Workout of the Week: Why It Can Be Beneficial to Train in the Cold

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military cold weather training
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Colter Concannon with U.S. Marines of 2nd PLT., Charlie Co., 1st BTN, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division simulate a patrol at Buffalo, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2015. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Issac Velasquez/Marine Forces Reserve)

If you live in an area where moderately cold temperatures and relatively mild winter precipitation allow for outdoor activities, the winter months offer some new options for training. If not, you may have to shovel some snow, which can be a great workout by itself.

Check out this workout of the week that includes safety tips for warming up before going outside.

Cold-weather training can be preparation for various tactical professions or a great excuse to get out of the house and get some fresh air. You must understand the pros and cons that come with training in the cold.

As you age, some of the cons can be potentially dangerous. Did you know there are more than 100 deaths each winter from shoveling snow, and many of those deaths are from heart attacks? Most who die are older and out of shape. Performing that kind of work when the body is not used to it could be dangerous in below-freezing temperatures.

Consider the following and weigh the potential health hazards that come with outdoor winter activity:

  • Risk of hypothermia or frostbite
  • Wind burn that causes dry skin and chapped lips
  • Vaso-constriction and increased blood pressure that may cause heart attacks
  • Slipping and falling on ice

Our local training group does outdoor winter workouts. At first, they were a response to the gyms closed by COVID-19 shutdowns. Over the last two years, we have learned a few mentally and physically beneficial things about outdoor training.

On a snow day, the roads are not safe early in the morning before plowing and de-icing, so this is our default workout:

Warm up indoors with some calisthenics, jump rope, ride the stationary bike or use the treadmill for 5-10 minutes.

Do a light stretch, especially if you are about to shovel wet and heavy snow.

Spend about 20-30 minutes shoveling the driveway, sidewalks, digging out your car, etc.

Take a break or finish up and go for a walk, ruck or jog for the next 20-30 minutes, if the ground is safe enough for you to move on without slipping and falling.

Take a few minutes to cool down indoors with an easy cardio and calisthenics session for 5-10 minutes, then call it a day.

The intensity and time you devote to this workout should depend largely on your abilities, the amount of snow work you have and outdoor temperatures. You still need to be concerned with overexposure to the elements. Dress warm and layer for best results while performing in the cold weather.

If you are preparing for military service or actively serving, the pros of this workout will outweigh the cons.

  • Spending time in the cold weather is a mental challenge.
  • You can make your immune system more resilient.
  • You can feel invigorated after an outdoor workout.
  • You can burn more calories by just working to stay warm.

If you are considering military service, understand that you will work in the cold if you are stationed or deployed in a cold location. Or you could service in an environment that's hot and humid or arid. If you have an opportunity to prepare for any of those environments, preparing to experience those extremes should be part of your training.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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