A Winter Workout Guide for Runners

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Person running outside in the snow

Even though much of the United States has endured a relatively mild December, we should consider the possibility that winter is on its way. Though cold and snowy weather is exhilarating for some runners, most find it to be an obstacle to their daily workouts. There are rewards for those who stay the course this season though, and we have a few indoor training suggestions that really go the distance from January to April.

Repeat this mantra—the treadmill is a friend, not a foe. Runners are accustomed to being outdoors and using a machine may not feel organic… at first. However, today’s treadmills are unlike their early ancestors. You should experiment with incline and speed, allowing you to work different muscle groups in one workout. Break up a 30 minute workout with a 10 minute warm up, a 20 minute varied workout and 10 minute cool down, gradually slowing the speed.  If you’re concerned about the tedium that comes with running in place, fear not. Most gyms offer state-of-the-art equipment with televisions and adapters for mobile devices. Some even allow the user to pick a remote setting—from a canyon in Southern California to a mountain in Utah to “run” through virtually. That beats the grey, slushy streets of your neighborhood, no? Boredom is no longer an excuse.

Your unofficial “offseason” is a great time to strengthen your core. With a curated selection of exercises, you can improve your form without actually running. Purists may prefer crunches, but side planks and side twists work the oft-forgotten oblique muscles. These small but crucial muscles help support the lower back and improve posture, and who doesn’t need to work on that a bit? Vertical knee raises are one of the most effective exercises at targeting the upper and lower abdominals. Also called the Captain’s Chair exercise, there are no weights or cables involved. Simply suspend your body, resting the elbows and forearms on the pads and raise your legs up slowly to so they are parallel to the ground. You can also modify this by keeping your knees bent and your ankles crossed. All gyms have the equipment to support this exercise and there is seldom a line to use it (a huge bonus).

While you’re working on your abs, now’s the time to address your upper body… but that doesn’t mean you have to start benchpressing. Using a combination of bicep curls, tricep dips, pull-ups and chest press you’ll find great results. Any of these can be done using equipment but free weights are a good way to start and they help improve your balance and posture as well. Just do three to four sets of 10-12 reps each. Concentrate on your form and be careful not to swing the weights, which could increase the pressure on your muscles and adversely affect your joints.

Seeking the best method of interval training? Take the stairs. Stair running is a high-intensity workout that helps to increase overall speed, strength and cardiovascular health. You’ll even find improvements to agility once the spring comes. The best part of this exercise is that it can be done anywhere there is a stairway. Your office building is the obvious choice, but an indoor arena, shopping mall or stadium works too. Start slowly, running at a speed that is comfortable and don’t overdo it in the beginning. (You’ll risk soreness.) When you feel comfortable enough, increase your speed with periods of sprinting. For a greater stride, take more than one step depending on their size. This variety of speed and stride will help you in marathons and triathlons once spring hits.

Low impact exercises are always a smart idea. Runners are susceptible to a host of stresses on their joints and bones and elliptical machines provide the cardiovascular benefits of running, but in a way that is gentler on the body. Plus, you’ll burn calories and increase endurance. Like your treadmill, the elliptical has several speeds and resistance levels that provide diversity. It’s a complete workout too—hitting the lower body and the upper body. We recommend starting with a brisk, five-minute warm-up period and then increasing resistance and incline by one or two levels every two to three minutes thereafter. Experiment with speed and intensity, lowering one and increasing another depending on your exertion level. Though exhausting, an elliptical workout can be sustained a bit longer than some cardio, so 30-40 minutes may actually seem manageable.

If you are one of the unfortunate who take a fall or get an injury during the winter, then contact JAG-ONE Physical Therapy for expert help. Our locations all over New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania make it easy to get back on your feet or improve your physical fitness in no time at all.