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Maintaining Running Fitness in the Winter

by Dr. Cate Kelly, DPT, guest community blogger Don’t let rainy days discourage you - there are many ways to stay fit (and have fun while doing it!) during these bleak winter months. Cold weather runs may not sound appealing, nor does watching a clock slowly count down the minutes while on the treadmill. This article aims to provide suggestions of how to add variety to your winter workouts, as well as how to use these months wisely and prepare for the increase in running volume once spring arrives.

Keeping up your cardiorespiratory fitness should be a one of your biggest priorities during winter. Aim for at least three times a week, as the body will quickly become deconditioned should you take off too much time. This is especially important if you are planning on completing races in the spring. While running on a treadmill is always a viable option if you hope to avoid running in the cold, there are plenty of cross training activities that increase and maintain endurance as well. One of the best options is swimming. If you don’t have access to a pool, other great sources of cardio include workouts on the bike, elliptical trainer, and row machine. If you are a member of a gym or club, try out group classes like spinning or zumba. During these workouts, the goal should be increasing your heart rate and breaking a sweat. But when there is a rare sunny day, go out for a run! Nothing will help you be a stronger runner than running itself, so take advantage of that sunshine.

Being stuck inside during winter is also a great opportunity to focus on strengthening, which can be easily undervalued by runners. Running can be hard on the body, and it is important for muscles to meet that demand. Pelvic stability is particularly important, as many common running injuries stem from hip weakness. Therefore, most runners should focus on hip and core strengthening. The following are examples of exercises that should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete and only need to be done three times a week:

(photos of exercises not posted immediately below are at the bottom of the post)

Planks: Goal is to strengthen core. Pull abdomen up and in towards spine, and avoid arching in low back. Hold for an extended period of time that allows you to maintain good form. Progress time as able.

Sidelying Hip Abduction

Sidelying Hip Abduction. Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy

Sidelying Hip Abduction: Done in sidelying position.  Keeping top leg straight, kick up and back behind you. You should feel this in the side of your glute. If you feel this in front of hip, be sure to kick leg back further. Complete on both legs.

Single Leg Bridge: Squeeze glutes, and bridge hips up, while keeping one leg kicked out. Repetitions should be slow and controlled, and avoid low back arching. Complete exercise on both sides.

Squats: Squat down as though sitting in a chair behind you. Do not let knees collapse inward, or let knees bend too far in front of you. In the lowest position, knees should be directly over toes.

Single Leg Squats: Squat down on one leg (using opposite hand on furniture for balance). Make sure not to let knee collapse inward, or let opposite hip drop down.

Single leg squat

How to do the Single Leg Squat. Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy

Hip Flexor Stretch (can be done daily): Lean weight onto forward leg, stretch should be felt in front of hip that is kneeling.

Tired of sets and repetitions? Grab a friend and try something new. Activities like yoga, pilates, crossfit, pure barre, martial arts, and rock climbing continue to gain popularity and are excellent ways to work on full body strengthening.

Once spring has arrived, hopefully you will have built up a strong foundation of endurance and strength. This will not only help you prevent injury, but will also make the transition into increasing your running mileage smoother. Staying active during the winter months provides both psychological and physical benefits, and should be an opportunity to explore options and have fun with workouts. Need motivation? Set goals for yourself, or use this time to research different races you’d like to train for throughout the upcoming year. Spring will be here before we know it!

Dr. Cate Kelley is a triathlete and Doctor of Physical Therapy at Stride Strong Physical Therapy. Stride Strong PT is a dedicated running physical therapy clinic, with locations in Sellwood and Cedar Mill.

Photos of exercises mentioned, but not pictured, above:

Plank

The plank! Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy

Double Leg Squat

Double Leg Squat. Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy

Single Leg Bridge

The Single Leg Bridge. Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy

Hip Flexor Stretch

The Hip Flexor Stretch. Credit: Stride Strong Physical Therapy.

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1 Comment on Maintaining Running Fitness in the Winter

  1. I’ve written about this before, but one of the best ways for me to make the treadmill tolerable for long runs is to watch serialized TV shows. I’m fortunate that the gym I use has free wi-fi, which combined with my Kindle Fire and Amazon Prime membership means I have lots of TV to choose from. Right now, I’m hooked on the old FX series “The Shield” (and “Justified” on backup), and in the past, I’ve gone through several seasons of CBS’s game show “Survivor.” The ultimate show for the treadmill, though, is probably “24” — it’s so addictive it’ll have you coming back for more, and it’s like a shot of adrenaline itself.

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