Running in the winter can be a great deal of fun and can give you the opportunity to maintain or improve the fitness you have gained over the summer and fall months. Running outside in difficult conditions can be good training in mental fortitude and discipline, however you need to pay more attention to your surroundings in order to avoid injury. Here are some recommendations of how to run safely in the winter months:

 

INJURY PREVENTION

  • Good shoes: Buy good winter running shoes as advised by a specialty running store.  Cold weather decreases a shoe’s shock absorption, so look for a pair with EVA foam cushioning and/or purchase cushioning inserts. Replace running shoes every 300-400 miles and consider investing in running tracks that adhere to the bottom of your shoe to help with traction.
  • Indoor Warm-ups: To avoid injury, warm-ups are still essential even in cold weather. Most people want to get out and start running immediately to warm up their body, but it’s important to dynamically stretch and warm up indoors,if possible, prior to heading into the cold. Read on for our recommendations on warm-up exercises that will prepare your body for your run.
  • Dress in Layers: Wear inner moisture wicking, middle insulating, and outer wind/water resistant layers.  Dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than the true temperature. We have some great suggestions below.
  • Time of Day/Reflective Gear: Run in the daylight and/or use reflective gear. Cold-weather means darker days for longer periods of time so ensure you are seen by passersby.
  • Stable Footing: Run on the street (but stay safe from traffic) and sidewalks that are plowed and free of ice or slippery snow. Keep cadence high (at least 170-180 steps/minute) and feet close to the ground to reduce risk of slipping. Also, slow pace and plan on outdoor runs being more base miles than critical workouts.
  • Outsmart the Wind: Start your run into the wind and finish with it at your back. You can also try running 10 minutes into the wind and 5 minutes with the wind at your back. Repeat as many times as desired.
  • Hydration and Recovery: Even though it is cold, you will still lose water weight and should hydrate. A good rule of thumb is to carry fluids if running >45 minutes, plus addition of electrolytes if running >75-90 minutes. Make sure you build in adequate recovery time after workouts and take in good protein, carbohydrate, and adequate hydration to encourage healing.
  • Get Out of Wet Clothes: Change out of sweaty clothes post-run as soon as possible. Your core body temperature drops significantly when you stop running, so changing quickly will help avoid any post run chills. Wear sweat-wicking clothing that pull the sweat away from your body while sweating.
  • Cross Training/Strengthening: Work on balance and proprioception to improve ankle stability to help with footing on uneven terrain. In addition, focus on strengthening of the core and gluteals in standing functional positions.  

 

WINTER CLOTHING

Winter running can be somewhat challenging to dress for and it is important to be prepared.  The general rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer and to be prepared for a sudden change in the elements. Specifically, consider running loops instead of out-and-backs so if you get tired, slip on the ice, or get wet you can quickly get inside. Cover exposed areas such as lips and ears with lip balm and Body Glide to help avoid frostbite. Also, bring a cell phone with you and wear sunscreen. Here are some guidelines for how to dress:

  • 30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Highly breathable base layer + vented windbreaker or vest, tights.
  • 10-20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. Jacket over base layer, wind pants over tights
  • 0-10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms.  Two tops and jacket.
  • -10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens/gloves, neck warmer or a balaclava.
  • -20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of gloves, sunglasses, etc.  Consider staying inside, especially if wind chill is below -20 degrees.

 

RUNNING WARM UP TECHNIQUES

Dynamic stretching increases range of motion, improves blood flow, lubricates joints, and warms the muscles prior to running. Static stretching prior to running is not recommended but should be done thereafter in warm temperatures. Pre-run warm-ups should be performed for 5-10 minutes prior to running in cooler temperatures. Here are some recommendations:

  • Standing Knee Hugs: Lift leg up, hold briefly with core tight, then pull/pull into chest x5 each leg
  • Table Tops: Pull foot/knee up toward horizontal, and do a pull/pull stretch x5 each leg
  • Standing Frankensteins: Lift straight leg up with reaching toward it with opposite arm x10 each side
  • Standing Glute Kickback: Standing up tall, raise leg up to 90/90, then bring leg back and lean forward at hips x5 each leg
  • Quad Pulls: Standing tall, keep thighs even and pull heel toward buttock. Do a  pull/pull dynamic stretch x5 reps each side.
  • Forward Lunges: Hold deep lunge position for 2-3 seconds x10 each side.
  • Front and side leg swings: Swing leg front/back and side to side x10 each side.
  • Hip Rotations: Do high march and then rotate leg out to side, keeping hips facing straight ahead. Do 10 reps each side.