The fantastic weather these past few days has brought all kinds of people back outside for their workouts, and I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips for transitioning successfully to outdoor running… while minimizing your risk of injury.

Especially if you’ve been doing the majority of your run mileage on the treadmill all winter, it is important to factor in the significant differences between running on the treadmill versus running on the road.

Key differences between the treadmill and the road:

1) The impact forces are generally lower on the treadmill than on the road, so your body is not used to the higher level of impact you will experience with road running.

2) Treadmill running is biomechanically different: on the treadmill your legs and feet are carried underneath you by the belt, while your body stays in the same place (or at least we hope it does! ;-)). On the road, you need to propel the mass of your body forward with each stride.

Most people experience more overall fatigue over the same number of miles on the road than the treadmill because of the extra propulsion and core stabilization demands of road running.

3) Treadmill “topography” is perfectly smooth and even; whereas on the road the terrain is uneven and highly variable, putting more stabilization demands on your lower legs and feet.

clipboard-checklistTop tips to adjust to road running:

1) Cut back your total mileage by about 20% during the first couple weeks, and by even more if you are feeling unusually achy after your run workouts (or the next morning).

2) Especially for your longer runs, reduce the mileage of these workouts by at least 30% during the first couple weeks. Be sure to avoid the opposite scenario of having done, say, your longest run of 12 miles on the treadmill, and then going outside and spiking the distance to 15 miles. That’s a recipe for injury!

3) If you are on a training program and feel a need to maintain your weekly mileage total, spread out your run miles over more days. For example, if you were running 4 days per week on the treadmill, take those same miles and spread them out over 5 or 6 days.

4) Be conservative with high intensity running. If you have been doing all your speedwork on the treadmill all winter, then be sure to take the intensity and/or the number of reps down a notch during those first couple weeks.

5) Add walk breaks to your run workout. Including 30-60 seconds of brisk walking every 5-10 minutes will make a huge difference in your capacity for outdoor mileage without injury. I know, I know, in some people’s minds it is verboten to ever walk during a run workout. But, seriously, give it a try. If walk breaks enable you to cover more distance without getting injured, the end result is *you* in better condition than the person who slogged through.

6) Take a look at your run routes, and be sure you are avoiding long stretches of off camber roadway (where it slants to one side or the other). Introduce hills gradually, especially if you were not running hills on the treadmill.


7) Check your shoes! Make sure they are still structurally sound and resilient. If they need replacement, purchase them at a store with knowledgeable running staff. Introduce your new shoes into your program gradually, rotating between your old and new shoes for the first few weeks.

8 ) In between your workouts, give your legs a bit extra TLC… gentle stretching several times throughout the day, foam rolling or massage for tight spots, and putting your feet up when you can.

9) At those moments during the day when you happen to be on your feet, sneak in some balance work! Maybe you’re on the phone, maybe you’re waiting in line, the opportunities are endless once you start looking for them. Balance work will sharpen your senses and lower leg stabilization strength, which will be a big help for your durability on the run.

Here’s an example: next time you are waiting in line for something, surreptitiously shift your weight onto one foot and take your other foot off the ground, so you are balancing on one side. That’s a great start… now see if you can lift the heel of your stance leg off the ground, and stay balanced on the ball of your foot for 30 seconds or more. Start with short durations and build from there.

If you are at the gym or at home, you can make this type of exercise even more challenging and effective by getting your hands on a piece of resistance tubing. Tie it off at about waist height, and then stand sideways to the attachment point and then pull on the resistance tubing in various directions while balancing on one foot (making it harder again by lifting your heel off the ground slightly). Experiment with multiple orientations, pulling the tubing toward your body, across your body to the outside, and across your body to the inside, all at various heights.

There you have it… now get outside, soak up the sunshine and fresh air, and rejuvenate your spirit!


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