Bare trees, snow, ice, and brisk air can only mean one thing it’s time to break out the cold-weather gear and head outside for winter activities. But, while the winter season creates an opportunity for frosty fun, competing and working out in the cold temperatures can leave your muscles, bones, and joints prone to injury.

Snow and slush can cause strains and sprains.

A change in season usually means a change in your regular workout or activity. Unless you have been conditioning your bones and soft tissues, they will be unprepared to handle the stress of the new movements, increasing your risk for strains and sprains.

Cold hands and a warm heart may mean tight muscles.

Even if your body is physically prepared for the stress of the activity, you need to be aware that a drop in temperature causes your muscles and blood vessels to contract. During cold weather, your body redirects its blood supply away from your extremities toward your vital organs. The reduced blood supply decreases the temperature of the muscles in your arms and legs, which makes them less flexible and more susceptible to injury. Tighter muscles will place more stress on your joints and reduce your balance and coordination.

This fact makes winter warmups a necessity.

A good 15- to 20-minute warm-up could be the difference between an enjoyable heart-healthy, muscle-building exercise and an unexpected trip to Walk-In Care.

Winter warm-ups are easy.

A light warm-up will increase the blood flow to your muscles, preparing them for exercise. Warming up effectively will also lubricate your joints. Warmed and limber muscles and joints increase your range of motion and decrease your risk of soft tissue injuries like strains and sprains.

Before heading to the slopes, rink or out in the snow, prepare your body with these simple warm-up exercises:

Take a brisk walk. Seven to 10 minutes of a light aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk, will get your blood moving. Be sure to swing your arms to warm up your upper body as well as your legs. This warm-up exercise is good for any outdoor activity requiring aerobic activity.

Air squats warm up your lower body nicely. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and arms at your side. Slowly lower your glutes (buttocks) toward the ground as you lift your arms in front of you to shoulder level. Warm up your leg muscles especially before participating in activities like skiing and snowshoeing, which require a lot of legwork.

Throughout the exercise, aim to keep your knees in line with your feet. As you squat, keep a neutral spine and lift your chest. It may help to focus on a spot in front of you.

Once your quadriceps (thighs) are level with the floor, reverse the motion and return to a starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Ice skating and cross-country skiing require you to reach forward and push back with your legs. So warming up your inner and outer thighs is a good idea.

Forward, backward, and side lunges will help you glide over ice and snow.
Stand with your shoulders back and your feet shoulder-width apart. As you gaze forward with a neutral spine, take a large step forward, back or to the side. Maintain a straight back while you lower your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.

Take care that your front knee does not extend past your ankle. Your back knee should hover just above the ground. Once you reach an extended position, push through your heel to return to a starting position. Repeat the exercise 3 to 4 times in each direction on each leg.

Don’t forget your upper body. You will use your arms for stability or momentum, even during activities and exercises that rely heavily on legwork.

Forward and backward shoulder circles warm-up your arms, back and shoulders.
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, lift your left shoulder to your ear. In a single continuous motion, rotate your shoulder back, down, and around to start, completing a full circular motion. Repeat the warmup 10 times on the left side, first rotating your shoulders backward and then forward. Repeat the same 10 backward and 10 forward repetitions using your right shoulder.

Arm circles increase the blood flow to the entire arm.
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms out from your sides to create a “T” shape with your upper body. Starting with small movements, begin to make clockwise circles with your arms. As your muscles start to warm up, increase the size of your arm circles until you are using your full range of motion. Complete 15 total reps in a clockwise motion and repeat the exercise in the counterclockwise motion.

If you participate in winter activities consider adding 15 minutes to your schedule for a good stretch to warm up your muscles before hitting the trail, slopes or ice. You may want to consider adding some flexibility stretches to your daily exercise routine as well. Stretching for both warmth and flexibility can prevent injury.

Simple dynamic stretches

Increasing your flexibility both improves your athletic performance and helps your joints move through their full range-of-motion, enabling your muscles to function effectively. Stay limber and decrease your risk of injury with these simple stretches:

Upper-body twist: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms lifted from your sides to form a “T” shape. Breathe in and twist to your right. Breathe out as you twist back to the starting position. Complete the same twisting movement toward your left side. Repeat the stretch for 10 repetitions on each side.

Knee-to-chest stretch: Lying on your back (or standing if you are able), lift your right knee and interlace your hands just below your kneecap. In a controlled motion, pull your knee to your chest, as far as is comfortable. Hold for a second and then release. Repeat on the left leg.

Forward hang: Begin by standing with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring both hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. (If you are unable to hold your hands behind your back, hold onto a small towel.) With your hands clasped, breathe in and lift your chest as you straighten your arms behind your back. Complete the exercise by bending forward at your waist and stretching your hands toward your head. Hold the stretch for a second or
two and then repeat several times.

It’s important to warm-up before stretching your muscles. Stretching is the most effective and safest when your muscles are already warm. Gradually increase the time you spend participating in winter activities and listen to your body.

Winter sports season is here; take precautions, so you don’t spend this season on the couch with an injury.