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How to Take Your Run From Treadmill to Trail

author image David Potucek
David Potucek is a physical therapist for Professional Physical Therapy based in Westport, Connecticut. He earned his Masters’ in physical therapy from Springfield College and is a Certified Functional Manual Therapist through the Institute of Physical Art.

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How to Take Your Run From Treadmill to Trail

You’ve been cooped up in the gym all winter, but it’s finally starting to thaw outside. Spring has come, and it’s time to transition from indoor to outdoor running (thank goodness). But before you lace up your shoes and hit the trails, track or pavement, follow these six tips to help condition your body for outdoor workouts and to transition from running on the treadmill to the trails. You’ll reduce your risk of injury, which will help keep you running all spring long, and make your runs more enjoyable.

1. Don’t Skimp on Stretches and Warm-Ups


Just like any other workout, your outdoor runs require a solid warm-up before you just dash out the door. Make sure you do a few dynamic stretches that hit your soleus (calf muscle) and hip flexors, but don’t forget your feet and ankles! During your warm-up, mimic the joint motions of running with brisk walking, high knees, butt kicks, jump rope or stairs. Generally, prolonged stretching will decrease the amount of force you can produce, so keep your warm-up active and dynamic, saving the static stretches for afterward.

Related: The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running

2. Prep Your Body for Outdoor Terrain


When you run on a treadmill, there’s less active hip extension, so exercises like bridges and hip thrusts can get your glutes ready for outdoor training. Forces on the Achilles are also higher when running on a treadmill, making calf stretches even more important for outdoor runners. You’ll also need to give yourself time to adapt to harder running surfaces like pavement. Slow, steady progressions in intensity and mileage will prevent overuse injuries early on in your season. Or you can start running on a track or trail, as there’s better shock absorption. Training techniques like walk/run or jog/run can also be used to ease the transition to outdoors if you haven’t been training during the winter.

Related: Learn More at Professional Physical Therapy

3. Minimize Your Risk of Runner’s Knee


Runners often develop pain in the front or side of the knee called runner’s knee. To minimize your risk, strengthen your glutes and hip flexors. Clamshells, side-lying leg lifts and hip thrusts are great exercises for targeting these muscle groups. Practicing single-leg dynamic balance exercises and single-leg squats will also help with lower-body stability. During your run, shorter strides and high turnover can help reduce the impact on your knee and can prevent overuse injuries.

Related: The Best Workout for Bad Knees

4. Follow the 10-Percent Rule


Even though the spring air may make you want to run forever, a conservative way to pick up the pace in your run without overdoing it is to stick to the 10-percent rule. That means not adding more than 10 percent to intensity, speed, duration or frequency in one run. You can also use perceived exertion to gauge how hard you can push yourself on any given day. On days you feel good, work harder; on days you feel tired, decrease training intensity. Interval training, cadence work and hill climbs are all techniques that can provide variability in training and work different aspects of running mechanics.

5. Dress in Lots of Layers


To adjust to the outdoors during the first few weeks of spring you may still need to dress in layers to keep the chill at bay. An ideal outfit would include a base layer, such as a thin, long-sleeve shirt, a windproof running jacket and running pants and/or tights. These layers can be stripped off as needed to regulate your body temperature. And thin gloves and a hat can be removed and stored easily when you heat up during your run. Burning lungs is a common complaint when first starting to run in the cold, which will get better with more time spent outdoors. If you keep the intensity low during the first few runs, you won’t tax your respiratory system as much. Or consider a face mask, which can also help reduce the feeling of burning lungs, as they keep the air that you breathe warmer.

6. Always Remember to Cool Down


After your run, it’s important to cool down to help diminish the likelihood of post-run muscle soreness and injuries. Perform some static stretches and mobility drills for the calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, IT bands, glutes and quads using a foam roller or lacrosse ball. Try to learn where trigger points form (center of the muscle), and work these areas regularly. Other considerations to help with recovery are hydration, proper nutrition, sleep and recovery drinks and/or energy bars. Compression garments can also help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.

Related: 8 Stretching Mistakes That Are Hurting Your Workout

What Do YOU Think?


Have you been running on the treadmill all winter? Are you ready to hit the pavement now that it’s spring? What have you been doing to prepare? Did you find any of these tips helpful? Is there anything you would add? Share your suggestions and questions in the comments below!

Related: Learn More at Professional Physical Therapy

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