A strict regimen of treadmill running won’t sustain the endurance you built up last summer. You can’t help but lose a step—literally. "When you run on a treadmill, the belt pulls your legs along,” says Steve Gisselman, C.S.C.S., assistant coach for athletic performance at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a local running coach. Because you don’t need to drive your legs back or raise your knees high to propel yourself forward, as you do running on ground, the muscles in your lower body can lose range of motion. This muscle tightness sets you up for injury and reduces performance. “Don’t be surprised if you could do a six-minute mile on the treadmill and then you run an eight outdoors,” Gisselman says.
The road back to optimal running health begins with mobility. Gisselman recommends using a foam roller or tennis ball to work out the knots in your glutes, hips, hamstrings, and lower legs. Before and after any run, roll your muscles on the foam and hold any tender spots until you feel them begin to release. Static stretching for the hips, hamstrings, and calves can also be done pre- and post-workout.
Perform three stretches for 30 seconds on each side. Enhancing mobility will help with any pain you currently have due to muscle tightness, and prevent more in the future.
Proper footwear is your next priority. While the minimalist running craze is still going strong, Gisselman cautions against buying minimalist shoes. “You need something that offers stability,” he says. If you plan to run on asphalt, you should opt for a road shoe, which offers cushioning to protect your joints from impact but is still lightweight with minimal treads to promote speed. On the other hand, if your runs will take you onto rougher terrain, get a trail shoe, which is heavier but offers more tread and cushioning to protect against uneven surfaces. Gisselman likes the Saucony Kinvara 4 and Nike Zoom Elite+ 6 for road shoes: “The Elites have a really solid heel cup that doesn’t let a lot of pronation happen [where the foot rotates inward with each stride] and a wide-open toe box that gives your foot room to spread out.” As for trail shoes, go with something like a Brooks Cascadia 9 or Salomon Sense Mantra. “The Brooks have a rock shield, so you get a little cushioning,” Gisselman says; both styles offer high durability.
The newest trend in trail shoes is “maximalist” models, epitomized by Hoka One One. True to their name, maximalist shoes are everything minimalist models are not, featuring tremendous padding—but Gisselman isn’t a fan. “It’s like running on pillows,” he says. And besides, “they look like shoes your grandfather would wear.” Nevertheless, if you have pre-existing knee or foot pain, or just want the peace of mind that comes with increased support, maximalist shoes like Hokas are a smart option. See our running shoe roundup for our top picks of the season’s newest running shoes.
Your first day
Failing to allow your body to adapt to the stress of outdoor running can result in joint and muscle injuries, so you must ease back into it. “Go for time,” Gisselman advises. Find a loop in your neighborhood and run for 15 to 20 minutes. “If you’re halfway from home when your 20 minutes are up, walk the rest. Then assess how your body feels.” The following week, go for 20 to 25 minutes, then 25 to 30, and so on.
Gisselman suggests taking your first workout of the week outdoors and then alternating between the ground and the treadmill. “Go with a 1-to-3 trail-to-treadmill ratio [same goes for road running] the first week, then go 1-to-1. Repeat 1-to-1 the third week, and the fourth week can be three times outside and one time inside.” You want to give your muscles and joints time to adapt to the pounding.