Unfortunately that time of year, where the days get shorter and colder, is upon us once again. We all need a little extra motivation to go out each day and remain active when the weather is encouraging us to stay indoors.
Our muscles also find it tougher during the colder months, making us more prone to injury. Our bodies have a range within which they are very comfortable and aim to maintain. In science we call this homeostasis (same state). Too warm and the body will do everything it can to cool you down, whilst if you are too cold your body will equally initiate responses to warm you up. There is a close relationship between muscle temperature and performance in sport and exercise. As the temperature of muscle falls so does performance. One of the reasons for this is that as temperature falls the body constricts blood vessels (vasoconstriction), reducing blood flow to the muscles and sending blood to warmer more essential parts of the body.
“For those of you who are exercising in cold environments; be sure to do everything that you can to support the body’s need to maintain core temperature within quite narrow limits. Whether you are a professional sports person or a weekend warrior, whatever your activity, there are a number of things you might consider such that your training session, walk in the park or ski down a mountainside is supported by modern sciences’ most recent innovations.
Compression is one such innovation available to all and it has very sound efficacy. The improved circulation created by graduated compression will help muscles to warm up more quickly and stay warm and will also help to reduce fatigue. In professional sport, VR Compression has made significant contributions to supporting competition both before, during and after. By this I refer to the use of compression for travel (flights, road etc.), in competition and in recovery, for which there are different types of apparel. I am very pleased to hear that compression garments are available to all and especially medical grade compression that is offered by Compression Advisory.
This has the benefit of being more custom fit, education and support around types of compression for different situations and the highest standards of design and delivery of product that we demand in elite sport.” – Dr. Kunle Odetoyinbo, Consultant in Sports Science and Nutrition.
Skiers are coining onto this and wearing compression to improve their endurance, allowing them to stay on the slopes all day and on their feet all evening without feeling the effects of heavy, painful, tired legs.
Amateur sportspeople who are fitting in training before and after work (and then must compromise their recovery as a result) can also reap extra benefits of compression as part of their routine.
During the winter months, we tend to see a rise in injuries related to a lack of a warm-up before exercise, especially for those who feel cold easily in any season. Cold muscles are usually stiff and tense and are more likely to be sprained or strained during activity. If the muscles are warm and pliable, it improves your flexibility and helps decrease injuries. Before athletic activity, it is good idea to stretch, use a foam roller on tight muscles, wear extra layers while warming up etc. During periods of immobility surrounding training, compression clothing, (once it is correctly fitted and contains a proper compression gradient) is going to be invaluable. Keeping muscles warm and pliable while they work and recover is something every athlete should be aiming for, no matter what their sport or level
Issues can arise from training out in the cold, but equally from exposure to the extra cold before training and during recovery even when training has occurred indoors, in a heated gym for example e.g. being cold during the commute to the gym and not giving your muscles extra time to warm-up before taking on your usual routine or a blast of cold as you cool down from your run and then commute to work. This will cause vasoconstriction as we mentioned earlier which must then be accounted for when timing/planning your warm-up/recovery programme.
If you are undergoing strenuous activities outdoors in the winter, make sure to wear warm clothing or clothing that retains your own body heat to prevent the muscles from cooling down. You should also wear a hat, gloves and scarf to prevent any wind, cold or damp from entering or heat from escaping.
“We have had immensely positive feedback from footballers (and their coaches/physios) who may be on the bench for part of a match and trying to keep muscles warm after warm-up for when they are called up. Warm clothing and hydration are key but compression socks and sleeves that they can keep on throughout and then go out and play in have been a huge advantage.” – Dr Akbar de Medici, Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health
Once your workout is over, or when you take a break in activity, how you cool down is equally as important and how you warmed up. Allow your muscles to cool down slowly before you transition outside into the cold weather/immobility if you’re already outside. Compression is great here as it will keep the blood flowing, even after your activity level and heart rate have slowed down. Again, stretch, foam roll, or jump into a steam room or sauna. If you are feeling exercise soreness, apply more heat to the affected area jump in a hot shower or bath, use Tiger Balm, a hot water bottle and compress with recovery compression garments for 4+ hours, etc.
If you sweat during your workout, make sure to wipe the sweat dry or wear clothes over it since it is easier to catch a chill when you have moisture on your skin. And, when you go outside, make sure to wear clothing that covers the muscles that have been warmed up, including your hat, gloves and scarf.
Common Winter Injuries
Blisters – badly fitting shoes or the friction of wet socks can cause blisters on the toes, feet and heels. With the cold weather comes increased wet weather, whether it’s rain or snow you’re contending with, wear quality socks that will wick away moisture and keep your feet dry throughout your workout. Dry shoes thoroughly after each session – you may even have to get a couple of pairs on rotation to cope with the British weather!
Sprains and strains – muscles and connective tissue function more efficiently when warm, so it makes sense warm up thoroughly before playing your chosen winter sport. Remember to take cold temperatures into account when planning your warm up.
Slips and falls – Autumn leaves, heavy rain, ice and snow can leave you more vulnerable to a fall. Check the tread quality of your shoes to help you grip when the conditions are against you.