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Cold Weather and Exercise

During the winter season, the most obvious environmental issue I have to deal with is cold weather. I used to coach wrestling, an indoor sport that typically takes at room temperature, so training outdoors in the cold has little transfer to match conditions. However, due to lack of space to exercise, the team performs a large number of the conditioning drills in below freezing conditions outside. This is obviously not ideal as working muscles exposed to cold lose their part of their force production capacity, fatigue sooner, hinders fat metabolism, and exposes the athletes to the severe health risks of hypothermia, altered cardiorespiratory function, frostbite, and exercise induced asthma (Kenney, Wilmore, & Costill, 2015). One of my responsibilities as a coach was to help prevent injuries, which include cold-related injuries.

The first step in preventing cold related injuries is common sense risk identification. If there is a risk of a snow storm, condition inside. If it is too cold less than -18°f wind-chill, stay indoors to lessen the odds of hypothermia and frostbite (Castellani, Young, & Ducharme, 2006). Also sensible clothing strategies, focused on layering is employed. The athlete should wear three layers of clothing; the innermost should be made of a moisture wicking material, like polyester or polypropylene, that moves sweat to the outermost layer so it can evaporate, a middle layer made of wool or fleece to provide primary insulation, and an outer layer, like a jacket or sweatshirt, designed to allow moisture transfer to the air, while repelling wind and rain (Castellani et al., 2006).

A key issue with training in the cold weather it is significantly more difficult due to difficulty maintaining thermoregulation because of heat loss, vasoconstriction decreasing blood flow to working muscle, and increased metabolic rate. Time is needed to adjust to the environment. Muller et al. (2011) define daily exposure to cold weather and the physiological adaptations that result from them acclimatization. By increasing the time exercising outdoors, coupled with the natural decrease slow decrease in temperature, athlete’s bodies gradually adjust to the colder conditions by decreasing the rate of glyogenolysis, decreasing ATP turnover rate, increase lactate buffering capacity, therefore increasing total exercise economy (Muller et al.,2011). Acclimatization improves cold weather performance. Athletes should not be rushed into the cold conditions, and should instead be introduced to it slowly so the body can physiologically adapt.

By being sensible with the weather, not taking any unnecessary risks and wearing proper clothing most cold related injuries can be prevented. Also a period of acclimatization should be used so the athlete is able to optimally perform in the colder weather.


Castellani, J. W., Young, A. J., & Ducharme, M. B. (2006). Prevention of cold injuries during exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(11), 2012-2029.

Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J. H., & Costill, D. L. (2015). Physiology of sport and exercise (6th ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

Muller, M. D., Kim, C., Bellar, D. M., Ryan, E. J., Seo, Y., Muller, S. M., & Glickman, E. L. (2011). Effect of cold acclimatization on exercise economy in the cold. European Journal of Applied Physiology,112(2), 795-800.

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