Like it or not, winter is coming — and for your workouts, that’s a good thing.
Cold-weather workouts are nothing new. Sports like skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey don’t even hit their stride until temperatures start dipping below the freezing mark, and many of the world’s major marathons and other races are scheduled for colder months. So winter is certainly not a reason to start skipping workouts.
Running in sub-freezing temps may be less pleasant than running in breezier fall weather, but you actually stand to reap a major benefit by working out in the cold or switching up your routine to include some winter sports. While research on the subject is varied, experts say you actually burn more calories when you work out in the cold.
The reason why is pretty simple, says New York City-based personal trainer Reggie Chambers. “Your body has to work harder to increase body temperature, thus you burn more calories,” he explains. “The increased body temperature then ups the rate of your metabolism because the body is working harder.”
But whether the increased calorie burn is really enough to make a difference in your waistline is still up for debate. “It largely depends the intensity,” says Chambers. “If you’re sweating while working out in the cold, it will definitely make a difference.”
There is clinical evidence that freezing temps can help you burn more fat. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, contending with the cold can help encourage your body to turn white fat — the kind lurking in trouble spots like your belly and thighs — into brown fat, which helps your body burn calories. When you have more brown fat, you’re more likely to burn extra calories rather than storing them as fat.
If icy winter runs aren’t appealing to you, you can still harness the effects of the calorie-burning cold boost. Chambers suggests cranking up the AC on your indoor workouts. Bonus effect: You have an excuse to wear your light summer workout clothes well into the winter. If you’re working out in a gym or studio where you can’t control the temperature, you can also take advantage of ice baths or icy temps outside — step outside between sets, or use an ice bath to make your body bring your muscles back up to room temperature.
Of course, you can always just embrace the cold weather in your workout routine. Chambers certainly does: “My favorite cold-weather workouts are playing any sport outside or doing sprints with pushups and calisthenics in the park.”
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