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Winter-proof Your Running Warm Up

You know what sucks the most about winter running?

Maybe your vote is for the snow, negative temps, black ice, or layers upon layers upon layers..

But I'm going to argue something entirely different that I think we can all get behind.

The absolute WORST part about winter running are the injuries.

See? I knew you'd agree too.

Oh, why are they the worse?

Because a lot of times, winter running injuries are straight-up unexpected. You're running along your favorite route, trying to stay aware of your surroundings, and the next thing you know, you fall or nearly slip and wipe out. Sometimes it feels like the elements are just out to get you.

But what are you going to do? Not run? That's just silly.

So if you're going to keep running through the winter, you've got to be prepared, right?

You can have the fanciest, warmest running coat and stud your trainers with screws…and those will all help! But you still need to prepare a couple levels deeper.

What am I talking about?

I'm talking about understanding two major points:

  • Understanding what are the most common winter injuries, how they happen, and when you finally need to get them checked out


  • A way to prevent them in the first place

If you understand these two main points, then you're infinitely more prepared compared to when your first started to read this blog.

How do I know that?

Because these are legit things I wish I knew even just 5 years ago. And this winter injury preventative warm up,…man. I wish I'd thought of this just 1 year ago, because's made a huge difference in my own running.

So you ready to dive in? Let's go!

Did you know these are the most common winter running injures?

I was slightly surprised but then not once I thought about it…

Most common winter running injuries include:

  • Ankle and foot injuries like plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, and Achilles tendonitis

  • Groin strains

  • Knee strains

Now if you're thinking, "huh, half of that sounds pretty vague. How the heck do I even know if I have one of those?"

No worries, I got you.

Even 5 years ago, I wish I had an easy resource that told me:

  • exactly what all those are

  • what they feel like

  • and when I should actually go to the doctor.

So I put together a Winter Running 1st Aid Manual that answers all of that! Now you don't have to scour the internet asking Dr. Google what's wrong with you or questioning WebMD when it says for the 100th time you have cancer. You've got your cheat sheet to diagnosing potential winter running related injuries right here.

CLICK HERE to grab your Winter Running 1st Aid Manual

So now that you've got your trusty Winter Running 1st Aid Manual in hand, let's dive into how to actually prevent those injuries in the first place.

The Secret: A Winter-Specific Running Warm up

For a dynamited winter running warm up, it doesn't have to be long and laborious. The best warm ups I've ever done are fast and furious and only last 5 mins. (Trust me, sometimes those are the longest 5 minutes of your life).

To make sure your warm up is winter-proof, I'd say it has to have 3 specific characteristics.

It should:

  • Be an active mobility circuit

  • get your heart rate up and make you feel warm before stepping outside.

  • Make you move in different planes of motion

What do I mean by all that?

Active mobility exercises entail dynamic movement. Think of it like an exercise you flow through. It's not something static or still.

The other part that might be confusing is moving in different planes of motion.

Think of it this way…

When you're out running, you're typically moving forwards. We don't really run sideways like a crab right? But when the elements get dicey and force you to dodge, weave, and side step…running gets more interested and you do need to start moving sideways or on diagonals. Moving in those different directions are your different planes of motion.

With all that cleared up, ready to dive into this warm up?

Winter-Proof Warm Up

1-2 rounds as desired

Perform for 20 secs on: 40 secs off OR 30 secs on: 30 secs off

When first learning this warm up, perform as slowly as you need to be successful. As this becomes easier, pick up the pace and move quicker, lighter!

  • R,L single leg hop side to side,

  • R,L single leg hop for/backward.

  • Mountain climbers

  • Double leg hop side to side

  • Double leg hop for/backwards

What makes this warm up so special?

Think of this warm up as a cup of coffee for your body.

These exercises challenge your body with different stimuli, different movement. They challenge you to move, land, and stabilize in all sorts of different directions. The method to the madness here is to get your body ready to tackle whatever obstacle you encounter.

What I noticed after doing this warm up

It sounds simple, but I was way less afraid while running in snowy conditions. My body was ready and primed to move in different directions I normally wouldn't need to on a "normal" run. I felt confident moving sideways, jumping diagonally, landing on one foot to avoid obstacles, etc. It felt good to run!

But what makes these exercises so dang important? HOW does this warm up prevent the injuries we talked about above?

Man, you ask good questions. I'm so proud! Let's take a quick look into what each of these elements do for you and how they help perform your best

R,L Single Leg Hop Side to Side:

  • 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 activation of your adductors and deep core + glutes. Then, as you speed up, you're asking your body to quickly stabilize and balance in different directions

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

Mountain Climbers:

  • This is a great upper body push exercise. (Think about it-you're pushing the floor away from you and you're asking your arms and chest to hold you upright so you don't face plant into the floor)

  • This exercise also works on core engagement with your hip flexors activated at the same time. There's a unique connection between your core + hip flexors and this exercise encourages that activation while looking while running.

Double leg Hop Side to Side:

  • Why do you need a double leg hop version of the exercises above? Because…

  • Jumping with both legs results in picking your feet up higher. Why?

  • Because you're usually more stable and more confident jumping with both feet.

  • In the single leg versions above, you are most likely focusing on just staying balanced

  • With these double leg version, you can practice moving quicker, lighter, and higher!

Double Leg Hop Forwards and Backwards:

  • The same principles apply here. By using both feet, you are more confident landing and in turn, able to practice moving quicker, lighter, and higher

  • With the forwards/backwards motion, you continue to work on that important control of acceleration and deceleration in a faster way (because let's be real, we like running fast. But we need to be able to react fast and control our speed)

*LINK to Winter Runner's Clinic: Instagram Live Video*

Final thoughts…

Can you start to see how all of those different, simple exercises all relate back to running?

Those movements activate your feet in more than just a forwards and backwards way that is standard to running. These specific exercises get you ready to move in all different directions at different speeds and tempos. (Because you never know what Winter is going to throw at you once you leave your front door.)

This warm up starts with single leg exercises because that's most like running.

However, that can be a challenging position.

But that doesn't mean we don't train it- because we do! There are some things that only get better with practice.

However, it's ok to also practice in an easier position-with both legs rather than just a single leg. By regressing the exercise just a little to two legs, we're able to pick up the pace. The movements and exercises are still related to running, just modified for different intent (speed and control vs. balance and stabilization).

I designed this warm up with wintery, snowy Michigan conditions in mind. But…this warm up is multi-use. It will equally work as a warm up for trails or road runs where you might be transitioning from gravel to sand or concrete or running around curbs. Basically, any changes in the ground you're going to be running on, you need your feet, legs, and core activated and ready to move in different directions.

Speaking of activating and getting your feet and legs ready for anything…

If you're looking for the next step and want to learn more on how to really activate and strengthen your feet like a runner, I've got a mini course for you: The Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet.

If you're an avid blog reader, then you know about a runner I've been working with in the clinic. She's currently training for her 5th Boston. This tough cookie was able to run her previous Boston while suffering from plantar fasciitis and has been seeing me to finally get rid of it for good as she tackles this upcoming Boston. This mini course has the exact exercises I used with her that have helped her to recover! This course is the real-deal. It's exactly what I use in the clinic to help runner's like you.

So don't sit on, go check it out here!

And as always, continue to Dare to Train Differently, running fit fam.

Add this new warm up into your routine, grab your Winter Running 1st Aid Manual, and check out my course The Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet. I promise, these tools can transform your running.

Run Strong,

Dr. Marie Whitt //

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