Should You Spend More Time Warming Up During Fall and Winter?

What’s your warm-up look like? Any weathered strength athlete, or coach will push the importance of a quality warm-up. This is the strategic bout of time that a lifter takes prior to their programmed workout to prime the body in the most effective way possible.

Warm-ups come in all shapes and forms, and what we thought about them years ago has changed in recent years, aka the ol’ stretch-before-we-move logic. In addition to their multiple shapes and forms, no two warm-ups typically look the same. A warm-up is often catered toward the athlete, and the activity they’re choosing to partake in.

The word warm-up itself insinuates exactly what it means, aka to create warmth in the body. And as we move into fall and winter it’s getting progressively colder outside, which means colder body temperatures and climates. But does this impact the amount of time we should spend warming-up?

Normal Body Temperatures

Before diving into the question, let’s look at what’s normal for body temperature and exercise. The average body temperature sits around 98.6%, but varies slightly per different individuals. In addition, this temperature varies slightly as we exercise, and can further shift due to the intensity of exercise, our sweat loss rate, and external factors (clothes, environment, etc), but often these cause minimal shifts.

Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and hypothermia can also shift our body’s temperature to a larger extent. Severe impairment of our bodily functions occur around core body temperatures of 104+ degrees, and -95 degrees.

[Check out how these five elite strength athletes warm-up for deadlifts.]

How Does Our Body Respond to Cold?

As the temperature decreases our body does some pretty useful stuff to keep us warm. The body’s main goal in colder climates is to keep the body from losing substantial amounts of heat at internal levels. In the efforts of doing so, the body performs a few useful tricks. First, our body constricts peripheral blood vessels to reduce heat loss from the core to skin. This is what causes our superficial veins to disappear, or appear smaller in colder climates.

Second, our body goes through something called countercurrent heat exchange. In short, this is our body’s process of directing, or “short circuiting” blood flow to and from our limbs back to our core and arteries. During this process, the blood from the deeper arteries gives off heat to blood returning to the core from the limbs before it gets circuited back to the limbs.

This shorter circuit then allows blood to only lose minimal heat at the superficial level, which will help provide the arteries and core with the maintenance of its homeostatic temperature. Basically, our body creates a shorter circuit for blood flow and heat exchange from the arteries and veins to the the superficial areas on our body.

Benefits of a Great Warm-Up

With a strategic warm-up comes multiple benefits. Warm-ups should be tailored to a specific athlete, their activity, and individual needs. Below are a few of the major reasons a warm-up can be so beneficial.

  • Increased Body and Muscle Temperature
  • Improved Blood Flow
  • Increased Blood Temperature
  • Potential Improved Range of Motion
  • Enhanced Neuromuscular Activity
  • Enhanced Mental Preparation

So Do We Need to Warm-Up Longer In Colder Months?

In short, and the simple answer is yes. The whole goal of the warm-up is to “warm” the body and prime it’s physiological systems for exercise. This being said, if your body temperature is colder than normal from colder climates, then you’ll want to spend a little extra time in your warm-up. This time will vary depending on your setting, activity, and time frame.

If you’re now in question of how long specifically, then there are a few questions and guidelines you can consider. But remember, at the end of the day, it’s going to be dependent on your needs and activity.

1. Are You Acclimatized?

Acclimatization involves our body’s ability to adjust to certain climates. In cold specifically, our body will adapt with how it insulates itself and regulates its heat. It takes roughly 10-days for the body to acclimatize to cold weather, so if you’re under the ten day mark, then it should go without saying that your warm-up should be longer than normal.

2. Are You Warming-Up Outside?

If yes, then spend extra time on the warm-up and progress a little slower than you normally would. There’s no perfect amount of time, but with colder temperatures, comes a longer time frame to heat the body up to ideal, or normal exercise temperatures. Acclimatization can play a role in this factor as well.

3. Consider What You’re Wearing

What you’re wearing can also play a role in your warm-up time. Layers are beneficial for keeping your body heat in and heating up quicker, while dressing lightly may require a longer warm-up to heat up.

  • Dress in layers: Layers allow you to adjust to temperatures, and too many layers can lead to excessive heat loss due to sweating.
  • Avoid cotton: Aim to use a synthetic material to wick away sweat, as opposed to holding it in.

4. Exercise Intensity

How hard will you be exercising, and for how long? These factors can have an impact on how long you should warm-up beforehand. For example, if you plan on doing an intense bout of exercise, then you should spend more time warming-up to generate heat in the muscles before working them in a cold climate.

Wrapping Up

It may seem like common sense to warm-up longer in colder months and weather, but it’s an important topic to reiterate. A warm-up can lead to success in a workout, and without the consideration of prepping the body properly, then an athlete may be setting themselves up for failure.

When it comes to exercising in the cold, it’s always wise to spend extra time on gradually progressing into activity, as the body will require a longer period of time to properly warm itself up.

Feature image from @lisahaefnerphoto Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.