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Should You Lift Weights in the Cold

Should You Lift Weights in the Cold? How to Train in the Cold

I’m someone that enjoys training at home. I’ve always had some sort of a home gym and even run a dedicated website helping people build their own home gym (check out home gym hideaway here). 

Why do I mention this?

Because you can’t always train in ideal conditions and if you have a home gym, garage gym, outdoor gym, or live in a cold country then you might be wondering – should you lift weights in the cold or is there no benefit to this?

I’ve experienced the sharp pain of picking up a cold barbell and feeling the steel stick to my skin and the lack of a pump you get when training in cold weather.

However, you can easily lift weights in the cold and still get the full benefit. 

Read on and I’ll show you how to effectively lift weights in the cold and why you should do it – even if it doesn’t feel comfortable or motivating at first…

Should You Lift Weights in the Cold?

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that unless you live in the arctic, it’s not going to be too cold to lift weights. 

Humans are adaptive and also resilient.

We can survive in extreme conditions so training in the cold is more of an inconvenience rather than something that is detrimental. Some common sense does need to be factored in though…

If areas are iced over and there are genuine hazards due to extreme cold, it’s probably best to give the session a miss.

For 99% of scenarios though, there are tips and workarounds to successfully train in the cold and in some situations it can even be beneficial.

Training in the heat is actually more difficult. You might feel more comfortable but heat is energy draining and you fatigue much quicker in hot conditions than you do in the cold. 

I won’t get too carried away on “benefits of training in the cold”. If you’ve got a cold garage gym and just want to lift weights then below I’ll cover some of the best methods you can use to lift successfully in the cold. 

How to Lift Weights in the Cold

No one will ever force you to train in the cold and this is often an easy excuse to skip a training session and take the more comfortable option of just watching Netflix in the warmth. 

If you want to get stronger and build a great physique however, then you’ll need to just get on with it and accept your training environment. 

Something I’ll say straightaway is that – like most things – it’s hard at first for the 10 minutes or so but then you get used to it. 

“Get used to it” isn’t really a tip though so below I’ve covered some basics that will help you lift weights in the cold and still get an effective workout. 

1) Warm Up Properly

The most important part of lifting weights or training in the cold is making sure you are warm before doing any sort of lifting

If you are cold and then train in the cold there’s a much higher risk of injury. 

Exercising when cold is not recommended for any sport or form of exercise and warming up should be a priority regardless of the temperature. 

That said, warming up full when lifting in the cold is essential!

There are a few approaches to take here. The first is to be warm before entering the gym (if possible).

Take a hot shower, have the heating on in your car or do something to have a slightly warm baseline before entering the cold. 

Then, go through a warmup routine to raise your body temperature. 

This could be 5-10 minutes on the air bike, a mobility circuit with some bodyweight movements, or any type of cardio that brings your body temperature up and gets the blood circulating around the body. 

It’s not a bad idea to work up a light sweat but that might be difficult depending on how cold the environment is (-10 degrees celsius or colder might not be so easy to work up a sweat). 

Once you’ve done an initial warmup, the key point to staying warm when lifting in the cold is to do more warmup sets for all your lifts

You’ll need to spend more time than usual ensuring your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints are all warmed up fully before lifting in the cold to minimize the risk of injury. 

This is best done by adding a few extra warm up sets for all exercises and also reducing rest periods between sets and exercises. 

If you rest too long then your body will cool down and when the environment is already cold, you can quickly feel the cold again if you don’t stay active. 

You don’t need to do circuits but if your rest periods are 3-5 minutes between sets, this could be an issue.

2) Wear Multiple Layers of Clothing

One of the easiest solutions to training in the cold and the one you’ll see recommended most often is to layer up on clothing. 

You should also go quite extreme in this regard as it’s easier to remove some layers if you are too hot but harder to warm up if you don’t have enough layers. 

Some quick wins would be the following: 

  • Doubling up on socks or wearing thermal skiing socks 
  • Wearing some base thermal layers
  • Wear hoodies, sweatshirts and sweatpants
  • If it doesn’t impact your grip, wear gloves
  • Wear a hat

The key areas to keep warm are the head, feet, and hands.

These are the areas furthest from the heart so get colder quicker because blood flow takes longer to reach these areas. 

The head in particular is probably the most important to keep warm as you lose roughly 10% of your body heat through your head if you’re clothed but don’t have a hat on. 

Therefore, if you look at it in reverse, making sure you have a hat on will contribute 10% to body heat. 

Not directly of course but it’s still not a bad percentage to have work in your favor rather than against you!

3) Use a Muscle Rub

One of the main issues with training in the cold is joint pain. 

The best workouts usually happen when your joints are warm and lubricated. 

When you’re cold, movements feel stiff, certain lifts can be painful on the joints, and you don’t have any sort or rhythm. 

Even when I was training at 16-18 years old, if it was cold I’d feel weight training was taxing on my joints. 

Layering up on clothing will help but a bodybuilder and powerlifting tip for joint pain is to use a heated muscle rub prior to lifting. This external gel or cream will warm up the joints and is good to use in cold environments. 

It’s not a miracle cream though. It’s the weightlifting equivalent of a hot water bottle, a temporary measure to heat a certain area of the body. 

The US has a range of weightlifting specific rubs like Penetrex, if you’re UK or Europe based, you could use Deep Heat just as effectively.

4) Use Weightlifting Chalk

I mentioned earlier that people don’t tend to like using gloves when lifting. 

They make it difficult to grip the bar, can get in the way when doing complex lifts like an Olympic lift, and can be quite uncomfortable for weightlifting. 

An alternative to this is weightlifting chalk.

Weightlifting chalk provides a layer between your hands (skin) and a steel barbell. 

The additional layer of substance can act as a barrier to the cold and while you’ll still feel a cold barbell/dumbbell, chalk will definitely help to take a lot of the *chill* out of holding it. 

5) Heat the Training Area

You’d think this would be my first recommendation but if you’ve got a big garage gym or train outside, it can be very difficult (and expensive) to heat the space. 

Therefore, it’s always best to cover the quick and easy wins first – like we’ve done above. 

When it comes to heating the space, the best solution for most is usually a space heater. 

There are long term options like insulating the space, draught-proofing any gaps, and having an AC unit but for a temporary solution, space heaters will get you through a workout. 

Some are definitely better than others and if you’re training at home in the cold, check out this guide I’ve done on how to heat a garage gym

If you’re in an outdoor space, or a large barn type gym then I don’t think there’s much you can do so cover all the other tips listed above instead. 

6) Heat the Barbell or Dumbbell

Finally, you should heat up your individual pieces of equipment like a barbell or dumbbell. 

This should only apply to something that you’ll be physically holding and anything made of steel should be a priority. 

For this reason, the barbell is the item you’d want to heat up and while there are a few unique ways of doing this, the most popular option people use is to heat the barbell with a hairdryer. 

Yeah, this sounds crazy but some of the strongest and most hardened lifters have resorted to heating a barbell at home with a hairdryer. 

It’s a quick and effective process so if your hands are literally sticking to the bar in cold conditions, pull out the hairdryer for a surprisingly quick resolution. 

Round Up

Lifting weights is something you do to force your body to adapt, to grow, to get stronger. The human body doesn’t like lifting because it’s uncomfortable. 

As people though, we do like lifting. It’s a mental break from everyday life, there’s the challenge of pushing your limits, and it’s good to just be uncomfortable when lifting!

Having said that, it would make sense that it’s fine to live in the cold. 

Obviously don’t train in conditions that are genuinely dangerous but if we’re talking about tolerable cold temperatures then layer up, warm up, and get to work.

It’s not the most relevant to this article but people are often wondering when the best time to lift is or if you should lift in “X” condition. Therefore, check out some of our other topics around lifting scenarios: