What Runners Should Include in Their Winter Exercise Program

Exercise Program

For most, winter is a time to take a break from the racing and sometimes even running. For some, your exercise program just includes moving your hand to your mouth. Although it’s good to take a break, it’s also important to maintain some level of fitness, especially if you plan on racing in the spring. Your aerobic base is built from years of training so maintaining some level of fitness is important for preparing for your next training cycle.

To Run or Not to Run

In other posts I’ve mentioned that to maximize your potential, you need to run as much as possible.Exercise Program Pinterest Cover And that applies for the winter as well. However, some need a break for a number of reasons, and that’s okay.

I’m Running!

For those who do decide to run, you typically don’t need to keep up with the interval workouts, especially if you’re not planning to race during the winter. In fact, it’s a good idea to take a break from intervals during the winter. Intervals are very hard on the musculoskeletal system so taking a break from them is a good thing. It can allow the musculoskeletal system some time to heal.

Most of your running will be easy. However, it is good to keep some type of faster running in your program. Personally, I do a tempo run or tempo intervals once a week and the occasional fartlek every few weeks. I also continue with strides once or twice a week after easy runs. These types of workouts are less stressful on the body than intervals. They also allow you to maintain some speed and help when transitioning back to formal speed work in the spring. Keeping up with a longer run is also a good idea. Most are used to doing one every week, but moving to every other week is sufficient. This provides enough of a stimulus to maintain your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations.

Additionally, continuing with running during the winter allows you to continue adding running-specific stress to the body. This is especially important for older runners. Maintaining some running throughout the year, including faster workouts, is important to maintaining a higher level of training as you age. By continuing running, including some faster runs, you decrease the rate at which certain physiological factors, like VO2 max and running economy, decrease.

I’m Not Running!

For a number of reasons, some just need a break from running. For some it’s a mental thing. Others need to give their ailing joints and soft tissue a break from the high impact. While others need to focus on their strength to address an injury.

If you fall into this category, it’s best to keep some type of cardiovascular workout in your exercise program though. In addition to helping maintain weight during the holidays, it will help transition back to running in the spring. Like I mentioned before, your aerobic base is built over years of stressing the cardiovascular system. Therefore, the more you do, the stronger your aerobic system will be.

Keep in mind that if you decide to take a break from running that your body will require a longer transition back to running, especially if you’re an older runner. From a musculoskeletal standpoint, your body will need to adjust to the high impact again. The body adjusts to the stresses put on it, and without those stresses, you lose some of the adaptations. Don’t worry, you won’t lose everything, but you may notice some pains in the joints or muscles when you start back up again. The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons need to adjust to the load again.

What Should Be in Your Exercise Program

Regardless of whether you run or not, you should plan to continue with your strength training program, foam rolling and stretching. Check out this post if you’re wondering what type of stretching you should be doing. Or the Free Resources section if you want some foam roller exercises. And while we’re on the topic of checking out other posts, check this post on why you should consider adding some power training to your strength program.

If you don’t plan to run or if you plan to run and include some cross training, there are a lot of options. In terms of cardiovascular exercise, some types are better for runners than others because they’re similar movement patterns. These include

  • Cross Country Skiing (Classic style more similar than skate)
  • Elliptical
  • Aqua Jogging
  • Stair Climbing
  • Walking

Some need to work different muscles and/or need a complete break from running. If you need to do something completely different, there are some good alternatives, including

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing

Fix the Aches and Pains

Winter can be a good time to focus on those aches and pains that have been nagging you during the Fall. One of the reasons I like to decrease my mileage a little during the winter is to focus on any weak areas or areas of pain. I trade in some of my miles for time to work on any problem areas. I’ll do a little more foam rolling or rehab exercises. Taking the time to address these problems can help you come out strong in the spring and without any pain. Taking that time can also catch little problems before they become bigger problems. Remember, acute injuries are much easier to treat than chronic ones.

Work on Form

Winter can also be a good time to work on any issues with your running form. Running form will be a topic for another post, but is worth mentioning here as something to work on in the off season.

Wondering if you should consider switching to be a forefoot runner? Check out my post on that topic. In addition to investigating foot strike, you can also look at your stride length or stride rate. Your stride rate should fall between 160-180 steps per minute. A rate outside of that range will be inefficient. Stride length is also important and actually has more of an influence on your efficiency. I’ll discuss more on this during the running form post.

I mention posture in a lot of posts and here I go again. It’s essential for good running form. If there’s one thing people need to work on, it’s their posture. Check out this post on posture and/or the Free Resource section if you want some more info about posture.


It all comes down to what works best for you in terms of whether to run or not during the winter. However, you should stay active if you decide not to run. Remember to be careful in the winter weather. Check out my post on preparing for winter weather if you need some help properly preparing for the conditions.

Keep training!







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