WIN YOUR WINTER RUNNING
Part 1: Winter Training & Conditioning with Jeff Browning
“It’s too cold.” “It’s too dark.” “I’m too tired.”
There are plenty of excuses we can make to get ourselves out of exercising, especially during the winter months. But this year, we’re going to #MakeRoomFor our winter workouts.
In our three-part winter running series, we’ve compiled ways to train and condition, safely run at night, and stick to that New Year’s resolution you vowed to #MakeRoomFor.
Whether you're starting your training for the year's races early, looking ways to incorporate after-hours running, or want advice on setting realistic goals, this series has the tips and tricks to get you going and keep you going. Are you ready to Win Your Winter Running?
01 - 10 - 2021
Winter Training and Conditioning
Rain, snow, sleet, ice, mud — for many runners, these conditions signal time for a winter break. Trail shoes are traded for a hot cup of peppermint tea and a captivating novel in front of a crackling fire. But wait just a second. Put that tea down. What about that humongous aerobic base you worked so hard to achieve all last season? A winter wonderland provides the perfect opportunity to hone your running economy, to get stronger by combining cross-training and strength, and to smash those pesky muscle imbalances into an oblivion. The book can wait.
Winter training doesn’t require slogging crazy volume in heinous conditions. It’s all about intuitive freedom to pick and choose the types of workouts based on the weather forecast, your own mood, or what big adventure your friends are planning. It’s a time for loose structure, but structure that allows for choice. It’s a time for mental recharge in the long, dark winter months.
Winter running is a great way to keep those running muscles honed with just enough adaptation to maintain a solid aerobic base, while simultaneously giving you a mental break from serious training. Back off on the number of times you run per week. Mix it up between easy terrain and hills, while letting weather conditions dictate where you run. Particularly rough conditions may make the treadmill your only option. For marathon and ultrarunners, keep these workouts at 30-90 minutes. Strive to get one weekly run of 90 minutes to 3 hours, depending on weather, schedule, and upcoming goals. For most runs, effort level should be under your aerobic ceiling (Z1/Z2 Heart Rate) at an easy, conversational pace. You should be able to speak in full sentences.
Bonus: Add one or two sessions per week of faster running to help improve your running economy. When you kick-off a phase like this, build incrementally by starting with shorter intervals and build each week in time and volume at faster paces. Be sure to bookend 15-20 minutes at easy pace as a warm-up and cooldown with these harder sessions.
Choices, choices, choices. Cross-training offers an ideal way to keep things interesting during the cold winter months. Swimming, using an indoor bike trainer, hiking, or Nordic skiing can provide a nice change while giving the body a break from the pounding and repetitive body movement that running requires. These pursuits also provide bonus aerobic activity that will pay huge dividends when you ramp up your running in the spring. I use an indoor bike trainer for my road bike, concentrating on fast cadence spinning to passively work on leg turnover. The benefit is that I can spin at a higher cadence than I would typically perform my running speed work (while still in aerobic effort).
If you live in a snowy location, Nordic skate skiing is another favorite. Skate skiing works on glute strength and balance and can be substituted for speed or quality work as it isn’t easy to stay aerobic, unless you’re a seasoned skier.
Runners require good movement patterns and supple muscles. Mobility can come in a variety of ways. Foam rolling is a great way to keep muscles pliable, increase circulation, and align muscle fibers by working out adhesions (knots). Those vexing sore spots are muscle fibers sticking together and limiting range of motion. Complimentary to rolling, basic yoga-style stretching is a wonderful maintenance habit to form. I like to do this type of routine right before I get into bed. It’s relaxing when coupled with deep breathing techniques, and you may find you will fall asleep faster. If you're a morning person, it’s a great routine with your first cup of tea or coffee.
STRETCHING ROUTINE (PERFORM 5-7 SLOW NOSE INHALES/EXHALES PER POSE):
● Downward dog
● Low crescent lunge (bonus: add a quad stretch)
Another quick mobility strategy that I often utilize is a pre-run warm-up. I typically start with the following basic routine indoors before I head out into the cold. Or, if I’m starting at a trailhead in cold wintery weather, I’ll jog easily for 5-7 minutes to get warm, then do the warm-up routine somewhere on the trail.
RUNNERS' WARM-UP (PERFORM 10-20 OF EACH EXERCISE):
● Air squats
● Side lunges
● Walking lunge with spine mobility twist
● Rocking calf raises
● Sumo walk
● Butt kickers
● High knees
Many old-school philosophies about strength training for runners quip that you should just run. Anything that takes time away from your run time is a waste of time. I disagree. Strength training (dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, and free weights) has numerous benefits, including improved neuromuscular balance and coordination, muscle fatigue resistance, improved fast twitch muscle fiber, and reduced risk of injury. Running’s repetitive nature requires a limited range of motion, while proper strength training develops strength and mobility through a full range of motion. Trail and mountain running requires an even more varied and increased range of motion than road running as we navigate rocks, roots, drop-offs, and other gnarly obstacles. Trail running often demands multiple-planes-of-motion movement, and strength training preps the body for those rigors.
The most effective combo is heavier weight, low reps, ending with a plyometric session after the muscles are warmed up. After a mobility warm-up, I like to do 3 sets of increasing weight and descending reps (10-6-3), with the first set being used for warm-up and form focus. I complete the workout with plyometrics.
It’s important to cover the main movement patterns: push, pull, squat, hinge, rotation, and plyometric. It’s also paramount that you learn the proper form before adding weight.
STRENGTH EXERCISES FOR RUNNERS (PICK 2 FROM EACH CATEGORY; PERFORM 1-2X PER WEEK):
● Push: Push-up (varied grip), overhead press, push press, bench press, single-arm kettlebell press
● Pull: Pull-up, bent row, lat pulldown, cable row
● Squat: Squat, step-back lunge, Bulgarian split squat
● Hinge: Deadlift, Romanian deadlift, kettlebell swing
● Rotation: Side plank rotation, bird dog, Russian twist, dead bug
● Plyometrics: Squat jump, lunge jump, lateral hop, weighted push press thruster, weighted explosive walking lunge
Bodyweight Resistance Training
When I worked as a graphic design director at a tech start-up, there was a four-story stairwell next to the restroom. On breaks, I’d run to the top of the flight of stairs, knock out a set of push-ups, air squats, and planks, then run back down the stairs and walk back to my desk. It was a great way to break up sitting/standing at a computer all day.
Bodyweight exercises compliment weighted strength training and hard run workouts. This type of resistance training helps with light flushing and increased circulation, balance, and full-body toning. Think of these workouts as maintenance strength with a side of mobility. Although counterintuitive, a bodyweight workout is great at flushing out tightness and restoring range of motion after long or particularly hard workouts. It’s also a great workout to incorporate while traveling.
Try this: Scatter bodyweight exercises throughout the day, a few exercises at a time. This approach is a splendid time-saving strategy that won’t require dedicating another block of time in an already packed family or work schedule. Each time you take a break, simply knock out a set or two of your workout.
Winter doesn’t have to be a time of procrastination, excuses or monotony. With a little variety and planning, you can be a more well-balanced, stronger runner by spring. Giddyup!
“The Dirt” with Jeff Browning
Jeff kicks off our Win Your Winter Running series with his first installment of The Dirt, Jeff’s monthly post covering training, running, racing, gear, motivation, and more. Get ready for more Dirt!
About the Author
Jeff Browning is a veteran ultrarunner and ultra-endurance coach. In the winter months, he mixes it up between home workouts in his garage gym, skate skiing after fresh snowfall, or mounting sheet metal screws into the tread of his Altra Lone Peak shoes for additional traction control for snowy trail running exploits. You can learn more about him, his adventures, and his coaching at GoBroncoBilly.com or Instagram: @GoBroncoBilly
Stay tuned for part two of our Win Your Winter Running series, “Tips for Running Safely at Night” with Julie Merrill. Coming soon!