Because most of our military bases are in the southern United States, one area that can be neglected, especially when preparing for Special Operations training is cold weather training. It is surprising how many young people who enter the military don’t know or understand the basics of cold weather preparation.
First some of the basics; despite most of the selection courses being conducted in the southern United States, it can still get cold and wet down there and everyone should always be prepared for the odd snowstorm, even down south. We had one SFAS class out at Camp Mackall that began with a storm that dropped about 5 inches of snow out there. And it wasn’t much fun for the candidates or the cadre until it melted away.
And in today’s never-ending war in Afghanistan, you will have to deal with very cold weather and snow in the mountains, as well as numerous other areas of the world that you’ll be working in.
Your body’s tolerance to the cold is much more difficult compared to the hot weather. Body heat is lost much faster from heat transfer from the skin, your body, especially your head. The human body has more difficulty maintaining its internal temperature in these conditions.
Generally, the more fit a person is, the easier it is to maintain body heat production in colder weather than unfit couch potatoes. But even in fit troops once heat loss from your body exceeds heat production, your core body temperature will begin to decline.
Once someone’s internal body temperature drops below 95°F, hypothermia can develop, which can result in shivering, confusion, fatigue, and slurred speech. Reductions in internal body temperature can result in abnormal cardiac rhythms and eventually death.
Some of the more common winter or cold-weather injuries such as frostnip, frostbite, and immersion foot are an issue for troops. Frostnip and frostbite occur when skin temperatures fall below 32°F and are most common in exposed skin, but can also occur in clothed hands and feet. Immersion foot occurs when the feet are cold and wet and the troops can’t or haven’t changed into dry socks/boots.
So, what are some of the tricks of the trade for candidates to follow?
Rest and Eat Well Before Working Out
One of the most basic of needs for the body is enough sleep. It is even more important when working in a cold weather environment because your body has to work extra hard just to maintain your core body temperature.
If you’re going to begin a long workout outside, eat a light meal with easily digestible protein and carbs before beginning. Also, keep some light snacks in your pockets to keep your energy and body’s fuel up during the day.
Dress in Layers
Knowing how to dress for the cold and having the proper gear is of paramount importance. Next to your skin wear some tight-fitting compression material that will wick moisture away from your body. After that, your next layer of clothing should be looser fitting. Don’t forget your head and neck area where a lot of body heat is lost. One great piece of equipment is the neck gaiter that the military issues. Keep your head covered with a watch cap or similar type winter hat.
It is imperative that your socks, boots, and gloves always stay as dry as possible. Layer another set of clothing if the weather is severe and warranted. And wear a shell type windbreaker over your clothing to keep your body heat inside and dry.
Once you begin working out and body heats up, some of the layers can be removed to keep from over-heating which can lead to hypothermia if you get and stay wet. We always carried a parka on top of our rucksacks in case we stopped for an extended period of time. It can be put on and taken off quickly and really comes in handy.
Warm Up Well Before Starting
One of the issues we all have to deal with in the cold is that your joints are cold and stiff. And a proper warm-up before beginning not only should involve getting all of your joints moving around but does what it is intended to do…warm up your body and getting your internal heat built up.
Getting the blood flowing to all your extremities is very important and static stretching in the cold isn’t recommended at all. Save that for after you get the blood flowing. Get all your muscle groups going with some full range of motion exercises.
Drink Plenty of Water
This is one area that we harp on all the time in our daily PT Prep workouts and we’ll continue doing that here. Why? Because we’ve all been guilty of neglecting the one area that has to be maintained and that is proper hydration.
When working in the cold, you’ll notice that you won’t be as thirsty as in the hotter environments. But that’s just Mother Nature playing a trick on you. The need for water is just as great in the cold weather as it is in the heat.
Try to keep the water as lukewarm as possible during heavy work in the cold weather environments and continuously drink during the entire day.
And whenever working in the cold, or even in the hotter climates, don’t leave home without your Woobie, the venerable poncho-liner, arguably the greatest invention ever made for the U.S. military. That came in handy and has traveled with me, even today to over 40 countries around the world.
This is just a few basic tips and as you get more experience in the cold, you’ll learn more and more like anything else, it involves trial and error. You’ll learn what works and doesn’t for your own body.
Last week we posted about snowshoeing to keep up your workouts in the snow. Yesterday we had a huge melt as temps went to around 60 degrees. Tonight we’re expecting ice storms, so tomorrow’s workout will be fun…and interesting. So stay prepared for anything and nothing will stop you from attaining your goal.