of sand from the local builders merchants and perform sandbag exercises. Just keep an eye out for any stray wet leaves which, when building up under your trainers, can put you at risk to slipping due to the wax coating on leaves.’

Try these instead:

1. Sand bag ground to shoulder

2. Sand bag squats

3. Bearhug sand bag carry

And of course, when it comes to working out in winter, you’ll need the right gear. Here are six of our weather-proof favourites:

1. Le Col Pro Rain Jacket

This rain jacket is is form-fitting, waterproof and breathable. The inner layer moves moisture away from your body, while the outer layer keeps water and wind away.

Buy it for £240 from Le Col

2. Merino Beanie

Merino on the outside, silk on the inside, this Merino Beanie protects hair from frizzing while regulating heat.

Buy it for £35.99 from This Is Silk

3. DBS StarLight Leggings

The stars on these leggings light up in bright lights, so they’re great for road running.

Buy it for £41.99 from Designed By Sports

4. Proviz LED360 Antares Headlamp

Compact and lightweight, the Proviz LED360 Antares Headlamp offers dual colour modes including a high flood and spot beam.

Buy it for £39.99 from Proviz

5. Runderwear Running Base Layer

Don’t leave home without your Runderwear Running Base Layer. The seamless, chafe-free, long- sleeved baselayer and mitten-style sleeves will also keep hands super-warm.

Buy it for £49.50 from Runderwear

6. UP Reflective Fitbelt

Keep essentials and yourself safe with this no-bounce UP Reflective Fitbelt.

Buy it for £25.99 from 1000 Mile

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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