The winter can be a very tough time for athletes who want to maintain or improve their performance. The shortened day light hours and the wet, cold weather all play a part in making it hard for athletes to get out the door.
From a coaching perspective the winter is a great time for athletes who do most of their racing in the summer months to build their endurance base and work on their weakness. The following are some ideas on how you can get through the winter while doing the training that will bring great performance benefits with it come summer racing.
1. Set good goals and have a plan
I believe that this is the biggest factor to successful winter training and without it you are wasting your time. Why would you spend hours and hours training in the rain and the cold for nothing? The answer is that unless you are insane you probably wouldn’t. Yet there are so many people out there training, who don’t really know what they want to achieve over the winter and just haphazardly train. They usually either get sick or injured and by the time summer comes around they are dissolution with their training.
The goals that you set should be the targets that you are aiming for and they should be the reason you are out there training. Whether your goals are an upcoming event, developing a specific area of your sport or to lose weight they need to excite you. If your goals do not excite you then it is going to be hard for you to get out of bed in the pitch black at 6 o’clock in the morning to go training. Once you have decided your goal, write it down and stick it on the fridge, the wall, next to the door or some where you see it a lot. Every time you feel unmotivated look at your goal, get excited and remember why you are doing this. Along with putting your goal up on the wall a photo/s of yourself or others and motivational saying help me to maintain motivation when the going gets tough.
So your goal is set and you can’t wait to start training, but what do you do? Well this is where the plan comes into it. Your plan is not just this training programme although it is part of your plan. Other parts of your plan to achieve your goals are things such as the logistics of training, maintain your equipment, maintaining your body through a good diet, stretching and maybe massage. Surround yourself with likeminded people and see what their plan is. You need to be committed to achieving your goals and staying focused on them throughout your build up.
There will be times that will be hard to maintain focus and for some reason or your situation may change. If this happens your goals and plan must change alongside it. Sit down think about your new situation, maybe it’s an injury. Your goal may now change to healing the injury. How do you do that? Get it diagnosed, physio appointments, resting it, strengthening exercises talk with your coach. You have to be able to change and adapt when things change. Think through the process instead of getting angry and frustrated.
2. Warm training gear
Good gloves are crucial to keep those fingers warm. I find that a pair of thermal gloves over the top of cycling gloves works well in most conditions on the bike. If you live further south then investing in some specific winter cycling gloves will make the winter that much more bearable.
It is really important to keep your knees warm in the cold conditions while both cycling and running. This is to ensure adequate blood flow to the knees is maintained to avoid injury. There are a wide range of full length tights out there that will keep your legs toasty or a pair of leg warms will turn any of your shorts into long tights for a reasonable price.
To keep your core warm a thermal next to the skin is a must during most training sessions in the winter to wick the moisture away from the skin and keep you warm. In wet windy conditions a close fitting water proof rain jacket will keep you warm, but you will often get soaked from the condensation build up inside the jacket if it is not breathable. I find the best piece of gear I have is my wind proof vest. This combined with a thermal, cycling top, arm warmers and gloves seems to keep my upper body warm in most conditions even though I get very wet when it rains. Vests are a lot cheaper than jackets, they can be stuffed away in back pockets if the weather clears and come in lots of different high visibility colours so you can seen by cars.
Other useful bits of gear for winter training are arm warmers, fleece head band to keep your ears warm while still letting you lose some heat through your head, shoe covers for the bike, poogies for keeping your hands warm in the kayak and a good warm pair of socks to stop your feet going numb.
Having good warm training gear makes it so much easier to get out the door when the weather is bad and it will also help you avoid illness from having your immune system suppressed from training in the cold conditions.
3. Get organised
How many times have you gotten up early to train before work or raced home to fit in a ride before dinner and you end up spending most of your time trying to find your other arm warmer or glove. To save time and get you out on the road sort out your gear the night before an early morning session or have your gear at work in the car so you don’t have to go home before your training session.
It’s really simple but it can save a lot of time when you wake up in the morning and you have set out all your gear the night before. Also you may want to keep a bag of gear in your car so if you find you have some spare time at lunch or after work you can just get your gear on and go.
Training straight from work can also prevent you from getting home and deciding you would rather watch TV than head out into the wet and cold. The lure from a warm fire and comfortable couch is hard to overcome on a winter’s afternoon.
4. Buddy up
Over the winter months, some likeminded training partners will help you get out there on the bad days. It’s a lot harder to stay at home when the weather is bad when you know there are others waiting for you and who will ask where you were if you are a no show. Pick training partners who are of a similar fitness level and who are working towards similar goals. Often training with a partner turns into an easy session which is ok every now and then. However don’t let this get in the way of your specific session you need to do. Tell your training partner that they are welcome to join in on your session but make sure you train at your prescribed intensity, duration and do your specific drills/reps when needed.
There is no doubt that with the shortened day light hours that you will be riding in dark or near dark conditions. It is very important for your safety that cars are able to see you when you’re out on your bike/ running and that rowers/ boats can see you when you’re out in the kayak. Make sure you have a good set of lights, remember that this is also the law (on the bike). Ankle reflexive bands, high visibility vests and bright clothing are also handy to keep you safe.
6. Take your training indoors
If you have had enough of riding in the dark and the wet, take your training indoors on an indoor trainer. There are a lot of good indoor trainers available for a reasonable price these days. On cold, wet, windy days it may be a good choice to set the bike up inside and crank up the stereo or turn on the TV. Most sane people find indoor trainers mind numbingly boring so make sure your sessions on them are kept to a minimum and are specific (Exponential Performance Coaching has specific indoor trainer session out lines available for $30 if you are unsure of what to do. This deal includes 4 different indoor cycling sessions that target different areas of your fitness).
Riding for an hour on an indoor trainer is the equivalent of doing 1hour 30min out on the road. This is because there are no stops or down hills where you decrease your power output on the indoor trainer. Limit our sessions to a max of around 1hour 30min otherwise you will go mad. Other good options in the winter to get away from the weather are spin classes, short hard interval sessions on a tread mill or kayak/ rowing machine, yoga classes, swimming or some focused gym work.
7. Target your weakness
The winter is a perfect time to work on your weaknesses. Many endurance athletes have poor technique and instead of using the winter thrashing themselves to improve their endurance they would get major benefits from working in some technique sessions into their programme. Indoor trainers are a very good tool to develop your cycling technique. If you are interested in improving your technique on the bike but unsure of what to do Exponential Performance Coaching can proved indoor/ on road technique sessions to improve your cycling technique.
8. Mix it up
During the winter it is a good chance to try new modes of training to add variety and fun to your training. Mountain biking for you roadies out there can be a great way of maintain your fitness while having a break. Also activities such as skiing, tramping, social team sports, gym classes or aqua jogging can be good alternatives during the winter months to maintain your fitness but also give your mind a rest and leave you feeling motivated.
Get out there and have fun, because after all that is why we do what we do. Remember the hardest part of training is often getting out the door.
Happy winter training