Mountaineering Training | Training In Cold Temperatures

Posted by: | January 06, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Another wide ranging cold front is dropping across the U.S. this weekend, drawing down Arctic air and threatening to plunge temperatures below zero from coast to coast.  Seriously cold wintertime temps aren’t abnormal for many athletes in more northern climes, and most grit their teeth, throw on a couple more layers, and continue with their training.  Training goes on and we make the most of the weather, but treat these cold snaps with respect.  Several studies, by the Norwegian and Swedish national athletic programs, as well as the US Olympic committee, have shown that strenuous endurance training in cold, dry conditions can lead to lung and bronchial irritation and inflammation, and that prolonged training in these conditions increases the incidence of asthma and bronchospasms. 

After the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, the US Olympic committee found that over 25% of the American team suffered from bronchospasms (uncontrollable spasms of the bronchi), and that of cross country skiers (athletes making long and exerted efforts in snowy and cold conditions), this respiratory problem was present in over half of the individuals.  A similar study of elite level cross country skiers in Sweden and Norway showed repeatedly that over half of these athletes display asthma like symptoms and decreased lung capacity. 

While a few days of training during a cold snap won’t be enough to cause most athletes long term respiratory distress, it could be enough to cause some bronchial irritation and inflammation that could impact training for the next few weeks.  This may be a good time to focus your training week on a few more gym and indoor workouts, and if you do train outside, consider training with a neck gaiter or buff over your mouth, to help warm the air as it enters your lungs.  In chronically cold places, such as Alaska, athletes have developed special masks for training in cold conditions.  Essentially stripped down respirators, they hollow metal grid of the mask retains the heat of each exhaled breath, helping to warm the next breath.

Stay motivated, wear a few more layers, and take care.  If an outdoor workout leaves your lungs and throat feeling raw and irritated, don’t push it.  Do your next few sessions indoors, the irritation heal and subside.  Good luck and happy training!

Read more about the respiratory studies here.

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RMI Climbers on the summit of Antarctica's Vinson Massif (Peter Whittaker).

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