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Winter Training Tips

Overview 

If there is one word that defines your overall athletic development, it would have to be “consistency” in training. As we move into the early summer months, many athletes with demanding athletic goals feel that this is the time to ramp up their training intensity and volume without laying down a reasonable foundation over the winter months. A large number of athletes end the summer season feeling disappointed and disillusioned, falling short of reaching their athletic goals.

For many, this can be attributed to the lack of long term preparation or the onset of injury due to the rapid ramp up in volume and intensity over a short period of time. In this popular era of endurance sport where we are encouraged to believe that “anyone can do it,” there seems to be a disconnect between ones athletic ambitions and the time, effort and energy required to achieve those goals.

The wise old saying “patience is a virtue” rings especially true in our sport. As an endurance athlete it takes years to develop our full aerobic potential, and the expectation of instant gratification does not exist without realistically putting in the time. The beginning of the year can be especially challenging to find the motivation to train consistently. The cold weather, lack of day light and distant long term objectives all contribute to feeling like we are on a never ending treadmill with no end in sight.

Setting some short term goals over the winter months helps create micro cycles in your overall training plan. Running some 5K, 10K, and half marathon races are all a great way to create some bench mark performances that will help you with your short term motivation. During this period of the year, it is incredibility important to find a regular routine that balances out the demands of all three disciplines, swim, bike and run. Routine creates consistency and consistency adds to our overall development. 
After a few weeks of forced routine, our motivation for training becomes sub conscious and mentally more forgiving as we exercise without having to expend the emotional energy of getting ramped up for a workout. Just like brushing our teeth, we do it without putting much thought into the process.

No matter the level of the athlete, we all have a tendency to favor our strongest discipline and this is even more of a factor over the colder months. It is easier for us to find excuses why we are unable to train in our least favorite activity when it is cold, wet and windy outside!

Swimming

Contrary to what many people believe, swimming is one of the easiest disciplines to focus on over winter. It is reassuring to know that you will be training in a regulated environment that offers no uncertainty with regard to outside variables. Unlike cycling and running, swimming has a direct impact on  your overall level fitness. As a non wait bearing discipline, swimming is easy on the body and undoubtedly contributes to incredible cardio conditioning that has a positive cross over affect on all other disciplines. Swimming consistently three times a week will help you develop a level of aerobic strength in the water and contribute to a level of sensitivity that will allow you to develop a feel for the water. At this point finding a reputable stroke coach will be an added benefit in improving your overall efficiency and comfort level in the water.

Swimming specific sets with paddles and a pull boy is a great way to improve your stroke. The bigger surface area offers you the ability to improve your strength and gives you a feel for the water allowing you to focus on the correct mechanical elements of freestyle. By doing this on a regular bases, muscle memory will help you maintain the correct technique when swimming without paddles.

For many of us who do not come from a swimming back round, the kick element of our stroke is completely neglected. An efficient kick improves your body position in the water creating a hydrodynamic path of least resistance as you propel yourself  through the water. The kick is also a crucial metronome for the arms. If you are stuck at one pace unable to lift your stroke rate, kicking a little faster will automatically help you with a change of pace. Fast and short kick sets will allow you to develop an efficient and strong kick. Fins will help enhance ankle flexibility which is always a major hindrance for non swimmers.

Cycling

The good news is that out of the three disciplines cycling is the easiest to improve. I have seen many athletes improve dramatically over the years simply by putting time in the saddle. Consistency, once again, becomes the magic word. After time off from cycling, it takes around six hundred miles of regular riding to regain your cycling strength. Many athletes struggle to find the motivation to ride over the winter months and only find their optimal fitness towards latter part of the summer season. A fluid home trainer is an inexpensive tool that offers you a quick and efficient way to ride in the comfort of your home environment without having to go to the gym. As there is no down time on the trainer an hour workout equates to an equivalent 80 to 90 min outdoor effort.  The workouts should be structured with a purpose and interesting enough to stay mentally engaged.

The optimal cadence for a steady state time trial effort is some where between 80-90 rpm. The home trainer will allow you the ability to develop a smooth an efficient peddle stroke. A high cadence may promote a high heart rate however it does not allow you to develop much strength in your peddle stroke. Inversely, riding at a low cadence can put undue stress on certain muscle groups, ligaments and tendons, and needlessly fatigues the legs for the run.

Consider anything lower than 80 rpm as riding up a gradient. Sit up from the aero position (TT bike) by holding onto to your base bar or break hoods (road bike) opening up your hip angel and scoot back in the saddle. This will allow you to produce more power in your peddle stroke as you engage more of your lower back, hamstrings and gluteus muscles. Standing and accelerating periodically for 10 to 15 seconds when your cadence slows allows you to regain your momentum through the effort. It will also help stretch out and release some of the stress in the lower back, neck, arms and shoulders.

Running

If you are looking for an efficient workout over the winter months, look no further than running. Of the three disciplines, running is the most versatile as we can run anywhere and at anytime. Treadmill running has its benefits; however, running outside should always be your first choice. Due to the simplicity and efficiency of the treadmill, many athletes spend too much time running indoors.

The biomechanics of running changes on a treadmill as the moving belt generates most of the drive and push phase for you.  We have a subconscious tendency to let the belt do the work for us. Yes, you can elevate your heart rate by running at a faster cadence however we are relying less on developing the integral muscles groups that carry us naturally through each stride. We can counter act this somewhat by letting gravity do its bit by setting the gradient at one percent.

Integrating interval training over the winter is a great way to build your aerobic efficiency. These can be time based Fartlek workouts or set distance workouts. Working with a coach to define your individual goals will definitely help provide you with structured workouts that are suited to you.
Most athletes have a love hate relationship with the track. The sterile and regimented nature of running in a measured environment can leave us feeling anxious with the pressure to perform every time we step into this arena. It  can be demoralizing as our body does not always cooperate with the task at hand.

For many coaches the track is a “one size fits all” solution for group workouts; however, the general rule of thumb is that you should only run frequently on the track if you are racing on the track. The unforgiving and repetitive nature of running in circles puts undue stress on the body and is a big contributor to many running injuries.

Time based interval workouts on a road, grass or gravel surface is a more forgiving environment that allows you to familiarize yourself with the feel of running hard on a natural surface that is more inline with race conditions. 

Hopefully this helps give you a little perspective and motivation of what you should be doing over the winter months. If you are looking for some structured workouts please feel free to reach out to me at: simon@bouldercoaching.com or visit our coaching options that can be found here: http://www.bouldercoaching.com/index.cfm/options/