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"It's very easy for a seasoned runner to go from running inside to outside and to end up with joint issues," says Brent Bishop, fitness expert and Sporting Life 10K ambassador. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are Bishop's tips for safely transitioning your workout from the treadmill to the trails.
1. Play with incline and intervals.
Some experts suggest raising the incline of your treadmill to about 1.5 percent to replicate the difficulty of running outdoors. Bishop says there is no way to truly match an outdoor run on a treadmill, but upping your incline is a good start.
Before you get back outdoors, prep yourself with workouts that include varied inclines, as well as workouts that intersperse intense intervals of very fast running on an incline with short periods of walking. "It can help with your pace and endurance when running," he says.
While running up an incline offers a certain challenge, don't forget that, when you're outdoors, after you go up, you must go down, and downhill running puts a lot more wear and tear on your muscles. "That's why downhill running will make you very sore the next day," says Bishop.
2. Shorten your distance.
If you're used to running eight kilometres on the treadmill, scale back to four on your first outdoor run or, better yet, alternate running and walking the distance you would normally run. "Don't do too much too soon," says Bishop. "There's a lot more force [when running outdoors], which means your muscles have to contract and stabilize more than when you're on a treadmill."
That's why many runners will experience soreness a day or two after their first runs of the season. Your body adapts eventually, but it's best not to push it right away. Short walking breaks offer your muscles some time to recover, which can help them adapt, says Bishop.
3. Train yourself to breathe.
Strong running requires proper breathing, but you don't always get that from a treadmill workout. "When people go outside after being on a treadmill—especially if they're not seasoned runners—they find themselves huffing and puffing and they have to stop," says Bishop.
The best way to learn to breathe better? Start with a walk-run program. "Run for two minutes and walk for one. That's going to help you regulate your breathing," says Bishop. "Pretty soon, the running portion gets longer and the walking portion gets shorter. Then, you're just running."
4. Watch your pace.
Keeping to a steady pace is significantly more challenging when there's no track moving below your feet and controlling the speed for you. "Now, all of a sudden, you're pushing your own body weight every time your foot touches the ground," says Bishop. It's easy to overestimate what speed you can sustain, then burn out before the run is over.
Bishop says 180 steps per minute is an efficient pace for distance runners. If you're finding you have trouble with burnout, try counting how many times one foot hits the ground in a minute, aiming for 90 touches. A running app, such as RunKeeper, can also help keep track of your pace and how it changes throughout the course of your run.
5. Eat for recovery.
Don't forget to drink lots of water when you're running outside. The warmer it is, the more you sweat and the more water you need.
Eating plenty of protein is also important. "Exercise damages your muscles to a small degree," says Bishop. "When you're running, you're going to get microscopic tears in your muscles." Eating protein, particularly after a run, can help repair your muscles, readying them for the next workout.
Learn more about what to eat and drink to best fuel your workout.