Running Outdoors – Spring Bound - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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Running Outdoors – Spring Bound

Spring Running

This winter, have you fallen off your workout routine? I know I have! I have always preferred to exercise outdoors so during winter as much as I hate to admit it, I do not challenge myself as much and find myself “going through the motions.”

I don’t know about you, but I am very much looking forward to warmer weather as winter comes to an end and spring approaches!

Last month, Shaina shared some very helpful Winter Workout Tips to help you be safe and motivated to stay in shape during the cold months.

For those who did not heed this advice or who find themselves slipping during winter (like myself!), we need to talk about getting back out there, SAFELY!

Have you heard of the term “weekend warrior”? This is a person who engages in physical or strenuous activity only part time or in their spare time. They also tend to overdo their activity level because they think their body is ready for the 5K that they did last year (even though they have not run in months)!

I applaud anyone who includes exercise in their life, however when we do not make it routine or jump into physical activity after long periods of inactivity, it sets yourself up for injury.

Now, I don’t know if “warm weather warrior” is a thing, but if you slack off all winter and then expect to jump right back into activity as soon as we get that nice 60-degree sunny day, you may be in for an unpleasant surprises if you do not PREPARE YOUR BODY.

What can you do to prepare your body?

Warm Up! Spend about 5 minutes prior to any exercise routine to get the blood flowing!

You want to allow your heart rate to slowly increase, warm-up your muscles and lubricate your joints so that your body can move comfortably through the motions you are trying to perform

Your muscles are the coldest when we first wake up and have not started moving yet

  • Do not roll out of bed, put on your running clothes, and immediately start running as your body is NOT ready YET!

It is also best to incorporate a DYNAMIC warm up

This means your warmup should include movements that work the same muscles and over multiple joints that you will be using during your workout. Think about it as “stretching while you move”. For example, prior to a run you can do:

  • Heel and toe walking
  • high knee walking and marching in place
  • squats
  • lunges

Remember with your warm-up that it does not have to be more than 5 minutes long and I completely understand that time is precious, BUT this is incredibly important for your body so that you do not injure yourself

Don’t Go Straight For The Gold! Set realistic expectations.

If you have not worked out all winter, do not expect to pick up where you left off last summer

  • Ease back into exercise and activity
  • “Rome was not built in a day” completely applies to this situation

Starting with a Couch to 5K program for running (we will talk about this more specifically later!)

  • This is a great way to safely ramp up intensity to get you back to running after taking a break, or if you are just getting into it!
  • This program may seem too easy for you and you might think that it’s silly to start slow, but your body will THANK YOU for it!

Know Your Terrain! Ask anyone, running on a treadmill and running outdoors feels completely different!

While the overall body mechanics used for treadmill and outdoor running are similar enough, there are some differences you should be aware of if you have been running on a treadmill all winter and plan on switching to outdoors.

For example, science has shown that:

  • You engage more muscles running outside than on a treadmill! A treadmill does some of the work for you by feeding the belt to you whereas outdoors your feet need to propel you forward.
  • Also, treadmill running involves a strict linear running pattern where outside you must also take into account slopes, curbs, and unstable surfaces (think gravel, slippery leaves) which will challenge your muscles in a different way. Think hills, hills and more hills
  • This will challenge your entire body- ankles, knees, hips and all the way up your spine
  • Your stride is different! Although biomechanical patterns are the same, outdoor running is more similar to a natural gait cycle because you are not limited by the parameters of the treadmill.
  • People tend to shorten their stride on a treadmill compared to outside
  • It has also been shown that running on a treadmill compared to outside tends to increase the heart rate faster, possibly due to the shorter stride, but also possibly due to fear of falling off the treadmill
  • There is wind resistance! Wind resistance can add an extra challenge to an outdoor run. To help train for this, it has been shown that treadmill running at a 1% incline can more accurately mimic outdoor running by
  • Switch up your workouts! Do some of your runs outside in the fresh air and some on the treadmill when it’s icky weather or just more convenient.
  • It’s important that we are flexible with our workouts (to some degree) so that we don’t miss them too often based on weather, childcare, work and more

Cool-Down! Similar to the warm - up, after exercising you should spend at least 5 minutes cooling down to slowly decrease your heart rate and allow your blood pressure to recover.

  • Cool-Down! Similar to the warm - up, after exercising you should spend at least 5 minutes cooling down to slowly decrease your heart rate and allow your blood pressure to recover.
  • You can generally continue your workout session but do so at a slower pace to cool-down
  • You can end with more static stretches to promote flexibility and length while your muscles are already warm
  • After a workout is the best time to stretch as your muscles are the MOST flexible and warm from all your exercising

As you get into your workout routine, also do not forget about ACTIVE RECOVERY!

What is an active recovery?

  • Active recovery involves the performance of low intensity exercise following a strenuous workout
  • As you get into a workout routine and spring weather sticks around, you may find yourself on the opposite end from the “weekend warrior”, but it is still important for your body to get a break.

What is an active recovery?

  • Allow time for your body to recover and repair
  • Prevent muscle fatigue
  • Prevent injury
  • Improve performance
  • Improve your sleep (YAY)

If you are involved in moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise, you should take one rest day every three to five days. This does not mean you have to sit on the couch and do nothing for a day, but your exercise should be kept at a low intensity.

This can include:

  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • A leisurely jog
  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Cycling (at a leisurely pace)

Another key point to keep in mind as you get into your exercise program is that you should have an active recovery week.

When you are excising regularly, it is important that you do not increase your intensity or increase your total mileage by more than 10% over the course of a week

  • If you are running, each week you can increase your total mileage by 10% as a rule of thumb
  • Then on the fourth week, you need to reduce your total mileage for that active recovery week so that your muscles can heal and get STRONGER

Earlier I mentioned that a Couch to 5K program is a great way to start getting into running.

There are many programs out there, but all are similar in that they use an alternating walking and running format that gradually progress the frequency and duration of running to train the body to run a 5k (3.1 miles).

  • Week 1: start with a goal of 3 runs a week
  • Followed by alternating 1-minute running with 1 ½ minutes walking
  • For a total of 20 minutes
  • Followed by a 5-minute cool-down
  • Each week you will increase your length of running time
  • Eventually, your running time will be much longer than your walking time
  • You will get to the day when you are running the entire time and your walking is your warm-up and cool-down 😊

This is a great way to break the winter blues and get you outside and active this spring!

If you are looking for a more detailed plan beyond week 1 of couch to 5K and a more specific approach to running, give us a call or send us an email at

We love to help put exercise programs together whether it is for running, walking, hiking, swimming, soccer and MORE!

If you need any help getting out there, (or if when you get out there your body is telling you that you NEED help), give us a call at 410-782-3672 to set up a FREE Breakthrough visit so that we can keep you going this spring!

Don’t miss the opportunity to help your body get back into shape so that you can love all the spring flowers and activities that will pop up around you!

Stephanie McKay

Stephanie McKay

Stephanie graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore in 2011 with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. During PT school, I completed a clinical internship in Women’s Health/Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy which gave me valuable clinical experience and opened my eyes to this much needed and often overlooked area of physical therapy. There are so many conditions/symptoms such as pelvic pain and incontinence which are mistaken for being normal just because they may be common in society, chronic, or attributed to pregnancy/childbirth, however this is not the case at all! I love that I can help my patients return to activities that they enjoy without symptoms. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, as well as exercising and being outside. I am excited to join Breakaway and to be a part of a team where there is focus on patient-centered care. I love to spend one-on-one time with my patients to ensure I am meeting their personal goals and to be able to give my patients the tools that they need so that they can maintain their progress even after discharge from PT.
Stephanie McKay

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