The Chi Guide to Winter Running and Walking
Although the upcoming Solstice promises the “return of the light,” the dark, cold and wintry winds can challenge our best intentions to keep moving, fit and healthy through the winter months. Yet, movement truly is the key to feeling good, fighting viruses, and maintaining and balancing your energy.
Here is a general guide for creating the best conditions to keep yourself running, walking and moving until springtime shows its face again:
Make Time for You
Holiday events, shopping and end of year business planning, as well as sick kids and a need for more rest may make pain-free running or walking the lowest items on your to do list. Move it back to the top right away and do everything in your power to keep it #1. You’ll be no good to others if you’re not taking care of yourself first.
Reduce the time and intensity of your exercise if you can’t get in a full workout, but keep your chi flowing with regular, gentle movement. If you don’t feel like running, walk-run or just walk. If you don’t even feel like a walk, do the Body Looseners or light stretches. Make it a priority to put on your exercise clothes and get moving. Once you start, you may find you want to do more than you thought. and you’ll be glad you made the effort.
Do get outdoors as much as possible. Fresh air will do you good, and you’ll warm up as soon as you get moving.
Practice Your Walking and Running Technique
You’ve gotten out the door or to a treadmill or a mall. GOOD FOR YOU! Now remember: Winter walking and running training is not about intensity. Your body does not need to be pushed to the max. It needs consistent, gentle, mindful movement. This is the perfect time to deepen your Body Sensing and running technique. It’s good to maintain your aerobic conditioning, but it is not necessary to do any strength training or speed work. Save that for springtime.
Specific Walking and Running Technique Practices for Wintry Conditions:
- If the terrain is tricky, cut back your time by 30-50% and cut way back on speed.
- Don’t use the metronome when walking or running on snow or ice…trying to keep the perfect cadence will distract you from keeping good footing.
- Shorten your stride more than EVER. For many people, wintry conditions may help you find just how short your stride really should be. A shorter stride will help you keep your balance in slippery conditions.
- Pick up your feet, keep your lower legs limp and use a midfoot strike. Most people have a tendency to tense up their lower legs when it’s slippery, which is the worst thing you can do. This is a great time to practice picking up your feet while relaxing your lower legs. Just let your feet dangle as they come up and place them back down in a midfoot strike.
- Use your core muscles to create balance. We’ve gotten lots of letters saying that running or walking in snow or ice has helped people find the true meaning of engaging their core and finding their balance point. Feel your C shape working, especially when it’s slippery.
Injury-free running includes BEING SAFE
- Don’t go running or walking on icy roads where cars may swerve out of control.
- Make sure someone knows where you are running or walking and have good identification on you.
- BE SEEN. Short days and wintry weather means you won’t be as visible to traffic. Wear lots of reflective patches on your clothes and bright colors. Cars need to see you clearly.
Wear Appropriate Running or Walking Clothes and Gear
When you have the right running or walking clothes, you’ll have no excuses not to get out. Have lots of layering choices for different temperatures. My cold weather running outfit consists of:
- Wool hat with flaps to really cover my ears
- Zip turtle neck (Smart Wool) so I can unzip to regulate my body heat as I warm up
- Nylon wind breaker over the wool layer
- Fleece or nylon vest over the nylon jacket if it’s really cold. These have pockets for either warming my hands or carrying gloves I’ve taken off.
- Running tights for moderate cold weather
For extreme cold:
- Disposable hand warmers in gloves
- Duct tape over the toe area of my socks provides a great wind block for my toes.
- Two layers of pants: long underwear and a top layer. Keep your legs warm - cold muscles are vulnerable to injury.
- Trail running shoes are a good option for winter conditions. If you run in snow a lot, consider wearing gaitors to keep the snow out of your shoes.
Pain-free running and walking, on a treadmill
When the outdoors is no place to be, get on a treadmill and practice your walking and running technique as if your health depends on it, because it does!!
- Before you get started running or walking, set the treadmill at a slight uphill ramp.
- Speed is NOT the focus on the treadmill - maintaining aerobic conditioning is the name of the game.
- Practice your pelvic rotation. Start by warming up at a walk and feel your pelvic rotation. Mitigate potential injury by allowing your legs to swing rearward as your pelvis rotates. This will significantly reduce the impact the treadmill can have on your legs.
- If a mirror is available, use it to check all your form focuses: feet pointing forward, good alignment, arm swing, midfoot strike. Watch for and try to reduce side-to-side (Rocky-like) movements in your upper body.
Gentle, consistent movement is the key to good health in the winter. Make an agreement with yourself right now to take good care of yourself so you can enjoy all the season has to offer.
Additional winter running tips from past articles and blogs:
- winter running,
- cold weather running,
- winter health,
- running in snow