Avoiding Cold Weather Injuries
As we move out of winter and into spring, the temperatures should be expected to rise throughout the day. However, the mornings and evenings will still be blessed with wintery chills for the next few weeks at least. Considering two thirds of the UK’s working population still work on a 9-5 Monday-Friday schedule, mornings and evenings are statistically the most likely times that you will carry out your exercise routines. This means that exercising during chilly weather is still likely and the risk of cold weather injuries will be present.
How do we get cold weather injuries?
Low temperatures are one of the primary reasons why our muscles will feel stiff when exercising outside during the winter months. Cold weather can make our muscle tissues feel stiffer due to the reduction in surface blood flow in an attempt to maintain our body’s increasing temperature.
If you aren’t dressed appropriately or fail to warm up/cool down properly, the chance of stiffness or suffering from a cold weather injury will be amplified. Lower back problems and tension related injuries are a common thing in the winter, as people will tense up, shrug their shoulders or wiggle about awkwardly in an attempt to get warm.
For those of you that work, your muscles will usually already be under some kind of stress from the daily activities you are required to carry out. Time spent static on computers and phones will also contribute to the tension you feel in your muscles.
With that in mind, it’s vital that you warm up and cool down properly to avoid damaging your muscles. Postural mobility and activation exercises should be incorporated into your daily routine and/or as part of your warming up and cooling down process.
How to warm up
Following the RAMP protocol (Raise, Activate, Mobilise, Potentiate) will help you to warm up effectively before exercise. This type of exercise can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, with the aim of increasing the temperature of your muscles and your body’s core. A good warm up will also improve joint fluid suppleness, whilst increasing blood flow around your body. Any areas of connective tissue stiffness should be freed up from an effective warm up also.
The first part of your warm up should involve RAISING your heart rate with a low intensity exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming or a gentle bike ride.
Next, you should take care to ACTIVATE your essential muscle groups and MOBILISE relevant joints through a range of different motions that may be required for the exercise ahead. Rehab or pre-activation style exercises, such as overhead squats, walking lunges and calf raises, may be included during this part of the warm up, focusing on dynamic movement patterns, rather than individual muscles.
Finally, the POTENTIATE phase will allow you to focus on improving the effectiveness of performance, such as speed and agility drills for cardiovascular-based exercise or light explosive sets to prepare for resistance training.
How to cool down
An effective cool down should last between 5 and 10 minutes, so not nearly as long as a warm up (but it depends on the activity).
The aim of the cool down process is to help return your body to its natural resting state to help aid recovery. The cool down should help to redistribute blood and metabolic waste products from the muscles and help you wind down from psychological point of view.
Bringing your heart rate down gradually with lower intensity movements (such as walking/jogging/swimming) is a wise idea. There’s little evidence to support whether you should stretch as part of a cool down, though stretching should always be considered as part of an effective pre-workout ritual when you are warm.
If you plan on training outside when it is cold, be sure to warm up and cool down as best as you can to avoid getting cold weather injuries when the temperatures are as low as they have been in the UK recently.