How to Avoid Muscle Cramps When Hiking in Cold Weather

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As we move into fall and winter and the weather continues to turn cold, it’s likely that some people will just move their fitness routines indoors and stop many outdoor activities. If you enjoy cold weather camping or cold weather outdoor activities in general, there are a few more basic tips you can use to continue enjoying the outdoors even in the coldest conditions. While the cold can lead to muscle cramps and sore, overworked muscles, there are a few precautions you can take to make sure your body is prepared for freezing temperatures.

Why cold weather causes cramps

Unhappy man with injured painful leg sitting on snowy road.

If you’ve had muscle cramps more frequently while working out, spending time outdoors, or running in cold weather, you know winter can take its toll on your body. However, you might not know why. When temperatures drop, muscles lose the heat they produce more quickly. As the muscles lose their heat, they tend to tighten and contract, which also causes the joints to tighten.

Such an impact on the muscles can make them sore for a longer period of time. It’s also worth noting that muscles have to work harder in cold weather to do the same amount of work as they would in hot weather. While you can’t change the weather, luckily there are several practices you can adopt to ensure your body is protected and ready to perform all winter long.

Warm up thoroughly

man stretches before outdoor workout.

One of the best tips for preventing muscle cramps and aches during the winter months is to warm up properly. During the warm or even hot months, when the muscles are already softer, it may be tempting or even practiced regularly for some people to skip their warm-up. However, in cold weather it is much more necessary to give your body the time it needs to warm up before demanding high performance tasks or movements.

To warm up the muscles and keep the blood flowing, there are a number of exercises you can do. Walking at a brisk pace is a good option, as is slow, careful jogging. Stretching and aerobic movements such as punches or easy kicks are also good options.

Finally, be sure to dedicate enough time to your warm-up. Temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit require at least a 10-minute warm-up. For temperatures below 35 degrees, plan to add an additional five minutes to your warm-up for every 10-degree drop in temperature. This means that a 15 minute warm up is required for 25 degree conditions.

Hydrate properly

runner stops to drink water from his travel bottle.

Staying hydrated during physical activity is always important. But staying hydrated during exercises and activities in cold weather is even more important, especially for preventing muscle cramps and pain. Dehydration is a major cause of muscle cramps, so even if it is cold, you should make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after outdoor winter exercise.

Avoid relying on diuretics such as hot coffee and tea which actively dehydrate and stick to plain water. If you really hate drinking cold or room temperature water in winter, you can always heat your water. It’s a simple way to hydrate easily.

Consider adding heat

person walking with ski poles on the ridge of a snowy mountain.

Finally, adding warm compresses or hand warmers to your diapers before you go is another great way to keep your muscles warm. However, this is not a way to jump or avoid a warm up. When applied to your body, the heat helps stimulate blood circulation and relieve tension from sore or tense muscles. This will not only help the existing tendencies to muscle cramps, but will also help prevent more of it.

If wearing a thermal pad isn’t an option, consider adding a warm bath with Epsom salts to your evening routine. The salts and hot water will help relieve any pain or stiffness you might feel while working or exercising in cold weather.

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