Fitness and Performance
Why invest in winter running gear?
If you’re a runner who sticks to their running routine come rain, shine, or snow, you’ll know that winter running in the bitter cold requires a new level of mental motivation and athletic perseverance. Wearing the correct running clothes can help mentally and physically prepare you to stride out onto those frosty tracks. It can also help to improve your winter running performance and reduce your risk of injury. Bodyset outdoor enthusiast and senior musculoskeletal physiotherapist, Ben Dale explains why…
Have you noticed that as soon as winter sets in your knees become stiff, or your muscles are slower to recover after a run? Cold weather causes muscles to lose more heat and contract, causing tightness throughout the body. Joints can get tighter, muscles can lose their range of motion and nerves can pinch more easily. In the cold, muscles are forced to work much harder than they are in warmer climates. Wrap up in the right layers to give your muscles a head start!
The 3-layer system
The ‘3-layer system’ consists of a lightweight base layer, versatile mid layer and softshell or waterproof outer layer. A toasty, protective trio to support athletic winter running performance.
The base layer
Worn as the very first layer against your skin, base layers are fast drying, lightweight and close fitting. Base layers are produced using synthetic materials or from an organic source – merino wool. They have great moisture-wicking properties and prevent sweat absorption. Sweat evaporates off the surface of a base layer which helps you regulate body temperature – keeping you warm without overheating. One material that should be avoided when running is cotton. This material doesn’t wick moisture away from the body. Instead it absorbs moisture, impacting your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Reputable brands such as Rab, Montane, Ice Breaker and Mountain Equipment all offer superb base layer options in both synthetic and merino wool form.
The mid layer
With a slightly looser fit, mid layers are designed to trap warm air and transport sweat vapour to the outside of your 3-layer system. The thickness of your mid layer will depend on the weather and how much you personally feel the cold.
The outer layer
An outer layer is essential to withstanding that winter chill factor. Look for windproof and waterproof technology. Useful features on an outer layer include ‘pit zips’ which allow you to unzip the jacket underneath your armpits. So you can dump off excess heat when you’re really pushing yourself!
Layer from head to toe
We don’t have the same concentration of thermoreceptors in our legs as we do in other parts of our body, so they are often less sensitive to the cold. That said, our legs do most of the work for us on our winter runs. Don’t forget to keep them wrapped up and supported with thermal and/or compression leggings.
Most of our bodily heat is lost through our extremities, so if it’s really bitter, a thermal hat and pair of gloves can make your winter run a whole lot more pleasant. Just think, no more warming up frozen fingers in the shower!
How does winter running gear prevent injury and improve performance?
Beyond a cosier run with warmer extremities and fewer droplets of chillingly cold sweat… how does winter running gear actually help to protect our body and improve our running performance?
Wearing compression layers can provide more muscle support, reducing the risk of injury and/or providing support to an existing minor injury. When compressed, more oxygenated blood can get to the muscles. This oxygen then converts the remaining glucose to adenosine triphosphate – the energy that your body needs to complete intense or long runs. Getting more oxygenated blood delivered to the muscles can also aid muscle recovery.
Fighting to conserve heat and maintain its core temperature, your body exerts more energy when it’s cold. Running in the wrong gear or simply not wearing enough layers can result in increased energy expenditure, leaving your body more tired than usual.
Cold weather can cause muscle soreness. As your muscles lose heat and contract – they work much harder than they do in warmer weather. This can result in that stiff seasonal soreness you feel in your legs, glutes and knees when winter kicks in!
Thanks to ventilation zones and quick-drying technology, intelligent winter running gear helps protect your body from the cold and from overhearing. Your body can maintain its optimum temperature for peak performance.
Be prepared for all the British weather has to offer.
At its best, the UK weather is unpredictable. Warm winter sun, dry cold air, bitter winds, freezing rain and even snow. Anything is possible on a winter run in the UK! Make sure you’re all set for a comfortable winter run by checking the forecast and dressing accordingly.