Some of you may not be lucky enough to experience the invasion of the "polar vortex". I, for one, think this is what winter should be like and is reminiscent of winters past. You may think winter is too cold to begin with, let alone this particular winter, to get out there and log some miles on the roads and trails. I admit it's not for everyone but I find cold weather running rather invigorating. (I also despise treadmills so that limits my options anyway.)
When you're talking about single digits, teens and into the 20's for air temperature, as it has been for my recent runs, speed work and interval training are not easy to do. Running faster especially if there is any kind of wind automatically makes it feel colder so it usually isn't the most enjoyable thing to begin with. Physiologically it is generally more difficult because your body uses more energy (read: oxygen) to maintain its core temperature and muscle efficiency decreases. (1) For most people this means more work for the same results in warmer temps.
So what is a runner to do?
Instead of hammering out intervals, winter can be a great time to focus on the fundamentals of your technique as it can have a dramatic effect on your performance. After that initial shock of the cold air, I like to start at the top and analyze all the way to the bottom:
For me that means using my ears and listening to my cadence first. If you missed my post about the importance of your auditory organs as a runner you can read that here. Your cadence should sound relatively symmetrical regardless of foot strike preference. (That's another topic for the future.)
How's your head position? Straight and stable? Good.
What about your shoulders? Are they back and relaxed allowing you to maintain an upright posture and promote good lung function or are they tense and shrugged up to your ears? No bueno if it is the latter.
How are your hands? Clenched like a death grip and creating tension throughout your whole upper body or gently flexed like you're holding an egg?
What are your arms doing? Are your elbows comfortably bent? Is your arm swing compact and moving forward and back for the most part rather than side to side? Is one arm doing something the other arm isn't?? This is often a place where energy is wasted as the arms can do interesting things and take away your forward momentum.
Onto the lower body. Are you getting hip drive with every step? Is one knee clipping your leg with each swing...maybe both? Are your feet clipping your legs...maybe one more than the other? Hint: this will waste energy and efficiency also.
What's going on when your foot hits the ground? Does it feel like (sound like) you're landing relatively symmetrical each step? Are you transitioning all the way through the big toe so that you have maximal forward propulsion every step? Do you find you push off more to the inside of your foot? This is another example where energy can be lost and decrease performance.
There you have it...a quick checklist of things to dial in on as you rack up your mileage so that you come out of winter as an efficient runner ready to dominate your goals and races. This is by no means an exhaustive list as each component could be broken down further if need be and usually requires another pair of eyes for observation and analysis. In most cases everything will probably check out and you can be on your merry way to enjoying some cold weather runs. If something is off or you're dealing with a nagging injury that won't go away no matter what you do, consider consulting with a physical therapist knowledgeable in running injury and performance.
Happy running, embrace the polar vortex and see you out on the trails!
1. Nimmo, M. Exercise in the cold. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2004 Oct; 22(10) pp:898-916.
"Variety's the very spice of life." - Poet, William Cowper
Recently, I saw a picture of my friend's dog, Sammy, in a ridiculous position (one of many at this point) and my first reaction was to laugh as usual and shake my head. I'm pretty sure we've all seen something like this at one time or another. Immediately my next reaction was "How is that comfortable?" As you can see above, most of the time he is lounging on big fluffy pillows but it still looks like an awkward position. But then it got me thinking, maybe it isn't so awkward after all. Maybe this kind of variety is a good thing to do. Clearly it doesn't seem to faze him as he's good to go after he gets up and stretches it out a little bit just like every other dog you've ever seen. Maybe we can learn something here. Granted, humans are not dogs and dogs are not humans (even though we treat them like that sometimes). However, we are made of the same stuff like bone, muscle, nerves, ligaments, etc. so maybe it isn't such a bad comparison in this instance.
How many times are you told some position or posture is bad for you? Doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, yogis, the internet are constantly telling you what you should and shouldn't do. There are obviously some basic guidelines that are worth practicing but they may not have to be so strict. I will be the first to say that I am guilty of saying something similar to my clients over the years but more recently I've added a caveat and I think Sammy does a great job of illustrating my caveat. It goes something like this: "Just don't do it 100% of the time." None of Sammy's positions are the same so he is most definitely not doing the same thing 100% of the time.
In general, consistency, repetition and overuse are what tend to get people in trouble more than a specific position or posture itself. They end up sitting the same, standing the same, laying on the same side to watch television often for prolonged periods of time. As you can see above, Sammy doesn't subscribe to doing the same thing over and over again. He's living the dream of variety in his life (at least in sleeping positions). Maybe all of these different positions stimulate his nervous system (his brain) and the tissues of his body since nothing is ever the same. Maybe it is important to take advantage of the full range of motion of each joint at some point during the day. Maybe it is important to stretch muscles in a variety of positions throughout the day. The living body, dog or human, is extremely adaptable and can handle all kinds of positions and postures. Think break dancers and Cirque du Soleil performers. They can do all types of "crazy" and "awkward" things with their bodies and they make it out alive just fine. Just don't do the same thing 100% of the time. Chances are your body welcomes the change and variety and will be better in the long run.
So don't beat yourself up if you find yourself in a "bad" position on a super soft sofa that was really comfortable. Don't beat yourself up if you find yourself slouching as I just was until writing this sentence. Just don't do it 100% of the time and you will be ok. When you do catch yourself doing something all of the time, take some advice from Sammy: Change things up and add some variety to your life...or napping position at the very least. Your body will thank you for it.
Remember, variety's the very spice of life (in more ways than one).
Dr. Greg Cecere
Your personal physical therapist, movement educator and knowledge dispenser.
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The contents of this blog is meant for educational purposes only. Momentum Physical Therapy of New Paltz and Dr. Greg Cecere are not responsible for any harm or injury that may occur due to any information on this blog as it is by no means a substitute for a thorough evaluation by a medical professional.