Don’t Be in the Dark When You Work Out

By Michael Scholtz, M.A., fitness expert

Daylight and weather can often affect your workout routine. When it’s dark or the weather is nasty, many people choose to take their workouts inside; but you can still have a safe and effective outdoor sweat session (walking, jogging and even riding your bike) as long as you take the proper precautions. Use the tips below to stay warm and safe during your outside workout sessions.

Be smart. The most important thing is to use common sense and steer clear of the busiest, most dangerous roadways. These places are risky in broad daylight and the best weather. This danger is only magnified in the dark and the often slippery conditions of rain and nasty weather.

Dress warmly. You also want to make sure you’re dressed properly for the weather, particularly for rain or cold. For instance, because a large percentage of body heat is lost through the head, you can regulate your body temperature by using different types of head covers. On very cold days, try a full head-to-neck mask, ideally one made of a special wicking material. (These are available at running specialty stores.) When it’s not quite as cold, you can go with a ski cap or even a headband that covers your forehead and ears.

On top, start with a long-sleeve undershirt made of special wicking material. Look for one with no buttons or zippers. The next layer should be a sweatshirt made of a Polarguard-type of material. Your final layer (if needed) should be a wind-resistant shell or jacket. If it’s raining, opt for a water-resistant shell to help keep you dry.

You don’t need as many layers on your lower body because exercise will help keep your legs relatively warm. Jogging or skiing tights are a good choice because they don’t move and won’t irritate your skin. On very cold days, you can cover the tights with pants made of a Polarguard material for extra warmth and protection.

On your feet, avoid socks that are made entirely from cotton, which will get wet and stay wet and cause a bad case of cold feet. Instead, opt for materials that wick moisture away from the skin. They come in a variety of thicknesses and are available at athletic specialty stores. Finally, choose footwear that fits with your activity of choice.

Hit the lights. You can take your visibility up a notch by using a safety light. Look for LED lights, which can either provide a steady light, like a car taillight, or strobe in different patterns. Some are designed to clip to your clothing, while others are specifically made to attach to a bicycle.

Find your way. Reflective clothing and LED lights will make sure you’re seen, but you also want to make sure you can see, too. If you’re working out in an area that’s not well-lit, you may want to consider buying some form of headlight. You can opt for a headlamp that resembles a miner’s helmet or a lamp that attaches to your handlebars. Headlamps are great because they leave your hands free to adjust the light as necessary. For example, if a car is approaching, you can flash the light toward the driver (though you want to be sure not to aim the light directly at the driver’s eyes). If you’re biking, headlights are a great option. If you prefer a more traditional flashlight, a minilight that uses AA batteries is bright enough for most circumstances and yet small enough to be unobtrusive.

Get a grip. You can go for a walk or jog in almost any weather (biking when it’s snowy or icy can be risky). But when there’s ice around, you have to be especially careful. In fact, the safe way to deal with an ice patch is to slow down before you’re on it, just as you would if you were driving a car. If it’s too late and you find yourself on the ice, again, do what you’d do if you were behind the wheel: Don’t turn quickly, don’t try to stop short and don’t gun the engine. Maintain a slow, steady pace until you’ve safely crossed the ice patch. You’ll probably want to avoid inclines or uneven surfaces in slippery conditions. And consider wearing shoes with a great tread, like those that are designed for trail running. If you’re a cyclist, it’s best to avoid going out unless the roads are clear and dry.

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a jog on a cold, clear night. And as long as you get the right gear, you can enjoy your outdoor workouts all winter long.


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