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Cold Weather Running

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Cold Weather Running


Love to run but hate the cold? Sub-freezing temperatures require some changes of plan for your regular runs and for racing. Following are some helpful tips for staying safe if it’s cold, damp, and/or windy out. With the right clothing and adequate precautions, even single-digit weather can be comfortable for runners!1

Clothing: Keep most of the body covered. The fabric closest to the skin should be synthetic, sweat-wicking, and fit snugly. The outermost layer should be wind-resistant and waterproof if it’s raining or snowing. Protect your face, head, and extremities by wearing a hat and gloves, and in extreme cold, use a face mask or scarf to cover your neck and face. Lastly, apply a sweat-resistant sport moisturizer and lip balm for extra protection1.

Race day: Stay warm before the race. If it’s really cold, bring a discardable sweatshirt to wear and leave at the start line. If rain is in the forecast, bring a large-size plastic trash bags with you to wear as a throwaway raincoat. After your run, get inside right away; although you’ll feel warm just after finishing, those wet clothes will chill quickly, and so will you1.

Don’t forget to drink. In cold weather, it’s easy—and unsafe—to overlook your fluid needs. Your body is still sweating, so replenish your fluids appropriately. The rule of thumb during exercise is to drink when you feel thirsty and no more than one cup (8 ounces) of fluid every 20 minutes. While racing in the cold, slow down a bit more than usual at drink stations to avoid spilling liquid on your gloves1.

Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite: Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees; symptoms can include confusion and uncontrollable shivering. Frostbite occurs when circulation is restricted in the extremities (fingers, toes, ears, and nose); symptoms can include feeling numb or turning white or blue. Pay attention to your body while you run and watch for these symptoms1.

Most common cold weather injury: Muscle strains! Most specifically the hamstring (muscle behind the thigh) and the calf. This can happen from an inadequate warm up, sudden movement, poor body mechanics, or a forceful contact or loss of traction (like on the ice!). Watch out for the signs and symptoms in the back of the lower or upper leg: pain, swelling/discoloration, stiffness, and weakness1,2.

Treatment: How Physical Therapy can help!

Physical therapy treatments may consist of a variety of approaches. Manual techniques such as joint mobilizations, soft tissue massage, traction, and musculature stretching/strengthening of key muscle groups in the back, hips, legs, and ankles will aide in reducing pain as well as preventing future injury. Exercises, which can be performed in the clinic and at home, will help the patient learn self-management to reduce pain and prevent recurrence of future symptoms. A physical therapist will also be able to provide preventative advice and corrective evaluations of patient’s running or gait pattern to identify abnormal motion before injury occurs. Risk of re-injury can be minimized by utilizing rehabilitation strategies that incorporate neuromuscular control exercises and eccentric strength training, combined with a physical therapists assessment of musculotendon recovery and readiness to return to sport2.

Contact your local physical therapist today to discover more ways that they can improve your quality of life!

The above content is strictly for informational purposes; it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you have any questions, always consult your Physical Therapist or other qualified healthcare provider.

  1. Weiss, S. (2016, January 5). Cold Weather Running Tips. Retrieved from
  2. Heiderscheit, B. C., Sherry, M. A., Silder, A., Chumanov, E. S., & Thelen, D. G. (2010). Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation, and Injury Prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2), 67-81. doi:10.2519/jospt.2010.3047 
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