Winter weather advisory

'Tis the season to pay more attention to outdoor exercise prep

'Tis the season to pay more attention to outdoor exercise prep

December 23, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

When dark days came, Tina McNulty looked unto her charges and said to them, "Let there be light."

Or else.

As owner/president of Total Fitness Specialists, McNulty is responsible for whipping her students into shape in morning or evening classes that meet three times a week.

Much of the program requires outdoor activity, including runs on busy streets either before sun up or after nightfall.

When her last evening class before a winter hiatus started, she insisted each exerciser use a flashlight during runs to augment reflective material on shoes and vests.

Her motive was twofold. First, the lights could alert evening rush-hour traffic to the presence of runners on the road. Second, and just as important, the group could use the lights to avoid accident-causing bumps in the road.


"Unless car lights are hitting the vest they don't even see you," she says. "So you have to assume they can't see you and run defensively."

Spring, summer or fall exercising is generally easy; throw on shorts and an old T-shirt and hit the road, or park. But when winter weather gets complicated, so does exercise.

What do you wear? How do you approach the elements? Why is it soooo cold? And what about that pesky darkness, which greets you in the morning and encroaches on early evening hours?

Oddly enough, McNulty says, the most common mistake made when preparing for cold weather exercise involves the one thing every mother tells their child before heading out to play.

"Overdressing," she says. "Too much heavy cotton next to their body, too many layers of sweatshirts. It just kind of weighs them down."

Doug Lentz, director of health and fitness for Summit Health in Chambersburg, Pa., remembers growing up in Williamsport, Pa., wearing a lot of sweat-retaining, sponge-like cotton clothing when exercising.

After a while, he'd be carrying the extra weight of a piece of ice formed by chilly conditions freezing sweat to his body.

Like McNulty and other fitness specialists, Lentz promotes the concept of layering, wearing several light, breathable shirts and jackets. Neoprene and other breathable materials don't retain water as much as cotton, creating a more comfortable exercising experience.

Even in rough conditions - when mercury plummets to single digits with equally harsh wind chills - the body warms up as muscles churn to life. Wearing a light outer jacket with a zipper or adjustable vents allow you to unzip and let cooler air in before overheating.

"A lot of people come in with big ol' coats and sweatsuits, and it's just too much," McNulty says. "That's the only layer for some of them and they're freezing."

Lentz commutes to work by bike, and the joy of newer, breathable materials is their ability to bounce back after a sweaty workout.

"They all can dry within a half-hour," he says. "When you get done after a half-hour you're a little wet but you're not soaked."

At the beginning of her six-week courses (year-round morning classes and evening sessions suspended only during winter) McNulty outlines clothing guidelines, emphasizing equipment and reminding runners to be prepared.

Though she emphasizes stretching muscles all year, South Pointe Fitness Club Manager Shelby Patterson says it's even more important to warm up properly in frigid conditions.

Failure to do so can lead to injuries easily derailing any exercise regimen.

"Cold muscles have a limited capacity for stretching," Patterson says. "If you're a runner, you may want to start with a walk or slow jog before you stop and stretch, with more intense activity to follow."

At the beginning and end of each fitness class, McNulty leads an intense round of stretching. She also takes care before venturing outside that each participant is equipped with a reflective vest, or at least is wearing clothing with bright sections to make them easier to see in the dark.

Lentz is weary of black ice, plus he doesn't take for granted that drivers are paying attention for exercisers on the road.

Bottom line? The onus is on the runner/biker/walker to take care.

"There's no question it's much more dangerous on public roads," Lentz says. "You have to run/ride/walk more defensively. Don't take for chance that people are out there and looking for you."

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