How to: Cold-weather running plans

Melissa A. Moyer
PT, DPT, SCS, ATC, Clinical Biomechanist

Moyer_Melissa_WEB160x200People in the Upper Midwest have the privilege of experiencing weather at its extremes.  North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, in particular, experience a continental climate with four distinct seasons, ranging from cold, dry winters to hot and humid summers. In years past, the winter’s high temperatures averaged below freezing, while low temperatures averaged 10 °F.

Thus, if you’re a runner in the Upper Midwest, what will your winter or off-season running plan look like?

After a long competition season the winter is the optimal time to recover from any nagging injuries.  Strategies may include:

  • Decreasing training volume
  • Increasing strength
  • Analyzing running mechanics

Decreasing Training Volume

Training volume is and will always be a topic with many philosophies. Among all the “good” philosophies they all have one goal in mind – peaking at the right time. Typically, unless Upper Midwest runners are traveling to the southern United States to perform during the winter, this is the time to be recovering or in a base training cycle.

The recovery and base training cycles are commonly overlooked by runners. During these cycles, runners are either resting or progressively building up their mileage. This relative rest will not only lead to a benefit physiologically, but psychologically. Remember the goal is to peak at competition time.

Increasing Strength

During in-season activities, regardless of sport, strength detriments will occur, and runners are no exception. Specifically, strength losses will be found in gluteus medius and maximus.

Inadequate strength in glute medius and maximus are common problems that can lead to injuries such as: Patella femoral pain syndrome and iliotibial band friction syndrome. Therefore, if you’re a runner plagued by these injuries, the winter would be the opportune time to build-up your strength.

Along with overcoming injuries, strength plays a large role in running performance. Strength training has been shown to improve peak speed, running economy (How efficiently a person uses oxygen at a given sub-maximal pace), and run time to exhaustion at a maximal velocity.

Additionally, strength training is theorized to aid in injury prevention by means of increasing the structural integrity of connective and bony tissue.

Analyzing Running Mechanics

Last, but not least, the winter is the perfect time to analyze your running mechanics. Gait analysis is used to help you run efficiently and to identify movement-related problems in runners with injuries.

Gait analysis is performed using high-speed video cameras to capture your running form (Kinematics). Additionally, a force platform or treadmill is used to analyze the forces that are involved with your running (Kinetics).

With this information you will either be able to confirm that you are running efficiently or identify areas that you may need to change. For example: By adjusting your foot-strike pattern you may be able to adjust how you are applying force into the ground and ultimately changing how the ground reapplies that force back on your body and run more efficiently.


At Sanford POWER, we have the capabilities to provide you with a top notch, full scale running program. Our team is made up of physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and a biomechanist educated to help you reach your goals.  Additionally, Sanford Power possesses an instrumented treadmill and motion capture system to analyze your running gait.  Contact the Sanford Power Center in your area to make an appointment today.