If you’re used to working out at the health club (or not at all), you probably shiver at the thought of venturing outside for exercise when the temperature dips down in the 20s and 30s.

A runner for the past 20 years, Tom welcomes those winter temperatures. “There is something immensely enjoyable about a winter run,” he said, “Feeling the sweat on the back of your neck as the cold winds swirl around you. It’s as if you have your own built-in heater ... and you do.”

It’s all about having the proper dress, of course. And, contrary to what a couch sitter might think, you don’t need a heavy down jacket or overcoat. The recommended way to stay warm and dry during exercise is to dress in layers that are light weight but protective.

Base Layer

The layer against your skin should keep you dry by wicking sweat away from the body. Cotton is not good for this layer because it absorbs and holds sweat against your skin. There are many good fabrics available, however: polypropylene, silk, polyester, Thermax, Thinsulate and wool. On the label, look for terms such as breathable, dry fit, wicking or Cool Max.

Insulation layer

The middle layer insulates you from the cold. Fleece, a synthetic fabric that dries quickly, is excellent for this. So are down, polyester, wool and newer blends of synthetic and natural fibers.

Outer layer

The outer layer should be designed to protect against wind, rain and snow. If this layer is water proof, it will keep you dry even in a downpour. Since it’s usually snow rather than rain that you’re likely to encounter, though, water resistant clothing, such as nylon, is usually a better choice. Water proof fabrics are not as breathable and make you vulnerable to the buildup of moisture on the inside caused by sweating.

Protecting extremities

About 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head so a good hat is crucial. Gloves, mittens and socks should be made of fabric that breathes and wicks moisture away from the skin while providing protection against rain and snow.

Don’t overdo it

The key is to keep everything light enough and loose enough that you can move freely. Don’t overdo it, or you will get too warm.

It’s all an individual matter, dependent on your metabolism, age, sensitivity to cold and the intensity and duration of your exercise. Athletic teams are advised not to set one standard for the entire team. What’s comfortable for one player may be too warm or not warm enough for a team-mate.

A rule of thumb is to dress for a temperature 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer reading. If you feel comfortable when you step outside, you’re probably overdressed. Your body will start to heat up after the first half mile or so.

Remember that temperatures will be rising fairly quickly during the morning hours but dropping at about the same rate later in the afternoon.

At 50 degrees Fahrenheit, some runners are comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. At 40 to 50 degrees, a long- sleeved shirt and some pants or tights, plus maybe a light sweat shirt, are more comfortable.

When the weather dips down into the 30s, you should add your fleece plus some light gloves and ear warmers. Most individuals need an outer layer only with temperatures in the 20s and lower.

How about wind chill?

You should be cognizant of the wind and how it will affect your workout and your comfort. You’ll be expending extra energy on the first part of your run just trying to stay warm. You don’t want to be moving into a stiff head wind during the last part of your work out when you’re tired and unable to keep up the same pace.


Hypothermia occurs when more heat is being lost than produced, and that rarely occurs in a fit, healthy and appropriately-dressed person.

Studies have shown that exercising in water or rain increases the risk of hypothermia. Persons 60 years of age and older also have a higher than average risk. Patients with asthma or coronary artery disease should talk to their doctors before doing any physical activity in the cold.

One risky scenario occurs when an athlete overworks during the first part of a run and has to complete the course by walking, dramatically lowering heat production.

Generally, the risk of hypothermia and frostbite occurs only when the wind chill factor dips very low — near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The American College of Sports Medicine has declared that, with proper precautions, “exercise can be performed safely in most cold-weather environments without incurring cold-weather injuries.”

Andrew Shaver is an athletic trainer at BAMC, Marinette.