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Benefits of Cold Weather Training

We saw Silvester Stallone do it in Rocky IV – training his ass off in the bitter Moscow cold in order to prepare for the biggest challenge of his career, Ivan Drago.

We then wanted to go outside in the snow, carry a log on our back, and start cutting cords of wood like Mountain Men.

Now, you can say that subjecting yourself to situations like this can make you mentally tougher once it is done, but are there any true benefits to training in cold weather over training in a warm, comfortable gym?

Can running through snow, trudging through near-freezing streams and breathing the sharp single-digit air as the wind burns your face actually give you better training results than having cutting edge equipment, data-processing technology to measure punching force and steroids to boot?

I recently did a bit of research about the benefits of training in the cold

Check out my findings…

Benefits of Cold Temperature Training

Endurance Performance Increases in Cold Weather:

    “US Army researchers recently gathered results of marathons from the past few years. They found that male winners were, on average, only 1.7% slower than the course record when the temperature was between 1-10C, and that times fell dramatically as the temperature got hotter. They concluded that the ideal marathon temperature is a less than 5C. ” (1)

More Fat is Burned During Cold Weather Exercise:

    “Unusually exercising in cold conditions can produce both higher usage of muscle glycogen and also higher rates of fat metabolism…Insulin levels have been shown in some studies to be lower in winter and cold conditions which can also spur on fat breakdown” (2)

Cold Helps Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder:

    “One great way to combat SAD is to get more sun by taking long walks outside in the daylight when the days shorten. In addition to building your aerobic capacity, doing this will also increase your body’s manufacturing of Vitamin D, which helps to maintain strong bones. This option is not always practical through winter rain and snow. ” (3)

Cold Water Bolsters Immune System:

    “Scientists from the Czech Republic immersed witting subjects in cold water for one hour, three times a week and monitored their physiology. They found significant increases in white blood cell counts and several other factors relating to the immune system. This was attributed to the cold water being a mild stressor which activates the immune system and gives it some practice.” (4)

    “…athletes who train regularly in cooler air (or in cold water) are less likely to experience downturns in their immune systems after workouts than those who are exposed to the cold only sporadically” (5)

The Cold Will Make You Happier:

    “The cold will also stimulate your parasympathetic system, which is responsible for rest and repair, and this can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are a vital part of keeping us happy and low levels of them are linked with depression. Couple this effect with the endorphin rush as you take the plunge and it should make for a warm glow and a wide smile when you re-emerge.” (4)

In addition to this research, I also recently decided to give some C.O.L.D. Camp / Rocky IV- style training a try…

For a finisher one day, I set up a two-stage circuit comprised of Kettlebell Snatches followed by Rope Battling.

Circuit Specifics:

  • 1A. Snatches with one hand (10 Reps)
  • 1B. Snatches with other hand (10 Reps)
  • 2A. Rope Battling – Both Arms in Tandem (20 Reps)
  • 2B. Ultimate Warrior Rope Shakes (10 Reps with Right Hand Outside)
  • 2C. Ultimate Warrior Rope Shakes (10 Reps with Left Hand Outside)

For the kettlebell weights, I started out with the 53-lb kettlebell, then went up to the 70-lb and then the 95-lb. For the last set, I dropped back down to the 53-lb KB, but also wore gloves, increasing the grip component.

Conditions on the day of this video:

  • Time was roughly 11:00 AM on Sunday, December 19th
  • The temperature was roughly 30 degrees
  • There was a very light breeze. I would not have described it as a windy day by any means.
  • Physically, I felt outstanding. I had completed a through full body warm-up prior to this test
  • The Kettlebells were extremely cold, as my gym does not stay very warm at all. This in turn caused my hands to feel very cold and crampy during the movement
  • The surface I was working on was gravel, and I was wearing house slippers for shoes.

Here are some things that jumped out at me when doing this.

  • BODY TEMPERATURE: Because I continued moving during breaks and only rested enough time to get a drink of water, chalk my hands, and change kettlebells, my body never got cold. My short rest periods and the thorough warm-up lead me to believe that as long as you stay active in the cold, your performance should not suffer too heavily.
  • THROAT / LUNGS: Although there was only minor wind, my lungs and throat were burning after just the first set. This was on my mind from the start and was one of the biggest challenges. However, I am not sure if it was actually do to the cold air or if it was because I was breathing heavily through my mouth (like an idiot).
  • TRACTION: The slipperiness of the gravel under my feet made force generation very tough for the snatches. I ended up being overly-cautious to prevent a slip, and as a result short-cut my glute involvement on a few of the heavier snatches, causing me to be slightly unstable (dropping the KB at one point) and leaving the bell out in front on a couple of the snatches (causing me to recover forward to finish the snatch).
  • SWEATING: Despite the cold weather, I sweated very heavily during this session. With my head covered and multiple layers on, the sweat just kept running and I felt “good” throughout.

All in all, this was an interesting experiment. My performance was hindered more by the surface of the driveway than by the temperature, that I can say with confidence.

If any of you have tried similar tests, I’d be interested in hearing your results as well.

Until then, here is more cool Rocky IV footage to watch before you train your ass off…

Click the image below to get Free Strength Building Gifts!

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8 Responses to “Benefits of Cold Weather Training”

  1. coach mike Says:

    Alexander Karelin was said to have had a favorite hill near his home. A Russian told me he had seen photo’s of him running this vary steep snow covered hill. I have seen several clips of him running through knee to mid thigh deep snow. That is why all my Kettle bell work is done out side year round!

  2. Chris Says:

    I think that training in cold weather can be good for you in moderate amonnts and in moderate temperature. Right now i train in a shed outside, and it never gets any warmer than 5 F, and this is too cold for me to get a good workout.

  3. Jedd Johnson Says:

    Thanks Mike! Very interesting. Smitty has always said that Karelin was a bad-ass mofo!

  4. Grip Strength Says:

    I hear you there bro. Somedays it is very tough to get warmed up for me in my gym. Hard to imagine 5 F.

  5. Patrik Says:

    As a former runner living in Sweden, running in below 0c is just somthing you had to get used to.
    I always loved to run when it was around 0 to -5 celcius. Felt much stronger and made better time at those degrees.

  6. Darryl Says:

    How cold is cold to get most of the benefits?

  7. Cai - Says:

    This article has been linked by Quake Fitness.

    A link to this article has been published on – Connecting Fitness Blogs.

  8. TOTW: It's Element'ry My Dear: Mud Run Training in the Elements 101 Says:

    […] Preparing for your mud run in the cool winter months will not only make you Rocky-tough, but will give you some measurable benefits as well, including improved endurance, accelerated fat burning, and an overall feeling of well-being. Part of what makes the icy cold water obstacles at mud run events so popular is the exhilarating blood-pumping feeling one gets while hitting the water and the sense of rejuvenation once one is back on high ground. Training regularly in cold weather will condition your immune system against cold and flu-like symptoms. During your mud run, the last thing you want to do is burn out your lungs, so it’s a good idea to get accustomed to a cold-weather breathing pattern, especially if you signed up for a winter event. For more great info on cold weather benefits, check out this article from Diesel Crew. […]

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