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Best Exercises Before and After a Cold Weather Run
Here’s what to do to prevent muscle injuries when temps take a dip.
We all know that consistency, not intensity, is the key to running success. Running is a practice. For some, it’s a religion. There’s no better feeling than starting your day with a sweat and capturing that runner's high we all love.
So when cold weather strikes, your running routine shouldn’t stop. But it’s important to make a few modifications, especially when it comes to warming up and cooling down. From the best gear to keep you warm to exercises that aid in muscle recovery, here’s what you need to know.
According to many studies, skeletal muscle injuries are the most common sports-related injuries. For an avid runner, a muscle injury means frustration, pain and a long road to recovery. So it makes sense that we would do everything possible to prevent them, especially when running in cold weather.
“Muscles just have to be warmed up,” says John Henwood, running coach and former Olympian (Athens 2004). “When you don’t have adequate oxygen and blood supply to the muscles, they will be tight, stiff and in jeopardy of tearing.”
Doing a proper warm-up gets your muscles and your mind ready for a run. Just like putting on workout gear when you wake up increases your chances of actually exercising, doing a warm-up helps signal that it’s time to run and lessens the likelihood of excuses (easy to do when it’s freezing outside).
Never let the cold weather stop your running progress. As if improved performance and stress relief wasn’t enough, running in cold weather has been shown to turn our white fat to brown (that’s the good kind). So getting out in the cold air not only burns calories, but it could actually change your body composition.
Because you want to be as warm as possible before starting a run in cold weather, Henwood recommends warming up indoors. “Especially if you’re running in the morning, it can help to jump into a hot shower before you leave for your run,” he says. “You could even do a few dynamic stretches in the shower.”
Quick recap on dynamic stretching: This includes large ranges of fluid motion best utilized pre- and post-run. They’re designed to get the body moving and never held for any long period of time. And when cold weather hits, it’s best to do these stretches indoors.
It might be tempting to end your run stretching on a playground or park bench, but Henwood insists on heading inside ASAP. “Sweat can freeze,” he says. “When it’s that cold outside, go straight indoors. If you’re finding it hard to stretch once you’re inside, get on a foam roller, which can really help loosen stiff muscles and prevent soreness.”
When it comes to muscle recovery post-run, it’s not always about immediate action. Running is a lifestyle, and making sure your body is performing at its highest level is something you should always be thinking about. “I believe that the things we do outside the run often have the biggest impact on recovery,” says Amanda Brooks, running coach and author of Run To The Finish. “Think Epsom salt bath, lots of sleep and quality nutrition.”
That being said, having a few simple stretches in your workout arsenal is a solid way to prevent injury. ”A dynamic warm up of leg swings, squats, lunges and even walking is going to help ensure your body is primed,” Brooks says. “This means less potential for injury and that goes a long way towards recovery.”
For Henwood, he sees clients who are busy New Yorkers working 12-hour days. Because of the constant sitting at a desk, he says they’re always stiff through their hip flexors and quads. For them, he recommends dynamic stretches before a run, and then their choice of dynamic or static stretching post-run. Here are some ideas:
Lie on your belly with your legs straight back. Come onto your forearms, with elbows directly under your shoulders. Press down into your forearms to lift your chest up, stretching the psoas muscles.
This is best as a standing forward bend. If you feel pain in your lower back, bend your knees slightly. Let your hands dangle or place blocks underneath if they don’t reach the floor.
Stand facing a wall with your hands at eye level. Put one leg a step behind the other. Keep both heels on the floor and bend both knees. Bring your hips and chest toward the wall until you feel a stretch. To make this dynamic, hold for a couple seconds and then drop it back.
Seated Figure Four Stretch
Sitting straight in an upright chair, plant your left foot on the floor while you lift your right leg and bend it at the knee. Cross your right foot over your left knee (your entire foot, not your ankle). Lean forward until you feel a stretch, then lean back again.
INVEST IN GREAT GEAR
And finally, what you wear on a cold weather run makes a major difference in how your muscles recover afterwards. “You should be covered head to toe,” says Henwood. “This means a beanie, gloves, long tights, that kind of thing. It’s worth it to invest in quality, highly-reviewed cold-weather clothing. It will last longer and keep you warmer.”
Ready to embrace the colder temps?