Exercising is strenuous on the body, especially if you’re working out properly. Increase heart rate and blood pressure, the release of adrenaline and a whole batch of other hormones, and secondary effects on the human body. That strain is increased even further by the prospect of working out when you’re cold. And yes, it’s winter in the Canadian Prairies and I feel inclined to pick on ‘Ol Man Winter, so please bear with me…
The jury is still out on the concept of your blood thickening during the winter months. With some studies showing that winter climates tend to make our blood thicker and run slower, and some studies stating that there’s no correlation, it make it difficult to know if this is a potential cause. But let’s admit, for the sake of argument, the it always feels a bit tougher to find that “get up and go” when walking into fitness class or gym when it’s cold out.
In karate, it’s a noticeable effect… During the warmer months, people are totally game to come work out and break a sweat. But during the deep, frosty winters of Saskatchewan, the class size drops to a handful who are crazy enough to brave the elements. But besides the issue of disliking the cold and how our blood reacts, the specific aspect I want to talk about today are your muscles.
Muscles are necessary for fitness. D-uh, right? You use them for any fitness workout you may have planned, so they sort of play a key role in what you do. Your muscles are an elastic tissue, and are affected by the changes in temperature. When you spend time outside in the cold, those tissues contract and become stiffer. When you step out into the balmy, tropical weather, tissues expand and relax. This is why most fighters and athletes prefer to train and work in warmer climates.
Last Thursday, the temperature where I am sat at a lovely -37 degrees Celsius. Once the wind factor is included, it was actually in the -40’s. Stepping into karate class, I felt cold, stiff, and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. It felt like it took WAY more effort to stretch and warm up than it rightfully should have. But this is where it becomes all the more important to stretch and warm up properly before getting into a rigorous workout.
As your muscles and joints become tighter, you lose some range of motion. You become more susceptible to muscle sprains and tears and potentially pinched nerves. It WILL take more effort to perform the same exercises as you would in warmer weather. This is why you should start your winter workout with about ten minutes of mild to moderate cardio, such as jump rope, punching bag or shadow boxing (I’ve included the ones I usually do in karate, but there are plenty of options).
So instead of foregoing your workouts in the winter and hibernating, simply take the time to warm properly once you reach your class. It will help to prevent injury and will ensure that you don’t accumulate any of that dreaded “winter fat” from ignoring your fitness! ☯