4 Ways Winter Weather Impacts Athletic Performance

  • Jan 16, 2018

Does the weather impact athletic performance? Of course, it does! The weather is just one of many external factors that impact athletes’ abilities to perform. With the Pyeongchang Winter Games rapidly approaching, the question on everyone’s minds is how will the cold effect the athletes?

Sure, all winter games are cold and athletes are used to training in cold weather. However, this year’s Olympics are expected to be the coldest winter games ever. What can our athletes expect? Keep reading to find out.

1. Tight Muscles

One of the most obvious weather impacts on winter athletes is tightness. Winter athletes must take extra precaution while warming up to make sure they do not incur any muscle damage. While even a brief warm up of fewer than 10 minutes has been shown to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, a more comprehensive warm up ensures safety. For example, athletes should start out with some light activities before stretching. That’s because stretching a cold muscle can result in pulling or straining it. Aerobic light warm-ups are key for waking up necessary muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

How do Olympic winter athletes warm up properly? It’s all about continuous movement while they’re on the slopes. Elena High, Snowboarding Half pipe competitor from the U.S., admits that shrugging her shoulders throughout the day helps bring blood flow to her fingers and keeps her arms warm. Continuing to stay warm after you warm up is key – no matter how silly you look while doing it.

2. Cold Weather Can Trigger Asthma

This isn’t a well-known fact among cold weather athletes and spectators, but it’s true. Yes, cold weather can trigger asthma. Exercise-induced asthma is extremely common among people who work out in cold climates. It doesn’t matter if you’re jogging or if you’re an Olympic cross-country skier – Winter sport induced asthma is extremely common.

While any exercise outdoors in any climate can pose an asthma risk to even the most seasoned athletes, it’s the cold, dry area that increases the risk during the winter months. For many people with regular asthma, just stepping outside in frigid temperatures is enough to cause coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.

Luckily, there are ways for winter athletes to fight this issue. Rescue inhalers that deliver bronchodilators, like albuterol, fight symptoms by relaxing the muscles that line the airways in the lungs. Athletes can also take precautions like warming up properly and remembering to breathe through the nose. Wearing the right equipment, like a scarf around your mouth, can help prevent symptoms too.

3. Cold Weather = Easily Dehydrated Athletes

Did you know that the human body is more prone to dehydration in the winter? We know, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Let us explain.

Think about this: Are you thirsty in the cold? The answer is probably not. This is because the cold diminishes the body’s thirst response thanks to our blood vessels constricting when we’re cold. This allows the body to maintain warmth in its center and cut off flow to the extremities (hence the need for shoulder shrugging from Impact #1).

Basically, our bodies fool us into thinking we’re properly hydrated. We feel hydrated but we’re not. Athletes drinking less water, coupled with the fact our bodies aren’t conserving water, inevitably leads to a lot of dehydrated winter athletes.

Athletes are safest when they wear extra clothing, drink more water, and limit the amount of fluid lost. Portable packs with water reserves in them are essential for skiers, snowboarders, and other winter athletes who may not realize just how dehydrated they really are.

4. Cold Weather Can Increase Focus

Not all of the impacts on our list are bad! Believe it or not, cold weather increases the ability to focus. This is because cooling down the body in a hot environment without external help is harder to accomplish than warming it up in a cold environment.

If you’ve ever played or coached a sport, you know just how important focus is during the game. Although they’re freezing, winter athletes definitely have the upper hand when it comes to focus – as long as they’re not focusing on how they can’t feel their feet anymore!

Bone-Chilling Olympic Cold

We hope Olympic Officials have qualified meteorologists on hand to ensure weather safety during the games this year. Without a roof on their stadium, even fans will have a tough time staying warm during the opening ceremony and various events. If you’re going, or want to keep fans warm at your games, here’s a list of tips to help keep warm.

But this issue isn’t just limited to the professionals and fans. Athletes in schools across the country need coaches to protect and prepare them for all types severe weather threats; not just the cold. It all starts with accurate data, alerting, and planning. Learn more about how reliable data and decision-making remains crucial to safety and management professionals across multiple fields.

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