If you tend to feel inflexible during the colder months, or experience more aches and pains in your joints, you can counteract the effects the cold weather with a proactive and dynamic approach.
It’s not the cold that stiffens joint structures, though, at least not directly. It’s actually a wider physiological response to the cold and the impact that lower levels of daily activity have on your body.
Restricted blood flow
From a physiological perspective, cold weather reduces peripheral blood flow. That means less blood flows to your limbs and extremities as your body retains more warm blood to circulate around your vital organs.
With less blood flow and blood vessel constriction, soft tissue becomes less elastic and supple. This often gives rise to the achy and stiff feelings we have after time spent sitting or lying down in winter.
The hydration factor
People are often slightly dehydrated in winter as they don’t drink as much water. Without adequate hydration, muscle fibres and fascial tissue don’t function as efficiently, which compromises our movement.
Tighter muscles and fascia can create tension on tendons and joint structures, which can lead to those aches and pains we commonly experience.
Move more and often
The solution to reducing winter-related stiffness and those joint aches and pains is to move more and more often. Basically, don’t sit for extended periods of time without getting up to move.
It is also a good idea to do some stretching and mobility work periodically throughout the day to help move fluids through the muscles and other soft tissues. When these structures become more supple there will be less tension on the joints and connective tissues.
Another option is to perform double exercise sessions, as this is the best way to improve peripheral blood flow. If you’ve just rolled out of a warm bed and are struck by the cold, perform a few simple bodyweight exercises, or a mobility circuit to get the blood flowing and keep warm.
Then, when you train in the afternoon or evening, you’ll benefit again from the movement and mobility that exercise promotes.
READ MORE: 4 moves for a full-body stretch
Light that fire
For all the reasons already stated, it is obviously more important in winter to perform a comprehensive warm-up before any training session. Placing cold and stiff muscles and immobile joint structures under stress can lead to serious injury.
Due to greater peripheral blood flow in summer, we can get away with shorter warm-ups, but winter requires the full spectrum of activities.
A proper warm-up should include some light cardiovascular activity, like walking or cycling, followed by light static stretching and then more intense dynamic work and mobility drills.
Start slow and easy and build up as you get your extremities up to temperature. A general guideline to follow is to double your usual summer warm-up time in winter (that’s assuming you warm up at all in summer, of course). That may mean you have to shorten your active workout somewhat, but it’ll be worth it when you don’t pick up an injury.