It’s not your mind playing tricks on you: it really does feel harder to exercise in the winter. Warm up well, however, and you can make it feel a whole lot easier.
If your new year’s resolution is to get into running, then we’ve got a tip to make it hurt less: warm up properly. Sure, we know that you’re supposed to warm up before any workout to avoid injury, but new evidence suggests that the warmer your muscles are before running, the better they’ll perform.
That’s according to a major new study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It’s concluded that warm muscles function better: a 1°C increase in muscle temperature can lead to a 5% increase in strength and power. When you’re fighting for your life on a cold, wet 5K, a 5% improvement isn’t to be sniffed at.
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Now, this isn’t the first study to confirm the importance of a proper warm up during the winter. A 2015 study from the University of Cambridge found that colder months, we experience an increase in the expression of the genes that are associated with inflammation. That can mean that our joints and muscles take a little longer to recover from training or make workouts tough for those who already have body aches and pains.
And a 2021 review concluded: “Given muscle temperature and neuromuscular function are linearly related it stands to reason that the maintenance of muscle temperature is paramount to performance in cold environments.”
Benefits of doing a warm up before exercise
The best way to protect yourself during any exercise is by warming up properly – and that’s even more crucial in winter. The purpose of a warm-up is to get oxygenated blood flowing around the body, loosen the joints and activate your muscles. “In the winter, joints get stiffer and our bodies can be more fatigued. A functional stretching routine and increasing the frequency of restorative movement will help your body feel great before, during and after your workouts,” says Nancy Best, founder of Ladies Who Crunch.
Emma Obayuvana, trainer from the Strong Women Training Club, agrees: “Stretching and recovering is important throughout the year, but in winter the warm-up should be slightly longer to make sure that the body is ready for training – especially if you are about to embark on a run.”
Even if you’re doing indoor exercise, prioritise your dynamic stretching – you probably will be a little chilly after that walk to the gym or thanks to the chilly breeze in your home.
Winter warm up ideas: 5 exercises to do before a run
The stretching routine you do should be tailored to the type of workout you’re about to embark on. But for compound training – that is, a workout that is going to work the whole body, such as a full body strength training or a long run – here’s a great way to get every joint and muscle feeling loose and warm. Aim for 15 reps of each exercise, and repeat as many times as you need to get warm.
Start to lubricate the hip joints while activating the glutes with some deep, bodyweight squats.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Push your weight back into your heels and brace your core
- Sit back as if going to sit in an invisible chair – keep your back straight and bend as low down as possible. Keep your chest up and open as you do
- Press into the floor to stand back up
The chest, shoulders and back will benefit from this dynamic movement
- Stand tall and roll your shoulders back and down
- Place one hand on your heart (this will ensure you don’t swing through the chest) and take the other arm forwards and all the way round, keeping it straight
- Make sure the movement only comes from the shoulder joint, rather than swinging the upper body
- Repeat on the other side
Stretch the whole posterior chain with this dynamic exercise
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hinge at your hips to lower your hands to your feet
- Walk the hands forwards into a plank position, engaging your core the whole time so you don’t wave the hips side to side, and keeping your legs straight
- Walk the hands back to the feet and stand up again
Reverse lunge to knee drive
This exercise will activate the glutes and core and stretch through the anterior of the body.
- Start with your feet about shoulder-to-hip-width apart
- Take a big step behind you and lower your back knee down to the floor
- Keep the spine neutral and check that your front knee is tracking just over the midfoot
- Squeezing both glutes, push the floor away with your back foot
- Drive the knee up to your chest and squeeze your core, then lower back down to the floor into a lunge
This is a great way to mobilise the hips. Get as low as possible to fully loosen the joints.
- Stand with your feet wide apart and toes turned out.
- Crouch to your left side by bending your left knee and extending your right leg out straight to the side.
- Lower as far as possible, allowing your left heel to come off the floor is necessary.
- Staying low, move your weight across to the right side by bending your right knee and extending your left leg out straight.
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