by Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, OCS, DPT
The winter months send many runners to the comforts of the in-doors. Miles are tracked on treadmills, cardio machines are put to work and other forms of exercise become preferred. But with the appropriate clothing and sneakers, facing mother-nature’s elements and running outdoors can be invigorating. I will admit my weekly miles decrease in the winter months however when I do find the courage to tackle the snow and brave frigid temperatures I always enjoy the experience and feel strong and resilient afterwards.
It is now understood and accepted that running technique is important for preventing injuries and improving performance. Recent evidence supports that there is one common variable that reduces the risk of injury for any runner. Runners who land with less force at the time of foot impact to the ground, suffer from running injuries far less than those who land with a heavy foot. How can a runner reduce the amount of pounding or force at impact? When considering the biomechanics there are many variables that will change the force of impact but addressing just two may have a profound effect on your pounding. A running cadence of around 180 strikes per minute will minimize forces compared to commonly seen pounding, slower strides. Next landing on the mid to forefoot rather than the heel lightens the forces at foot impact, and allows the intrinsic joints and muscles of the foot to effectively absorb the stress occurring at impact, rather than relying on the heel to send the stresses directly toward the ankle, knee and hip. Less force at impact naturally reduces the stress on the joints and muscles of not only the foot and ankle, but the knees, hips and lower back – all common areas for runners aches, pains and injuries.
When making the decision to run with the gifts of mother-nature and tackle snow and ice underfoot, running technique becomes an important variable in reducing your risk of a slip or fall. Staying light on your feet with an optimal cadence keeps your center of gravity over your legs reducing the risk of slipping as well as your ability to recover from a small slip. In addition, landing on the mid to forefoot ensures your foot can appropriately absorb forces and manage uneven ground.
Snow and ice affect traction therefore footwear needs to be adjusted for outdoor winter running. Trail running shoes are more stable and provide added traction with an aggressive tread. In addition trail running shoes are usually warmer and water resistant. Alternatively, there are over-the-shoe products offering different styles and methods to improve traction with cleats or coils.
Finally use common sense when choosing your winter running routes and the time of day. Avoid steep hills and ice and running in the dark.
Add layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, and a neck gaiter and face the challenge of the New England outdoors. You will benefit from the exercise and in addition the boost of winter vitamin D and a sense of accomplishment! With the right attitude, outfit and technique you can keep up with mother-nature.
Michelle Collie PT, DPT, OCS, DPT is a runner, mother, injured snowboarder, wife and the CEO at Performance Physical Therapy (www.performanceptri.com). She can be reached at mcollie@performance ptri.com.