When you head out to work out at night, it's time to stand out

The short days of winter relegate many people to working out in darkness, when cars, criminals and the inability to see what's underfoot present a host of hazards.

Wearing workout gear designed for nighttime exercising can help reduce the risks. But keep in mind that while the market is flush with chic reflective apparel, a strip of shimmery material on an otherwise black ensemble may be too chic to do much good.

"The goal is to be highly visible, not just kind of visible," said Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, an Arlington, Va.-based organization that promotes running clubs and events.

Knaack, who runs after work, said her post-dusk running outfit consists of a bright neon yellow jacket with reflective piping, an orange reflector vest and a flashing light that she clips to the back of her running tights.

"I've got two kids; I'm not going to make myself a victim of a car crash because I'm not seen." Knaack said.

Her concern is well founded. Motorists cannot see as well at night as during the day, so runners can't assume they're on a driver's radar.

Twenty-four percent of pedestrian traffic fatalities in 2010 happened during the prime jogging times of 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 14 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes, the stated cause was that the pedestrian was not visible.

The more neon, reflective material and lights you wear, the better, Knaack said, and make sure you cover both your front and back.

Jim Kaese, editor-in-chief of Athletic-Minded Traveler, a healthy-lifestyle media and publishing company based in San Diego, said it's best to illuminate your moving body parts, perhaps with reflective sports sleeves on your arms or bands around your ankles, as motion catches attention. Similarly, blinking lights draw more attention than static lights.

Kaese, who runs, swims and cycles, works out in the pre-dawn darkness. Sometimes he and friends play speed golf at 4:30 a.m., chasing their golf balls through a pitch-black golf course with the help of headlamps before it officially opens to the public.

Depending on where you're working out, having something to light your way can be as important as illuminating yourself.

Slippery surfaces and changes in terrain can be difficult to detect in the dark, increasing the risk of a spill, said David Watt, executive director of the American Running Association, based in Bethesda, Md.

For runners, it helps to shorten your stride, Watt said. Scan the roadway five to 15 feet ahead of you at all times, as though your own eyes are headlights, he said.

Be seen

From headlamps to flashy footwear, there's plenty of high-visibility gear to keep you illuminated from head to toe for your pre-dawn or post-dusk workouts. Here are some ideas.

Tandem Sport The Runner Self-defense Spray: Fend off attackers with a red pepper spray that straps around your hand for easy access. The spray fires up to 8 to 10 feet, and the effects last up to an hour. $11.99 at roadrunnersports.com

Click here for more equipment.

Some other tips for exercising safely in the dark:

Don't wear headphones.

Run with a buddy.

Take a familiar route.

Run a loop so that you don't travel too far from home.

If you must run on the road, run against traffic so that you are facing oncoming cars.

Cyclists should ride with traffic and mimic cars, with white headlights in front and red lights in back.

Stay on well-traveled, well-lit areas.

Avoid multiuse trails.

aelejalderuiz@tribune.com