Proper Warm up for Winter Running

author : mikericci
comments : 2

How to prepare your body before heading out into the cold.

winter triathlon training image

As we head into the shorter days this time of the year, we also face the colder workout temps. One of the most important things to consider is a proper warm up for running in the cold. I have two strategies I’ll discuss here and different combinations of setting those up for a productive run in the colder weather. 

Bike trainer warmups

An indoor bicycle trainer is a great tool to use in order to warm up the running muscles pre-run. Even an easy bike session of 30 minutes will warm up the leg muscles, heart and lungs, so they are functioning properly for an outdoor run. If you want to add some intensity to your bike session, and who doesn’t, here are a few of my favorite workouts, pre-run. 

  1. 10 minute warm-up, then 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for 10 minutes. The ‘on’ can be tempo to Vo2 Max, depending on how you feel. Cool down with a short 5’ easy spin. Towel off any excess sweat and dress properly for the cold. The idea here is get the body temp heated up, but not to go outside sweaty and over heated.

  2. 12 minute warm up and then 3 minutes hard and 3 minutes easy for 5 rounds. ‘Hard’ is how you want to define it, but once again, take it from Tempo up to VO2 – but make sure you leave something for the run.

  3. 30 minutes of increasing intensity, such as 10 minutes of easy spinning, followed by 10 minutes of tempo riding and right into 10 minutes of threshold effort. Cool down with an easy 5 minutes and of course towel off any excess sweat before you head out the door.

Body weight warmups

The second option can be used if you don’t have access to your bike and bike trainer, are away from home on a trip or just want to skip cycling before running. 

  1. 10 minutes of 10 body squats, 10 pushups, and 10 leg lifts.

  2. 3 rounds of: 1 minute of jumping rope, 10 lunges, alternating each leg, and 10 burpees.

  3. 3 rounds of: 20 step ups, 20 butt kicks (in place) and then 10 pushups. 

Either of these examples will help you get warmed up for a run in the cold. Warming up properly is the key to not pulling any muscles, but most importantly, you need to make sure your skin is warmed up before you head outdoors. Your skin is the biggest organism in your body and if it needs to be warmed up, you’ll feel pretty lethargic as blood won’t be sent to your working muscles, but rather to your cold skin, that’s attempting to heat up.

Lay off the speedwork

One quick note about running in the cold: It’s been my experience that doing any type of drill, speed or interval work in the cold is counter productive. Running with multiple layers on doesn’t allow for natural run form. I would recommend that if the temps are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, refrain from running anything harder than a tempo effort. Save the faster workouts for the warmer days or for the treadmill, where the conditions are a bit more predictable.

Mike Ricci, USAT Coach of the Year, is the owner and founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group, through which he coaches all levels of athletes from beginner to elite. Mike is also the former head coach of the National Collegiate Champion CU Triathlon Team, and guided them to 4 consecutive collegiate National Championship titles from 2010-2013. Mike has written training plans for Team USA several times, is a USAT Level III Elite coach, and has helped many athletes to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Learn more about D3 and Mike.


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date: November 28, 2015