How to Beat the Cold: 7 Expert Tips on Running in Winter

In spring and summer, it’s not a problem for most people to find the motivation to go running. But what about in autumn and winter? When it is cold, wet and windy? The following tips will help you beat the unpleasant winter weather. Stay fit through running – even during the cold months of the year!

running in fall

It’s the same thing every year. People use the cold and wet weather as an excuse to fall into a kind of ‘exercise hibernation’. When in fact it is the best time to stick with it. True to the motto ‘champions are made in winter!’ If you want to get off to a flying start in spring and summer, you have to lay the foundation in winter,” explains running expert Sascha Wingenfeld. Plus, you can get your body in shape for winter by running and strengthen your immune system. But there are a few things to keep in mind for making winter an ideal season for your run training.

Avoid a “cold start”: Warm up properly
You can already get your motor running at home with a short warm-up program. This is very important because the low temperatures make your muscles more vulnerable to injury. Ideally, your warm-up before running should get both your heart and muscles pumping. Try a mix of simple exercises (for instance, jumping jacks, mountain climbers and skipping in place) and short stretching exercises for the major muscle groups. Five to ten minutes is more than enough to get you ready and prevent a “cold start”.

Important as ever: Fluids, fluids, fluids
Even though you feel less thirsty in winter, your body still loses liquid when you run. Plus, the dry, warm air inside tends to lead to increased dehydration. Especially for longer runs, you should make sure to drink a steady supply of liquids, just like in summer. After your workout, try drinking a cup of warm tea or warm juice.

Choose a slow pace
The winter is a good time for building basic endurance. Steady, easy runs are good for working on stamina. But remember that in winter, your body’s primary concern is not your workout, but keeping your muscles, and more importantly, your hands, feet and head warm. Thus, it has to work twice as hard as usual. Any additional, intense training stimulus in the cold might place too much strain on your body and your immune system and fail to achieve the desired effect.

You burn more calories in the cold
Be careful! In winter, we don’t need more fat in our diet than any other time of the year. “Stick to your normal diet in winter, too. It’s true that your body needs about two percent more energy in cold temperatures to keep you warm. But it can make up for this increased demand on its own – for instance, one night when you are a little hungrier than usual,” advises Sascha.

Don’t mess with your breathing
People often hear that they should breathe through their nose when it’s cold outside. This is supposed to warm the air you breathe and reduce the stress on your lungs and bronchial tubes. This change, however, is difficult for most runners. Many experience side stitches or shortness of breath, which of course we want to avoid. The expert recommends the following: “In extremely cold temperatures, try keeping the intensity of your workouts low. This way, even shallow breathing is enough to supply your body with oxygen. Plus, a scarf over your nose and mouth can often help warm up the air you breathe a little.” But if you suffer from asthma or a heart condition, be very careful and on extremely cold days, hit the gym for your stamina training.

The right gear counts
Make sure to wear a cap, gloves and thick socks. Most of your body heat is lost through your head. The extremities, which are farthest away from the heart, get colder faster. To protect these, wear specially designed gloves or caps made of functional fabric. This breathable fabric absorbs the moisture, so your hands and head stay warm and dry.

running in winter

The “onion strategy” is a tried and true method for dealing with the cold. The idea is to wear several different layers on top of each other. First, put on a functional shirt, then a long sleeve T-shirt, and finally a windproof running jacket. If you get too warm, you can always take off a layer. And if it is really cold, you can add a layer. Generally, you are dressed properly if the first few meters feel a bit chilly. As your body starts to warm up from running, you will soon reach the ideal body temperature.

Extreme conditions and temperatures
You need to be careful when the mercury drops to -15°C. At this temperature, your body is already under great strain. Avoid high intensity or interval workouts to keep from pushing your body too hard. When you go running in winter, it often feels colder than it actually is. “The penetrating wind and your sweaty clothes can remove the layer of warm air against your skin, thus lowering your body temperature. This effect is known as the ‘wind chill factor’ and it can make the actual temperature seem up to 5°C colder,” explains Sascha Wingenfeld.

Sascha’s bottom line:
“Running in winter is not exactly the same as running in summer. But continuing to train in the ice, snow and cold can help you improve your performance. If you hang tough, you can really get off to a head start in spring. That alone should be motivation enough to stick with it!”


Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld