Winter Workout Warm Ups: How To Avoid an Injury in the Cold

Winter Workout Warm Ups: How To Avoid an Injury in the Cold
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It’s bloody cold out. And if you’re committing to your training routine throughout the icy months, that’s commendable. It’s no easy feat trading slippers for sneakers when it’s freezing outside.

Uncomfortable though it may be, it is important to keep your body moving all year long (in whichever way works for you). Not only for your physical health but mental wellbeing also. If you’re looking at bringing your exercise routine through to the winter months, however, it’s worth taking a second to consider that winter workouts don’t work quite the same way as summer sessions do.

As Better Health Victoria writes on its website, “exercising in cold weather places extra demands on the body”.

If your body is cold, your “muscles and connective tissue have less elasticity and are therefore more prone to injury,” the government information site shared.

It may sound fairly obvious, but cooler conditions do put you at a higher risk of injury because of that temporary reduction in flexibility. Brisbane physiotherapist and podiatrist Doug James spoke to the ABC on this topic a little while back and shared that a failure to warm up correctly is another key issue here.

“In cooler weather, and particularly if you haven’t warmed up sufficiently, muscles and tendons may sustain damage from tearing caused by a lack of extensibility,” he told the outlet.

The Australian Institute of Sport suggests about a 5 to 10-minute warm-up normally but recommends increasing that time frame in colder weather. The goal, the AIS says is to: “prepare the body and mind for the activity; increase the body’s core temperature; increase heart rate and increase breathing rate”.

What kind of warm-up works best?

According to the Australian Institute of Fitness, this can be as simple as gently working through the exercises you plan on practising through the workout. Just reduce the speed, remove the load or limit the frequency as your body gets used to the movements.

Other options they suggest on the AIF website include skipping, rotating lunges or even getting a pre-workout massage.

What are some common injuries people experience?

I chatted with Vicki Smart, Facilitator of Injury Management and Therapeutics Teacher Training at BodyMindLife over email about this and she shared that while the type of injury does vary depending on the type of training and your body, there are some regulars.

“In weight lifting environments it can often be rotator cuff issues and broader shoulder injuries. With runners and cyclists usually more often calf strains, ankle sprains and IT band issues, and with HIIT, knees and lower backs tend to bear the brunt,” she explained.

There’s also your training history to consider, Smart shared. Some cases see folks cause damage because of the way they move, or because of “repetitive strain, over-demand, or just going too fast into a certain movement”.

“Paying attention to how your body feels each time is critical for all levels of athletes and movers.”

How to tell if you need to reassess your training program

This rule is consistent irrespective of season, but obviously, we want to take extra caution in the months where our muscles are colder, yeah?

Smart shared that if you’ve taken a break or are feeling a little rusty, “make sure you check in with your trainer or teacher” first.

In the case that something feels wrong or painful for you, Smart said:

“Pain is a complex thing, but on a base level, it’s trying to tell us something isn’t right. Don’t ignore it, and try and stay away from Dr Google! Think of it this way: when you know what something is, you can start doing something about it. Effectively, your path of recovery begins once you receive a clear diagnosis. Until then, you’re operating on assumption.”

Once you have some guidance from a physio or other registered health professional, Smart highlighted breathwork as an additional means of attempting to manage pain.

She suggested the below as a general guide:

  • You can do this seated or lying down (if you’re working with back pain lying down with some cushions under your knees or sitting against the wall or in a chair may help).
  • Half or fully close your eyes and start to breathe into your belly.
  • Focus on the expansion of your body on the inhalation, and the emptying out on the exhale.
  • Notice the area that is in pain or injured and sense the level of sensation. As you feel ready you can start to count a four-count inhalation and a six-count exhalation. Think of it like a metronomic count, even and steady.
  • Try and do this for 3 to 5 minutes. Take your focus back to the part of your body that’s in pain and notice if there has been any shift.

This may or may not work for you, but it’s something that you can try alongside the advice of your medical professional. Just be sure not to attempt anything without speaking with your physio or doctor first.

Want more warm-up tips? Check out this piece we did on the importance of stretching during your workout.

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