Running on snow – the most important tips

16. November 2017

In winter, three things make it more difficult for endurance athletes to enjoy their hobby: darkness, cold, and snow! 

As the motto goes: the nastier the weather conditions, the greater the effort required to lace up your running shoes. Fortunately, in sports the following also applies: the greater the effort, the more lasting the satisfaction! 

Anyone who has ever run through the forest during the coldest winter weather, left footprints in the crunching, freshly fallen powder snow, marvelled at the trees bowing under the weight of the white splendour, felt a fine tingling on their face, seen how their own breath passes by in wafts of mist, and then stood exhausted and happy under the hot shower, wouldn’t want to miss out on precisely this feeling even though just one hour earlier it cost them a great deal of persuasiveness to get outside.

Few arguments for couch potatoes

If you are more likely to be one of those who would rather hear arguments against winter running training and fear running in winter may be unhealthy or even dangerous, then I’m afraid we have to disappoint you. From a medical point of view, there is no reason to stop doing endurance sports outdoors in winter. The special outdoor conditions, however, require certain precautionary measures. These are the most important points to bear in mind:

  • Choose proper clothing: The rule of thumb is to wear enough, but don’t wrap up too warmly. It’s alright to feel a bit chilly at the beginning, otherwise you will get too warm too quickly due to the intensive running movement. Protecting your core, i.e. chest, abdomen, and lumbar region, is of primary importance. This is where the important organic control centres are located, such as the heart, lungs, internal organs, large arteries and veins. Multi-layered, functional clothing is called for. Functional clothes don’t absorb the moisture, but transport most of it away to the outside where the sweat can evaporate. The best clothing is thermal underwear, long tights, a long-sleeved shirt with collar, and a vest or jacket with wind protection on the front to serve as weather protection. The limbs are particularly sensitive to cooling and freezing, so wear gloves and a hat or headband when it is snowing and sports goggles and sun protection when it is sunny. Tip: cross-country skiing clothing is also ideal for winter running units.

  • Shoes with a good grip: In slippery conditions, running shoes with a good profile are advisable. Otherwise you will slip at every step, which can give cause to discomfort, especially if the muscles are not used to the exertion, you increase the load too quickly, or suddenly switch to doing all your training on snow. In the event of discomfort, either switch to dry ground immediately or choose more suitable shoes. The shoes should provide good stability, because running on the uneven ground in snow challenges the foot muscles (so don’t be surprised if the muscles in your feet or shins ache after your first longer run on snow). Shoes with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex provide enough warmth and, if necessary, water protection (when running on new or wet snow). Anyone doing their entire training programme exclusively on hard snow or icy ground will find shoes with spikes (e.g. Ice Bug) or special "snow chains" (Yaktrax) extremely useful. 





  • Start slowly: Particularly in cold weather, the following applies: only a warm muscle is capable of performing! Muscles, tendons and connective tissue need to be made more flexible through intensive warm-ups. It’s best if you boost your circulatory system and muscles by doing gymnastic exercises inside in the warmth. When you start running, take it slowly and pace yourself.  

  • Preferably long than fast: Longer and not too intensive training units make the most sense. Running at a moderate tempo means your pulse remains low and the inhalation of cold air is kept within limits. When doing a long run, take food and drink with you, if need be, because running in low temperatures requires more energy in the form of carbohydrates.

  • No intervals: You shouldn’t do any high-intensive or interval training units outside in cold weather and/or icy wind, otherwise the respiratory tract can become additionally irritated due to the increased amount of icy air. 

  • No best times: Try not to crack your personal best times in winter. In sports, the climate and ambient temperature play an important role in your performance capability. For each type of sport there is an optimal ambient temperature: for a marathon runner it lies at around 10° to 15°C. Your performance capability is restricted during both hot and cold weather. A study with marathon runners found that their performance level dropped 10 percent at minus 4 degrees compared with that at plus 10 degrees. 

  • Breathe through the nose: Inhaling icy air through the open mouth steadily cools the respiratory tract and makes you susceptible to colds. The bronchial tubes are the most vulnerable. It is therefore more apt to breathe through the nose in cold weather: this ensures a better warming and humidifying of the respiratory air and thereby delays the cooling down of the respiratory tract. Extra care is needed when there is a combination of cold and wind (wind chill), where we subjectively feel the cold to be much worse.

  • If necessary, use a face mask: At very low minus temperatures, it may be appropriate to protect the respiratory tract from drying out by wearing a scarf in front of your mouth. 





  • Drink a lot: The body particularly loses a lot of fluid through respiration in cold conditions. However, a lack of fluids during exercise has a negative impact on your performance capability. The motto is therefore to drink a lot, even if you don’t feel that thirsty. The stomach absorbs lukewarm water the fastest, whereas very cold and hot drinks burden it unnecessarily. For exertions longer than one hour, the drink should contain carbohydrates (a carbohydrate content of around 6-8%, which is normal for sports drinks). For two hours or longer, it also makes sense to add a bit of salt (with foods such as bouillon, salt pretzel or by taking a salt tablet).
  • Avoid cooling down: At the end of the training, your clothing is damp and, combined with the cold and wind, your body cools down quickly. You should therefore replace your wet things with dry clothes immediately after your training has finished and only then go home! And the following also applies: only start stretching once you have showered and changed!

  • Don’t train if you have the flu! If you have a fever, athletic training is an absolute taboo, and not just for one day! Fever is the body's response to an infection and the body needs time to recover. When there is a rise in body temperature, your metabolism becomes activated and biochemical processes are set in motion to be able to fight the infection. In the case of the flu, the infection is all too often not fully cured and the symptoms are treated with antipyretic products instead.

Up to minus 20 degrees – no proble

How long should you train?

When the temperatures are really icy, the training duration should be shortened, especially when a bitter wind is blowing. Anyone suffering from asthma or heart problems should avoid sports when the temperatures are well below freezing because the cold air places a great strain on the heart and lungs. This is how long you should train:

Up to the freezing point: With good clothing, there are no restrictions regarding the training duration.

0 to minus 10: When you do your training in doses, there are no restrictions. Drink a lot when training for long time. Don’t let yourself cool down

Minus 10 to minus 20: Less intensive training – up to a maximum of about one and a half hours. Possibly protect your respiratory tract with a scarf and drink a lot. Protect your limbs, don’t let them cool down

Minus 20 to minus 25: Only train if necessary and the training units should be predominantly shorter, lasting around 30 minutes to a maximum of 1 hour. Make sure your respiratory tract and limbs are well protected

Below minus 25: Give training a break and treat yourself to a hot bath! If you still want to do sports, then it’s best to do them indoors!