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How to take care of your muscles in cold weather

When working out during the winter months, there are specific things you need to keep in mind to avoid stiffness and pain

Remember to care for your muscles while working out during winter months.
Remember to care for your muscles while working out during winter months. (Istockphoto)

As temperatures drop on the cusp of December, you might feel that your muscles are more sore than usual, your joints achy and stiff, your range of motion limited and even your nerves getting pinched more easily. This is not entirely due to you exerting yourself during workouts, but also the effect of the mostly welcome cooler weather across the country. But if you tend to like cold weather, you better start taking care of your body a bit more.

Changes in temperature directly affects the barometric pressure (air pressure) around us as well and an article published in the Oklahoma Joint Reconstruction Institute says that these changes during winter could increase the aches we feel. “Barometric pressure changes cause expansion and contraction of the ligaments, tendon, and cartilage within the joint and this causes the increase in pain. The viscous joint fluid which is supposed to reduce friction between the bones in the joints becomes thicker in the cold weather and that causes joint stiffness and pain,” it states. Of course, the other issue is feeling lazy in cold weather which leads to greater inactivity and thus to more stiffness.

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Warm-up for longer: It all starts with this. Yes, that chore at the start of workouts that seems needless but is probably the most important part. In winter months, warm-ups need to be done with more intensity and greater care. It’s a good idea to walk or jog before a workout—those are the kinds of activities which increase blood flow throughout the body. You can slowly increase the intensity and move on to mountain climbers, high knees and butt kicks.

Dynamic stretching of certain muscles as part of warm-up: There are certain muscle groups that get tighter than usual during winter. These are the hamstrings, the quadriceps, and the shoulders. Stretching them and doing some mobility work before your workout—whether it’s push, pull, or leg day—is an excellent way to ensure that your body is ready for the exercises you’re going to do. This 7-minute dynamic stretching warm-up routine by Redefining Strength is absolutely perfect before any workout, including most sports as well. 

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Know your pre-existing conditions and injuries: Those with earlier injuries, and rheumatic pain must take special care during winters to make sure their joints and aches are tended to. In case you’re wondering what rheumatic pain is, then a paper in the The National Center for Biotechnology Information is here to help you. Rheumatic pain or discomfort is “usually perceived in the vicinity of one or more joints (including the spine), pain on motion of the affected areas, soreness (to the touch) of the affected regions; stiffness of the affected parts, especially after a period of immobility.” It also includes pain which worsens after vigorous exercise and more importantly, worsening in response to climatic factors. 

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This kind of pain usually responds to heating therapy on the affected areas. This doesn’t mean you can’t workout during cold weather. Just be smart about it: choose a warmer time of the day, or indoor areas that aren’t blasted by air conditioners. And there is no problem with wearing gloves or knee straps to stay warm. Mainly though, stay hydrated, even though you might not feel very thirsty during the winter months.

Focus on tight muscles during cool-down: The fact that it’s colder outside does not mean you can skip cooling down post your workout. In fact, it is important that you stretch and condition them so that the effects of soreness are not worse than usual. These muscles usually tend to be the calves, the arms, and the back. Teagan Dixon’s 5-minute cooldown routine is good as a starter to learn the kinds of moves you need to do post exercising. 

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Keep moving: The last tip is the simplest. Winters are perfect for long naps and lazy sit-ins on the couch in front of the television. For those working, it could also feel very difficult to get up time and again when it’s cold and you’re padded up in layers. But it is important to keep moving so that the joints don’t settle into stiffness. Even short walks around the work area or your home are enough, and will keep your body warm—not only helping your muscles and tendons and bone cartilage—but also your general mood during these months.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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