Know that you may be sore, even if you’ve been running all winter. Our bodies expend less energy running on a treadmill than running outdoors. Using the incline feature can help close that gap: Studies show that running on a 1% incline requires a similar amount of energy as running outdoors. But how many of us actually increase the incline every time we hit the treadmill for a jog? Because of that, running outdoors will likely feel harder. Your running terrain makes a difference too: “One thing about trails that people often don’t think about is it’s an unstable surface, if you’re going to be on rocks or having to move around a little bit, a lot of the stabilizers in our hips and ankles are going to work harder so you’ll hear a lot of people say the next day that they’re more sore than usual."
Cut back on intensity at first. Knowing that it will require your body to expend more energy and that many more variables are in flux, Conlon suggests people ease into it. “Everything is constant on a treadmill, outside is much more variable because you have things like wind, weather, terrain, uphill and downhill, and even your own pace is hard to be constant with,” he says. He encourages people to be aware of these variables, start at a conversational pace and focus on building up aerobic capacity. “Running at too hard of an effort and doing too much, too soon are the biggest mistakes we typically see in physical therapy. So if you’re just starting out, run outside every other day so you don’t have two days back to back,” Conlon says. If you’re used to hopping on the treadmill and logging 5 miles in 50 minutes, Conlon suggests starting with a 30-minutes outdoor run. “It doesn’t have to mean cutting back where you’re doing a run/walk program, but just modify a little bit to account for the variability your body isn't used to.”
You may need to adjust your form. “A lot of treadmill runners tend to be heel strikers because the treadmill is basically running you, you’re not running the treadmill,” says Conlon. “So when coming off, it’s good to work on a more efficient foot strike, where you’re landing more in your midfoot or forefoot. You can also do things with cadence: every mile, count how many times your right foot strikes the ground to get an idea of what your cadence is. The ideal cadence is 90 steps per minute.”
Go for time instead of distance. “I am a big advocate for running for time versus miles,” says Conlon. “A body knows time it doesn’t really understand what a mile is. Mentally, it’s also easier. You tell someone to run 3 miles it’s can be overwhelming. You may run a 6-minute pace, I may run a 12-minute pace, so to say 3 miles, that’s a lot more volume for me than it is for you, that’s going to take me 36 minutes versus taking you 18 minutes. Running [for time] keeps everyone on the same stress level. If we’re both running 30 minutes it doesn’t really matter what pace we’re running, we’re still both running for the same amount of time.”
Changing things from workout to workout elongates tissues and helps incorporates other muscle groups that can absorb some of the impact.
Switch up your variables. We all get into the habit of running certain loops around the neighborhood or heading to the same trail at the park. But Conlon urges athletes to switch up the variables often. “Think about Central Park, if I’m going around that counter clockwise direction, which is what the majority of the runners do, because of the slight slant in the road that goes inward, my right foot is always over pronating, my left foot is under pronating, so it’s nice to change that direction.” He also encourages runners to change surfaces (trade the hiking trail for a track once a week); and change speeds. “Do some sort of speed workout; it takes runners out of the repetitive gait, so their knees are bending a little more and their hips are going deeper into their range of motion. Changing things from workout to workout elongates tissues and helps incorporates other muscle groups that can absorb some of the impact.”
Continue to cross train. Now that you can run outdoors, it may be your workout of choice, but it’s important to still incorporate other types of exercise into your routine. “Other forms of cardiovascular exercise and workouts like yoga and Pilates are good so people can work on mobility and strength,” says Conlon. “And going through a few strength exercises is nice for runners on an easy day: Do a dynamic warm-up, go for a run, and then in your cool down incorporate some body-weight type strength exercises. Throwing in some strength training allows runners to get stronger and helps them on the road.”
Consider hopping back on the treadmill once in a while. Especially if you are having pain or something feels off. “It’s harder to work on your form outside; a treadmill is situated in front of a mirror so people tend to stay a little more upright. You’re not looking down at the ground so much. Anytime that you can work on form, that’s a positive thing.”
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