Can I say something that might a little controversial?
Winter running isn't just "running in cold temps".
It's an entirely different animal.
Why else would so many of us submit to the "dreadmill" for months at a time when we aaalll know we'd rather by running outside? But something stops us and holds us back.
Winter running isn't just "more of the same".
So what is the difference? Here's what I've come up with…
Winter running requires you to become a trail runner.
Think about it!
Wintry surfaces are not nearly as predictable as your typical paved road or the steady grind of the treadmill.
Out there in the wintry elements like on the trails, you have to be prepared for anything.
You have to move differently.
Read the path or trail differently.
Make split second decisions.
You find yourself stepping higher.
Hopping side to side.
Maybe even trying to regain control or find stable footing…
In other words, winter running is quite the adventure. Although a chilly one.
So looking at it through this lens, it makes total sense that winter running is not just a "run in the park". And yet, some runners (myself included) sometimes assume winter running is as simple as pushing some screws into your shoes and you're good to go.
What if I showed you something new? What if I showed you 6 Winter-Specific Running Movement Drills to help you prepare for winter "trail-like" adventures that assist you with making the transitions from road runner to winter runner?
Would you be in?
Let's do this!
Prepare Your Body
The purpose of these winter-specific running movement drills I'm going to walk you through is to prepare your body. You will be actively preparing it for different movement. You'll be performing quick, effective drills that give your body a movement-foundation, a vocabulary of movement patterns to pull from so injuries don't happen when you encounter the unexpected on your winter runs.
Why does any of that matter?
Because of the most common winter running injures we talked about in a couple blogs back: ankle and foot injuries, knee sprains, and groin sprains. (If you want to learn more, check it out HERE.)
Quickly: How can these winter-specific running movement drills help prevent injury when it comes to…?
Ankle and Foot Injuries
A lot of times winter ankle and foot injuries happen because the runner has a history of ankle sprains and/or previous ankle/foot injuries. This results in poor proprioception (fancy words for your brain and joint talking together and you knowing where a joint is in space)
By performing drills like the ones below, you can improve the activation of your ankle and foot muscles and improve your brain-ankle communication (proprioception)
These can happen possibly due to falls or slips. Or because of a combination of poorly activated glutes and ankles. Why both of these? See the note above about proprioception. Then, add on top of that the fact that our glutes and ankles directly influence each other and how strong or activated they are.
And what's in-between these two troublemakers? Your knee.
I'll admit. Groin strains are vague. They can possible be due to poor core and glute activation and strength.
Add on top of that, runners for the most part are not as familiar with lateral (aka side to side) movements that may be needed more during winter seasons.
Not to mention, winter running can mean running on shifting surfaces such as gravel, snow, etc. This requires additional activation of adductors/groin muscles. When falls or slips happen on these same surfaces, sometimes this can lead to these same muscles being more prone to injury.
Winter-Specific Running Movement Drills
Can be used as warm ups (15-20secs on: 30secs off) OR as part of a circuit when the weather forces you into an indoor workout
1-2 rounds as desired
Comfortable, controllable speed
Why These Exercises?
R,L Single Leg Hop Side to Side:
These first two will look familiar…and that's by design.
This exercise has a single leg bias. It makes you land on your forefoot which improves activation of your foot as a whole
It also challenges you to move sideways giving your body a new challenge
It requires you to balance, to stay stable in a single leg position-because this is running! Running is a lot of time spent on one leg
This dynamic movement requires stability all the way up the chain from your ankle into your core, on top of having to control speed and a change in direction
R,L Single Leg Hop Forwards and Backwards:
This exercise continues the theme of single leg work, landing on your forefoot.
The difference here: by moving forwards and backwards, you directly work on accelerating and decelerating. You are working on CONTROL!
As runners, we need to be able to control our speed but even more so in dicey conditions.
Runners are very good at accelerating/generating speed, but how good are we at deceleration? Controlling and slowing down the speed we've created? When we can't do that, we end up injured because we lack eccentric control.
Skaters with a jump
This exercise also continues working on single leg balance and stability, but with a twist. You continue to work on your sideways, lateral, movement but with a bigger bound because you're generating power.
Also, the way you're covering more ground with this movement is directly connected to running! This sideways movement is very similar to the same movement you might use to sidestep a patch of ice or hop over a gaping pothole you discovered at the last second.
It's important to prepare your body and get it familiar with these movements so when you encounter an "oh crap!" moment on your real-life run, you're body knows exactly how to handle it.
These don't seem very exciting or applicable at first, but hear me out. I use this as dynamic warm up a lot. 1: it dynamically/actively stretches my quads (imagine a traditional quad stretch, but without actually holding onto the leg behind you) and 2: it helps avoid over-striding
Over-striding fix: when you perform a butt kick, can you feel how you are pulling your foot towards your butt? At the same time, your opposite foot stays pretty much underneath you (aka your other foot stays under your center of mass.) Over striding happens when that stance leg strides beyond your center of mass; it is stretched out too far in front of you.
The trick here: don't get too caught up in the specific otherwise you'll over-think yourself to death.
Grapevine or Karaoke
Why you need this one: there's a LOT of reasons. So I'm just going to pick a few. Performing a karaoke at slow and fast paces works on light, quick feet which is important for faster running paces, agility, and quick changes in direction (again, needed if your dodging winter obstacles).
Karaoke when performed with high knees also helps restore active hip rotation and hip mobility (suuuper important for all runners).
There's about a million more reasons to use this tool…but that could another blog post for another day.
Scissor Jumps: Over a Line
I know, a lot of runners despise jumping. But….jumping is generating power and landing again in a way that you absorb that load successfully (aka, don't fall down). Which is the same as running: generating enough power so you enter flight phase, and then land on one leg (and not fall down)and repeat. So… you need tools (like this one) that help you perform this efficiently.
To keep things simple: this exercise continues to address agility, quick changes in direction, light quick feet, AND controlling your acceleration and deceleration in different directions.
So there you have it, running fit fam.
6 Winter-Specific Running Movement Drills that can help bridge that gap between regular fair-weather road running and the unpredictable adventures of wintry (or trail runs).
Because if we're being honest here, these running movement drills will benefit you YEAR ROUND. They help break up the routine forward motion that is running and challenges our bodies to explore different directions-something undoubtable needed for winter running and non-negotiable for trail running!
So which ones are you going to try out? Start with just picking 3 you like and swap them out or rotate through them. Let me know in the comments below which ones are your favorite!
I can't wait to hear from you.
As always, Run Strong and Dare to Train Differently,
Dr. Marie Whitt // @dr.whitt.fit
Arnold, M., & Moody, A. (2018). Common Running Injuries: Evaluation and Management. American Family Physician, 97(8), 510-516.
Coons, J., Gould, C., Kim, J., Farley, R., & Caputo, J. (2017). Dynamic stretching is effective as static stretching at increasing flexibility. Journal Of Human Sport And Exercise, 12(4). doi: 10.14198/jhse.2017.124.02
Moscão, J., Vilaça-Alves, J., & Afonso, J. (2020). A review of the effects of static stretching in human mobility and strength training as a more powerful alternative: Towards a different paradigm. Motricidade, 16(1), 18-27. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.6063/motricidade.20191
Pasanen, K., Parkkari, J., Pasanen, M., & Kannus, P. (2009). Effect of a neuromuscular warm-up programme on muscle power, balance, speed and agility: a randomised controlled study. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 43(13), 1073-1078. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.061747
Switlick, T., Kernozek, T., & Meardon, S. (2015). Differences in Joint-Position Sense and Vibratory Threshold in Runners With and Without a History of Overuse Injury. Journal Of Sport Rehabilitation, 24(1), 6-12. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2013-0089