Proper warm-ups and care in the winter months can help reduce the likelihood of running injuries and optimise your running performance.
We get it – when you first step outside on a cold winter’s day, your first instinct may be to leap into your run to warm your body up fast. After all, this is what is meant by ‘warming up’ – right?
Not at all. With our muscles comparable to chewing gum – stiff when cold – the habit of skipping your warm-up to get warm during running may quickly see you with a running injury or poorer running performance as you miss out on the benefits that your body receives from a proper warm-up and stretch.
Today, our physio team is sharing how to warm-up in the colder months – and why it matters to both your performance and your well-being.
Why Does Cold Weather Change How We Should Warm Up?
Our muscles work most efficiently when they’re warm. When the air temperature is warm, warming up comes more easily and with less effort (though some effort to warm up is still needed!). When our body is cooler and at rest, our muscles are tighter, stiffer and, if it’s cool enough, we may have some vasoconstriction. This means the vessels that supply blood around our body, particularly to the surface of our skin, have constricted to help prevent losing heat so quickly and hence limit the rate at which our core temperature drops.
Warming up well before running effectively helps our body transition from its stiffer ‘rest’ state to its ‘active’ state and produces changes in our cardiovascular system to meet the needs of our muscles in running. Having our muscles warm and our blood pumping means that we perform better during running while potentially reducing the risk of injury by having:
- A greater range of motion in our muscles and joints
- Greater efficiency and flexibility in our muscles, ligaments, tendon and joints
- More oxygen available to our muscles
- An improved lung capacity
- The body activated to assist our mental preparation for running
Your pre-run warm-up should start with a gentle, low-intensity activity to warm and loosen the muscles. This is done before you set out on your run. Try walking on the spot, shuffling, light jogging, or gentle jumps up and down, for example. Aim to warm-up for at least 5-10 minutes.
Next, it’s time for your dynamic stretches. These are controlled, repetitive movements that actively lengthen your muscles and move your joints through their full range of motion without ‘holding’ at the end point. Their purpose is to increase muscle temperature and decrease muscle stiffness. Examples include walking lunges, leg swings, arm rotations.
Now that you’re feeling warm and blood is pumping to your muscles, you’re ready to run. Remember, if you have to stop for a prolonged time during your run, like at a pedestrian crossing, to jog on the spot or keep doing something to keep your body moving.
To cool down, static stretches have a very valuable place. Unlike dynamic stretches that keep the body moving, static stretches hold the stretch at the end point where the muscle feels tight, for approximately 30-45 seconds. Examples are calf stretches where you lean against a wall, and an overhead triceps stretch where you connect your hands (as much as possible) behind your back. These stretches help improve your flexibility and reduce post-workout stiffness.
Cold, Sweat & Carbs
We thought it would be worth mentioning that there are a few other things to keep in mind when training in the winter months. The first is that you still sweat in the cold weather, and if your running clothes become wet, their insulation capacity is reduced and your body temperature may start to drop. While this may be offset while you’re still actively running or exercising, as soon as you finish, make sure you change into warm, dry layers quickly.
The second is that your muscles may require more energy faster in the colder weather. This means you may need more glycogen (usually in the form of carbohydrates) before and after your run to help combat fatigue during your run and for the rest of the day. Aim to eat within 30-minutes of completing your exercise – it’ll also assist your recovery.
Treating Running Injuries Through Winter
Our physios here at Allsports Physiotherapy help both recreational and professional runners keep running through every season, and overcome any pains or challenges they may face. If you’ve got any aches or injuries holding you back from running, or you want to run confidently throughout the winter season, we’re here to help.