Tips and tricks for running in winter

Using wearables and common sense to stay fit and healthy in the cold months
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'Tis the season where the temperature gets colder, the nights draw in earlier and getting out and staying fit becomes all the more challenging.

You step outside, sniff the cold air, shake your head sadly and go back inside for six weeks. In your case, six weeks of Netflix and copious snacking.

Essential reading: Top GPS running watches

Depending on where you live, winter running workouts range from mildly uncomfortable to a war against ice, rain and snow, where the threat of breaking a leg or catching a cold is a legitimate concern. But once you start taking days off for bad weather, you'll rapidly lose any chance of maintaining a consistent workout routine.

Learning from running blogs, local New Yorkers' advice and our own mistakes, here's our tips to stay out running when it gets really chilly outside.

Cover up; don't bundle up

Tips and tricks for running in winter

Cold weather running is a precarious balancing act. Dress too warmly, and you will sweat no matter how cold it is. Unless you keep your runs short and immediately heat up after every workout, your workouts will eventually compromise your immune system. You need dry, long-distance runs to meet your workout goals.

Essential reading: The benefits of smart clothing

Focus on covering your entire body thoroughly - think beanies and gloves, or even vaseline on exposed skin to trap escaping heat - but wear no more than one or two light layers. For your inner layer, look for light, moisture wicking shirts and fitted shorts that should work just as well for sweaty summer runs. Design your outer layer to shut out wind chill first and foremost; leave your warm sweaters in the closet.

If your smartwatch and long-sleeved outfits aren't a great fit, there are some winter-appropriate wearable options to try. Consider smart clothing like Hexoskin's Arctic kit and Athos's Upper Body package that reduce sweat and give comprehensive biometric measurements. For your second layer, the NuDown jacket line tackles the sweat problem with a built-in air pump, which you can use to adjust its insulation as your workout progresses to stay cool.

Wear appropriate shoes

Tips and tricks for running in winter

Depending on where you live, your winters may be categorised by slick rainy surfaces, ice and slush, or even deep snow. Customising shoes and socks with the proper traction and support for your environment is the first line of defence against injury.

Above all, look for waterproof shoes with plenty of ankle support. For consistently rainy environments, forego lighter racing shoes in favour of heavier, more cushioned trainer and trail shoes.

Read this: Best Bluetooth headphones for running

Depending on how often your neighbourhood attracts snow, your best option could be adding chains or anti-slip soles to your shoes, preferably those that work as well on slippery pavement as on ice. Digitsole produces heated athletic shoes and soles with smart sensors that track your workouts, which sounds promising but could potentially lead to undesirable sweat.

As for socks, moisture wicking and cushioning is much more important than warmth. Sweaty feet will swiftly lead to blisters, so don't wear your thick woolen Christmas socks on a run. Blistering and bruising is especially common in winter, because you may not feel any pain in your toes until you exacerbate the problem.

Don't be numb to your body's needs
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Sometimes cold weather runs can feel amazing. You don't feel sweaty, you push harder because you don't feel sore, you don't get as thirsty, and you generally feel less tired at the end of it. While this is certainly a perk that can help motivate you to work out, remember that your Narnia-esque wintry surroundings are only making you feel magically strong.

Your body is sweating and tearing through energy at the same rate as normal; you are simply numbed to the pain and discomfort you'd normally feel, and this blissful ignorance can be dangerous. Keep yourself fuelled, hydrated, limber, and warm immediately after a run, even if it doesn't feel necessary. There are wearables being developed to monitor dehydration for you, but those won't be landing until next year. For now, rely on common sense.

Focus on pace and distance, not heart rate

Tips and tricks for running in winter

Whether you use a smartwatch with built-in HRM or a chest strap to track your workouts, keep in mind that during the winter, your heart itself may not accurately gauge how hard you're pushing yourself.

Essential Reads: Best heart rate monitor and HRM watches

As temperatures drop, your heart rate may rise slightly higher to pump blood to your extremities, but your oxygen requirements will increase exponentially faster. That means your smart devices will underestimate just how hard you drove yourself during a workout. If you train by heart rate, you could end up harming yourself by trying to maintain your usual numbers. Focus instead on hitting your target mileage at a reasonable pace, and use your monitor to make sure you aren't pushing yourself too hard.

Boring treadmill runs aren't worth it

Tips and tricks for running in winter

Gym memberships are a necessity during the winter months, but that doesn't change the fact that running on treadmills can't provide the same benefits as a typical run. The gym's unchanging surroundings and lack of stimuli actually keep your heart rate sedate and mind unfocused. The treadmill belt pushes you backward instead of your stride pulling you forward, while the rigid pace and flat elevation only strengthen one limited portion of your leg muscles.

Read this: Best wearables for treadmill training

Don't let gym visits become dull and repetitive, or your motivation and fitness will suffer. Use smartphone apps like Run, Zombies! or PaceDJ to keep your blood pumping and mind distracted from the mileage counter in front of you. There's also some great wearables that aim to make more of those indoor running sessions like the Lumo Run and LifeBEAM's Vi sports headphones. Try to alternate speeds and incline at consistent intervals throughout your run, and throw in side shuffles, high knees, or butt kicks to diversify your muscle growth. And use lower-body wearables like Sensoria smart socks or a stride sensor, which the likes of Suunto, Garmin and Polar all offer to ensure you stay uniform over time.

Plan for bad weather

Tips and tricks for running in winter

Sometimes snowstorms, slippery conditions, or sheer laziness will keep you from leaving your apartment, and no amount of outdoor preparation will let you go running.

Track weather forecasts a few days in advance so that necessary stay-at-home days don't disrupt your routine. Schedule tough workouts or interval training ahead of storms, then use subsequent home workouts for recovery or strength training.

Essential Reads: Best gym trackers and wearables

Try Wahoo Tickr X's 7 Minute Workout App or the pre-loaded workout routines on the Fitbit Ionic or Blaze to engage your core in lieu of weight training.

For recovery workouts and injury prevention, yoga is a great at-home remedy to consider all year-round. There are easy workouts available online that will keep you limber and help sore or injured muscles to recover, as well as draw attention to improving your breathing.

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After years of freelance writing for several major tech blogs like Techradar, Wareable, and Digital Trends, I am now Senior Editor at Android Central, a Mobile Nations blog dedicated to the Android ecosystem. 

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