GREG LARAIA, ATC.
There is a certain kind of power that comes from running in winter weather. You feel tough when you’re bundling up, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from running in the cold is second to none. But there are risk factors to running in extreme temperatures, and it’s important to protect yourself from the elements on your run.
Even on days when you’re not crushing the cold, how you dress for your run is pretty important. When you’re going out in nicer temperatures, let’s say anything above 45 degrees, you may feel cold initially, but you’ll warm up within the first 5 -10 minutes. In colder weather (40 degrees or below), your body may take longer to warm up, especially on easier running days. When you’re preparing for winter weather, you’ve got to consider how your muscles are reacting to those cooler temperatures.
A cold muscle is more like to pull or strain under stress (running) than one that is warmed up and active. In winter weather, it’s vital to keep your legs covered and your muscles warm. I’m going to assume that you’re doing a warm-up before every run (if not, start). If you’re keeping your muscles warm with an extra layer, they are more likely to stay loose after your warm-up. Think about your reaction to extreme weather. When you take your first few steps outside, what do you do? You clench your muscles as a reaction to the cold. Because of this, your muscles tighten up much faster in colder weather, which can lead to an increased risk of injury.
As a rule of thumb, if it’s below 40 degrees, I’m covering up my legs with a layer of pants or tights, especially on easier running days. If you’re someone who gets cold easily, you may want to bump that up a little. Don’t try to be a hero by braving the elements under-dressed. If you do, you’re risking a muscle strain, not to mention a pretty miserable run. Keep your legs insulated and save the shorts for spring!