Winter Training Tips

Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh

Winter Running

Believe it or not, the biggest mistake runners make in the winter months is overdressing.  When you step out the door, you should be slightly chilled.  If you are comfortable when you first step outside, you are overdressed!  Dress as if is 15-20 degrees warmer than the actual air temperature; taking wind and precipitation into consideration.

Ask yourself:

Do you run hot (warm up quickly)? If so, wear less layers and/or accessories.  Allow heat to escape from head (wear an ear warmer, instead of a hat).

Do you run cold (never really feel warm)? Wear more layers and accessories (hat, neck warmer, heavier gloves).

Tips on Winter Running:

  • Warm up before heading out the door! When the temperature drops, it takes longer to warm up muscles.  This means it is easier to pull muscles if you are starting cold – do some dynamic stretching before going outside (not to the point of sweating).  Examples are high knees, butt kicks, leg swings, skipping, arm circles, etc.
  • Use Body Glide or Vaseline on face to prevent wind burn & chapped skin
  • Use versatile accessories (Buff, Wind Mitt over Gloves, etc.) that you can adjust or take off/put on during your run
  • Bring something to wipe your nose
  • Use hand warmers (wear a glove or glove liner under a wind mitt, with hand warmer inside mitt)
  • Wear reflective gear!
  • Hydrate – you are still sweating even though it is cold outside; being properly hydrated will help you to stay warm
  • Put running clothes in dryer before going out
  • If you drive to your run location, bring a towel and change clothes.  Change into dry close as soon as possible after completing your run.


Tips on Gear for Winter Running:

  • Wear a brimmed hat in snow to keep snow off of face
  • Always protect your eyes!  Use sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, and use clear lenses on a grey day with low visibility
  • Wear gloves that work with touch screen technology, so you don’t need to remove your gloves, should you need to use your phone.
  • Invest in Wool socks to keep your feet dry, warm, and comfortable
  • Wicking underwear & bras –  Sugoi Bun Warmer for ladies, Sugoi Wind Boxer for guys.  These items are closest to your skin, and should be technical fabrics, NOT cotton!
  • Gortex & Shield shoes – keep feet dryer in wet or slushy conditions
  • Yaktrax in icy or packed snow conditions
  • Wear thermal pants or tights to keep your legs warm
  • Layering
    • Base layer – closest to skin, should be fitted and made from wicking fabric to pull moisture (sweat) away from your body.
    • Mid Layer – thermal layer, provides insulation on very cold days
    • Outer Layer – protection from elements – resists wind, water, snow, etc.  Lightweight winter running jackets are great at resisting the elements, while offering venting to allow warm air to release.  Should have reflectivity! 


Benefits of Running Outdoors in the Winter:

  • Law of Specificity – One of the laws of training is the law of specificity.  This simply means that your training should be as specific as possible to your training goal.  If you are training for a road race, run on the road!
  • Air/Wind Resistance - When running on a treadmill, you are running in place.  When running outside, you are running through the air, which creates resistance.  The faster you run, the more of an effect air resistance has on you.  Air/wind resistance creates an increase in workload, making it a harder workout.
  • Running Surface – the soft, even surface of the treadmill does not allow you to run on the different surfaces that you will encounter when running outside.  Uneven surfaces, stones, soft areas, hard areas, dry areas, wet areas, and various combinations of these surfaces.  The challenge of running over these surfaces improves the ability of your neuromuscular system to correct for the effect of these types of surfaces have on your muscles and the position of your body parts and joints.  This is critical to runners, because it affects balance, power, and running economy.
  • Running Bio-Mechanics– different when running on the treadmill
    • Stride Length – stride length can become longer or shorter when on running on the treadmill, than when running outside.  Changing stride can lead to injury.
    • Support Time – Support time is the amount of time that your support leg spends on the ground.  Support time is longer when running on the treadmill.  Support time should be kept at a minimum to maximize running efficiency – when your support leg is on the ground longer; you probably are not running as efficiently as you could be.
    • Forward Lean – You tend to run with less of a forward lean when running on the treadmill.  This can cause more energy being wasted on up and down motion and less energy focused on forward momentum.


If conditions are so bad that you cannot go outside to run (i.e. icy conditions), you can simulate your workouts on a treadmill as follows:


Treadmill Workout – When you need to make up for a regular run

Set grade at 1 or 2% and run planned distance at the same pace that you would normally run outside.


Treadmill Workout – When you need to make up for a tempo or speed run

Run 1 mile at an easy pace, increase to a comfortably hard pace (approximately 10-15 seconds slower than best 10k pace) for about 20 to 25 minutes.  Finish with 1 mile easy cool down.

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