There is always temptation to spend the entire winter training indoors, but such a temptation is a false friend. Being outside in winter is even more important than it is in summer.
In general, outdoor training boosts energy, allows us to reconnect with nature and escape the electronic and concrete jungle, improves creativity and induces calm. But winter outdoor training has its own advantages.
First, According to Harvard Medical School’s research, training in the colder temperatures may improve endurance and workout efficiency because the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you don’t have to produce as much sweat and expend as much energy for cooling the body down.
Second, studies have shown that exercising in cold weather helps transform the dead-weight white fat around the belly and thigh area into more efficient calorie-burning brown fat. (see article HERE) So, training in the cold helps you shrink your waistline.
And third, winter outdoor training exposes the body to sunlight. Getting some sunlight regularly is crucial for healthy bones, a robust immune system, and mental wellbeing. Winter exposure to sunlight not only helps you avoid the SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, but also helps prevent many forms of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, and melanoma (see article HERE).
To kettlebell train safely and effectively in cold weather, here are some tips based both on personal outdoor training experience and on coaching outdoor kettlebell classes all year round.
- Warm up thoroughly
Cold muscles, ligaments and tendons are at much greater risk of injury and strain, so warming up is crucial in all weathers. However, in the cold, the warm up needs to be more thorough.
Start with 3-5 minutes of general aerobic movement (jogging, walking up and down stairs, stepping on a park bench, doing jumping jacks or jump rope).
Then warm up each major joint, using large movements to keep the body temperature up, and do not stop moving. It takes less time to cool down in the cold, so standing around motionless for too long is not the best.
All around, your winter warm-up will take you 10-15 minutes.
Here is an example of a 15 min warm-up from our outdoors kettlebell classes:
- Aerobic warm up: 3 minutes.
- Stair climbing, first taking one, then two steps at a time x 3 minutes.
- Alternative: bench step ups x 30 seconds per leg
- Dynamic Mobility: 10 minutes:
- Arm Circles, Hip circles x 30 seconds
- Side-to-Side Bends x 30 seconds
- Forward and Back Bends x 30 seconds
- Dive Dog x 30 seconds
- Glute Bridge x 30 seconds
- Down Dog w Spider Lunge x 30 seconds
- Single Leg RDL x 30 seconds each side
- Slingshot x 30 seconds, changing directions half way
- Back pass to High Five x 30 seconds
- Figure 8 to High Five x 30 seconds
- Halo x 30 seconds
- Prying Goblet Squat x 30 seconds
- Frog Blossom x 60 seconds
- Dowel Dislocates, Reverse Dislocates x 30 seconds each
- Turkish Get Up x 1 each side or Windmill x 5 each side
2. Cool Down.
Just as warming up is important, so it cooling down. It helps keep our heart in good shape, helps the body eliminate exercise by-products and reduce stiffness and muscle soreness. So, it is best to taper intensity down in the final 5-10 minutes of training.
In outdoor classes, cooldown is performing some bodyweight drills such as ab rollouts, static holds such as planks, parallel bar supports, and static stretches.
3. Wear DRY clothing
I love wearing cotton. It’s soft and comfortable. In perfect weather conditions. But cotton is the absolute enemy when training in hot or cold weather. Cotton holds onto sweat and stays wet and soggy, and wet fabric next to your skin will drain body heat. Instead, use synthetic fibers (polypropylene, polyester, nylon) which are designed to dry fast and wick moisture away from your skin.
3. Wear Layers
When you start training, you will be cold, so you need to wear an outer layer of clothing while warming up. After warming up, you might want to gradually take off some layers, so as to avoid sweating through your clothing and enable efficient cooling of the body.
Here’s how to layer up for kettlebell workouts in winter:
First, put on a thin base layer made of dry fabrics (see above). Second, wear a middle layer – a hoodie, a merino top or a polar fleece zip-up, and finally wear an outer shell that is windproof, water-resistant (if you’re planning to train in the rain) and breathable.
4. Cover your extremities
When you are cold, your body pulls heat away from the extremities – fingers, ears, nose and toes – which can lead to those body parts feeling the chill and distracting you from training.
For kettlebell training, our hands must be warm and nimble. You cannot afford to have frozen fumbling fingers when you need to re-grip a kettlebell in the air when switching hands. Therefore, I recommend wearing gloves while warming up in really cold weather, and even during the workout if necessary. Cold weather can mean anything from +12 of Auckland, New Zealand to -25 of Russia. So, be sensible, dress to your climate. Remember, Kettlebells were invented in Russia, where 6 months out of the year there’s snow on the ground. Russians wear gloves when warming up outdoors in winter.
Training in cotton gloves is actually part of Girevoy Sport preparation. It is done specifically to improve grip strength. But if you would rather not have too much difficulty gripping the kettlebell, you can buy gloves that have leather inserts on the palms, which will help with the grip. Such gloves are available from any outdoor / hiking sports store such as Kathmandu, Bivouac, Mountain Designs, MacPac etc. If you’re planning to sweat in your gloves, it is helpful to wear glove liners made of moisture-wicking material under your thicker gloves.
When it’s very cold or windy, cold ears or wind whistling in the ear canal can be very distracting. So, either wear a warm beany, or if you don’t like your hair to be flattened by hats, then you can wear a polar fleece neck gaiter, which covers your ears but leaves the top of your head free.
Extremely cold air or wind can impair breathing, because our air passages narrow in the cold. If you struggle to breathe in the cold air, you can pull a light head tube up over your nose in the matter of a ski mask. This will trap warm air near your mouth so that you can keep breathing freely.
Finally, keeping the feet warm is important because frozen feet aren’t good for balance and stability. However, kettlebell training is best done with minimalist footwear or barefoot. What to do in winter? Choose quality winter shoes.
When selecting cold weather training footwear, pay attention to these 2 things:
- Flat soles with zero drop from heel to toe. This will ensure your ankles are positioned at a natural angle. If possible, the soles should be flexible too. Nowadays, there are some excellent winter hiking or trail running shoes with flat and flexible soles.
- Wide toe box. This simply means that your toes should be able to spread inside the shoe. Too many shoes have narrow toe boxes which mummify your toes, squeezing them together and preventing your foot from doing its job of balancing and sending information about the terrain to your brain. Narrow shoes are for fashion, never for training. When choosing your cold weather shoes, spread your toes like a frog inside the shoe, if you cannot do it, keep looking.
5. Stay Hydrated
You are more likely to get dehydrated in winter because cold weather kills the desire to drink water. However, being hydrated is essential for regulating body temperature. Dehydration impairs your body both from cooling itself down and warming itself up. So, it is wise to sip water before, during and after training.