Tips for Running in Winter

Like it or not, winter is here. Whether you’re training for an endurance race or just a dedicated runner, New England winters are particularlyWinter running challenging to one’s safety and resolve. According to Alicia Hirscht, DPT, SCS, CSCS, director of physical therapy at ONS/Stamford, snowy pathways and icy sidewalks, reduced daylight and frigid temperatures all present real risks for those who are willing to brave winter weather conditions to get in their run. But there are a few sensible precautions you can take to stay safe and warm.


“Experts agree that the trick to staying warm while you’re out in the cold is to layer, but not too much,” Hirscht said. Even though it’s cold outside, your body will generate enough heat to perspire, so it’s important to wear moisture-wicking inner layers to help your body stay warm and dry. Your outer layer should be made from a material like Gore-Tex which lets out the heat while also protecting you against the wind. When deciding how many layers to add, Hirscht suggested that you dress to feel a little chilly when your first step outside. “You will warm up as you get going,” she said. Bearing in mind that everyone’s tolerance to cold is different, in general, if the temperature is below 40, you’ll want two layers beneath your jacket – a light weight base layer and a light fleece top or vest.

We lose as much as 30 percent of our body heat through our hands, feet and head. A hat and running gloves or mittens are essential, again those made of wicking materials are the best. If your hands are particularly sensitive to the cold, Hirscht advised slipping disposable heat packs into your gloves or mittens. If you local running store doesn’t keep them in stock, you can usually find them in a ski shop.

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid running in slush, but you can keep your feet warm and dry if you forgo light, mesh covered running shoes in favor of sturdier versions with breathable, waterproof uppers. If you don’t feel like buying winter trainers, treat your current shoes with a waterproof spray. If your feet are prone to blister, putting a balm on your feet will keep your toes and heels dry and minimize the friction between soggy socks and shoes.

Some people have difficulty breathing when they exercise in extremely cold weather, especially those with asthma or exercise-induced asthma. If you are breathing heavily, the winter air may induce bronchoconstriction due to the air’s dryness and extreme cold. That’s why Hirscht and other experts recommend slower, endurance runs in the winter instead of high velocity sprints. If cold air affects your breathing, consider wearing a thin, skier’s face mask or waterproof gaiter, or wrap a lightweight scarf across your mouth and nose. Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth will also help reduce the impact of bursts of cold air in your lungs.


It’s up to you to make sure that you stand out to distracted drivers and or those whose vision is compromised by snow, glare or shadows in dim light. It’s best to have bright, reflective outer clothing or accessories such as reflective wrist bands or clip-on lights to make yourself more noticeable, particularly if your route takes you off the sidewalks and into the road.


While we do sweat while running in the cold weather, we typically do not feel as thirsty to replenish those fluids as we do when running in warmer weather. Be mindful of this and remember to hydrate both before, during and after your workout. “As with any cardiovascular exercise, remember to continue drinking until you urinate after your exercise, and that the color of your urine is a pale yellow, not dark, cloudy or brown,” Hirscht said. For runners, the general guideline is to drink 16 ounces of water or sports drink before your run. Ideally, you should take in between 5 and 12 ounces of fluid every 15 – 20 minutes during your run, and another 8 ounces within 30 minutes after you stop.


If you are out on a particularly windy day, avoid getting a chill by facing the wind at the beginning of your run so it will be at your back when you make your sweaty return to home. If the temperature is at or below 0 degrees, or the wind chill is below minus 20, be smart and work out at the gym to avoid the chance of frostbite.

Regardless of the season, you should participate in a training program that consists of strengthening and stretching to avoid the types of injuries that can plague runners. This twice weekly program should include exercises for your core, hips, hamstrings and calves. Here are some injury prevention exercises for runners.

Train Right, Run Free! ONS Physical Therapist Alicia Hirscht Shows Us how to Train for a Marathon

The ONS Foundation’s Annual 5K Run/Walk is coming up this Sunday, September 21st in Old Greenwich! ONS supporters, staff and former patients will participate in this fun-filled event. It would be great to see you all come down and enjoy a nice morning jog. Some of you may be casual joggers, others might want to participate in the local race circuit, or you might be training for the NYC Marathon.

ONS Senior Clinical Specialist Alicia Hirsch
ONS Senior Clinical Specialist Alicia Hirsch

Whether you are a casual runner, training for the marathon, or just someone who supports local causes with a 5K run…all runners are at risk of developing injuries if they are not training properly. A question I ask all my runners in the clinic is, “What else do you do for training, besides running?” More often than not, the answer is, “nothing” or “I stretch sometimes.”  What many runners do not know is that research has shown an effective leg and core strengthening program can reduce the incidence of hip, knee and ankle pain.

A proper program needs to have exercises specific for running: weight bearing on one leg, focused on shock absorbing muscle groups, and emphasizing hip and core strength. Many runners feel that stretching in their training can help prevent injury. However, many injuries occur because of inherent muscle weakness, not necessarily because of tightness.  To address this weakness, incorporate the exercises below into your routine: 3 times per week. Good luck with your training!


Hamstring Curls with the Ball:

1. Lie on your back with your legs up on a ball.


2. Lift your hips, bend your knees and roll the ball in towards your buttocks.


3. Roll the ball back out and lower your hips.










One Legged Bridges:

1. Lie on your back with one knee bent, the other straight in the air.


2. Pushing through the bent knee, lift your hips off the ground. Lower back down.


Repeat: 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg.







1. Lie on your side, heels in line with your shoulders.


2. Supporting yourself on your elbow, lift your body off the ground. Lower back down, repeat:



3. Lower back down, repeat:




Hip Dips:

 1. Stand on your left leg only.



2. Let your trunk bend forward while extending your right leg straight back. Let your arms fall freely, keep your left knee slightly bent. Keep your stomach muscles tight and your back in neutral, bend through your hip.



3. Return to start position, repeat: 2 sets of 15 reps on each leg.


One Legged Heel Raises:

1. Stand off the edge of a step, letting your heel hang below the step.



2. Push up onto your toes. Lower back down slowly.


Repeat: 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg.

Lateral Squats:

1. Stand sideways on a step.


2. Sit your hips back and bend your knee, lowering your opposite leg to the ground. Do not let your knee fall inward and do not let it bend past your toes.


3. Lift back up and repeat: 2 sets of 15 reps

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Get in the know! ONS Physician Dr. Gloria Cohen discusses Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

What is it? How do you get it? How do you treat it?

What exactly is Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?
DOMS, as it is also known, is the sensation of Cohenpain, soreness, and stiffness in exercised muscles after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. This can occur from several hours to three days post exercise. Though the actual mechanism is not completely understood, Dr. Cohen says “studies suggest that symptoms develop as a result of microscopic damage to the muscle fibers involved in certain exercises, particularly in muscle cell membranes and the bands that connect muscle cells”.

After a workout, your body automatically begins the process of repairing the damage to muscle fibers causing low-grade pain. The saying “no pain, no gain” is actually accurate because although your overall fitness is improving, you will experience aches and pains along the way. Certain types of movement or exercise, known as eccentric muscle contractions where the muscle lengthens as it contracts, can cause low-grade pain. According to Dr. Cohen, an example of this is what happens as the quadriceps or thigh muscle engages while walking or running downhill.

NYRC Dash-SplashCan DOMS be prevented?? Dr. Cohen suggests “when starting a new exercise program, it is advisable to gradually increase the intensity of the program.” In other words, don’t overdo it! She also cautions, “beware of overstretching which can also result in sore muscles, especially if you haven’t warmed up adequately before exercising”. If these precautions don’t help, there are treatment approaches. “Increasing blood flow to the muscle and immersion in cool or icy water has shown to be effective in some studies”. According to Dr. Cohen, who also suggests refraining from the activity if symptoms occur, “if pain increases and becomes more severe- if there is swelling of the limb- or if you notice your urine color darken- seek medical attention. Muscle breakdown can put excess stress on the kidneys. When in doubt, see your doctor.”