Runners Education: Winter Running
This is another installation in a series of runners education articles written by UW Health Sports Medicine staff.
As fall races like the Madison Marathon, are nearly upon us, it is important to remember that like all sports, running has three seasons – pre-season, in-season and post-season. Your off season training program is the optimal time to restore balance to your body and improve your running performance. Winter in Wisconsin is the perfect time to work on your flexibility and running mechanics as well as your leg and core strength to reach your personal goals next season.
Here are four things to consider when designing your off-season plan:
Research has supported that improving your gluteal and core strength may help to reduce running overuse injuries such as knee and hip pain. In addition to reducing running related injuries, improving your hip strength can improve your running performance. The posterior muscles of the lower body (gluteals, hamstring and calves) are responsible for generating the power that propels you forward while running. The amount of load that you place into the ground is directly related to how fast you propel your bod forward. Optimizing your hip extensors in the off season through functional strength training may help to optimize your running performance. Your core muscles are also essential to optimizing your running mechanics. The core muscles (abdominal strength) help to make you a more stable runner, allowing the body to transfer load more easily from the arm swing to the lower legs for forward momentum.
One of the most overlooked components of a runner's training regimen is plyometric training. Running generates a load to your body that is 3-5 times your body weight. Every time your foot hits the ground, the soft tissues in your lower legs are working to absorb that load. How efficiently the body is able to absorb that load and then turn around and apply force to the ground correlates to your running efficiency. Plyometric training helps to improve the ability of your muscles and joints to absorb the ground's force on your body and has been shown to improve running times in 5K distance races. Adding plyometric training 1-2 times per week is all that is necessary.
Research supports that increasing your stride rate by 5-10 percent above your preferred stride rate can significantly reduce the load the ground places on your body while running. This reduction in load is thought to reduce the number of overuse injuries. There are three ways to work on improving your stride rate:
- Count the number of times your foot hits the ground in 1 minute. Multiply this number (your preferred stride rate) by 5 percent and now focus on increasing the number of times your foot hits the ground to that number. Setting a metronome at the increased rate is an easy way to ensure you have increased your stride rate while running.
- Focus on your foot striking the ground on your mid foot, not your heel. This is the area around the arch of your foot.
- Focus on a slight bend in your knee when your foot initially hits the ground. Research has shown that 20 degrees of knee bend is optimal for reducing the stress of running to your body and knees.
Consistent, low level running will help to maintain your running fitness and performance through the winter. More importantly, it helps to keep the body tolerant to the impact of running and allows time to work on improving your running mechanics. Unfortunately, mother-nature doesn't always provide you with optimal conditions in Wisconsin. Make sure to choose safe routes and wear reflective clothing when running outside in darkness. If snow or ice is present, consider using Yaktrax or something similar to prevent slipping. Lastly, remember to stay hydrated on your longer runs. Hydration is just as important in winter months as it is in the warmer months.
Following the above suggestions will certainly keep your winter training regimen safe, fun and more importantly, prepare you for your best running season once the weather gets warmer. Consider a performance evaluation at the UW Health Sports Rehabilitation Runners Clinic to have your flexibility, strength, and running mechanics assessed. This evaluation can provide you with more specific and individualized recommendations for your off-season training plan.