Friday, January 22, 2016

Loosen up, Francis

As I whinged about to no end in my last post, it is winter. That means cold air, multiple layers, and challenging running terrain. Because large numbers of my neighbours have no respect or consideration for those of us who don't spend time outside their home that isn't in a car, the sidewalks in my area are an ankle-rolling mess of lumpy snow and ice. Better yet, there's a stretch of a few hundred metres that I run almost daily that has a park and schoolyard on the typically-windward side, allowing snow to blow in to the sidewalk such that it's ankle deep within an hour after the city plow clearing it.

Not that our street gets plowed at all.

With all this underfoot and precious little clear ground to be seen, you simply never know what your next step is going to be like until your bodyweight starts to hit your leading which time it's generally too late to avoid something awkward.

In an attempt to come out the other side of all this without damaging myself, I try to warm up before I run so I'm not putting too much stress on completely cold joints when I head out the door. It only takes a few minutes, but could seriously save you some grief. I do a few dynamic motions that help get things moving fluidly and start to build a bit of warmth in my core, which helps with those first few chilly minutes on deep winter runs. I don't believe this routine is necessarily optimized for everyone, but it works for me and would be a decent starting point to develop your own pre-run warmup.

Because it's easiest, I do these in my kitchen (which is right inside my front door) before I leave for a run, even if I'm driving to a trailhead. It's better to warm up 20mins before the run than not at all.

Ankle Circles

I sit down to put on my running socks and shoes (and gaiters, which have been a disturbingly frequent necessity even on road runs lately), then stick a leg out in front of me and draw circles in the air with the ball of my foot by rotating my ankle. I do 8 of these in each direction, with each foot. This helps prepare my ankles for snow to shift and my toes or heels to skid sideways on me.

Ankle Tilt

Still sitting with my leg stuck out in front of me, I rock my foot back and forth like I'm trying to touch the sole of my foot to the inside, then the outside of my leg. I do this 8 times (16 total motions) with each foot, helping prepare my ankles for stepping on lumpy snow and rolling a bit under load.

Toe Taps

Yep, still seated with my leg out. I point my toe (plantar flexion) and then try to pull it up toward my shin (dorsiflexion) 16 times per foot. My calves get a bit of a warmup here while I mobilize the achilles tendon and soleus.

Saggital Leg Swing

Ok, time to leave the comfy chair. I stand on one foot with both legs straight, swinging the non-load-bearing leg forward to about hip height (or whatever you can manage) and then back behind me as far as I can go without leaning forward. I'd suggest hanging onto a chair or countertop while you do this, like you're at a ballet barre. This will engage your psoas (hip flexors) and glutes and give a mild hamstring stretch while mobilizing your hips in almost the exact motion you'll use while running. As a bonus, the use of large muscle groups will get your blood flowing and build some warmth. I do 16 of these with each leg, each rep consisting of a forward and back swing.

Lateral Leg Swing

Still hanging onto something for balance and standing on one leg, I swing the non-load-bearing leg out sideways and bring it back across the centre line of my body. This engages the smaller gluteal muscles that will help stabilize you as you run on uneven surfaces and also does a marvellous job of increasing blood flow. I do 12 of these per side.

Hip Circles

This one really works the smaller gluteal muscles and helps mobilize your hips. Still standing on one leg and hanging onto something for balance, bend your non-weight-bearing leg and draw a big circle in the air with your knee. 8 circles per leg both forward and backward should have you feeling it in the outside of your butt.

Knee Wall Touch

Does it seem like a lot of these are done on one leg? Well, so is running! Stand on one foot facing the chair, counter, or whatever you've been hanging onto for balance and bend your non-weight-bearing leg a bit. This time it's the load-bearing leg that will be working, as you bend at the knee to sink into a 1-legged squat position. As you do so, push your working leg's knee forward to try to touch the wall in front of you while keeping your heel on the ground. This simulates your landing with each step, mobilizing your ankles and calves while warming up your gluteus maximus and quads. I do 10 of these per leg.

I can't guarantee that these exercises will keep you injury free, but at least you'll stand a better chance of being able to roll with the punches that winter doles out than just stepping out the door completely cold.

If you have a great exercise you do to warm up before a run, let me know in the comments!


  1. Great post/illistrations 😄

  2. Good post. Too many times I just get up and go and deal with the afteraches. :(
    I'll take this advice and give these warmup techniques a go.


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