Disclaimer: This blog will be written for the athlete looking to gain performance through the winter. But as always, each person is different and therefore things that we mention in this article may not apply to you the reader.
Hazards of Cold Weather Training
The first thing that often gets brought up is the stinging in the lungs as the cold weather sets in. This happens due to the air being dry and your body attempting to warm the air and humidify it before it reaches the lungs. While this can be painful at first, this sensation tends to fade away after a couple minutes. What can be hazardous in this situation is if an athlete has asthma. Asthma in these conditions can flare up quickly and cause health problems if not taken seriously. One easy solution is to run with a clothing article over your mouth that is breathable. This will allow you to hold moisture in and create a small boundary between you and the air that remains warmer. The other solution would be to seek out your doctor to see if an inhaler in these situations would be warranted.
Beyond the health risks due to breathing in cold air, there is also a serious health risk for runners/cyclists in terms of slippery pavement or terrain. For cyclists or runners looking to do hard intervals or performance based efforts, it may be better to go inside to ensure proper footing on the treadmill or trainer. For the cyclist that has a fat bike, then obviously you’re in a different situation and can continue to do all types of rides outside year round, but for the majority of individuals it would be best to take high performance sets indoors to ensure proper efforts can be done without risk of slippery terrain.
Benefits of Cold Weather Training
While we have focused on some of the issues with the cold and snow, there is a benefit to be had. First and foremost its a different type of training which can help free the mind from the late summer slump you may have found yourself in. Running in the snow or riding trails in the winter is just plain fun. If you have solid footing then you can actually get in some great running drills in the cold air that you may forget about in the summer. Such things as a shorter run stride to secure better footing that can actually translate to a more economical run stride when the snow melts away. For cyclists, this is a great time to focus on handling skills. If you can get comfortable handling a bike in snow and getting aggressive, then as the snow melts away you will have improved the critical skill of handling. The reason why it’s often a good idea to focus on handling in the winter is because if you push it too hard, you simply fall into a pile of snow. With that being said, if you can take the right mindset into training outdoors in the cold or snow, then it’s a great time to focus on the intangible factors of performance that in the end create a better athlete overall.
A Mix and Match is Best
Without a doubt you’ll have the diehards that want to train outside every day all year. While this can be okay in some situations, I’ll just note that I’ve seen better results within athletes with some days inside and some days outside during this time of year. The reason is due to the high performance sets that I noted above. As an athlete, we need to target specific energy systems or durations of effort for race specific demands. When out in the snow it’s often hard to hold steady efforts due to added resistance, less traction, or more obstacles in your way. Therefore, if you are hitting your hard workouts outside then you are probably not hitting them as well as you could in a controlled environment (treadmill or trainer).
On the flip side, I’ve rarely met someone that wanted to only train indoors. It is a mental drag and can create resentment towards working out if all you ever do is train indoors. With this in mind, we need to be outside to instill the fun and enjoyment. This should not be dismissed just because it’s winter.
So, as a coach it’s just as important to keep the athlete motivated during this portion of the year as it is any time. Therefore, what I suggest is 2-4 key sets a week that are focused and primarily indoors. The outdoor workouts are simply for consistency, aerobic base, and to work on some intangibles This will allow athletes to get training in without being confined to any parameters. While this may not work for everyone, this style of training is what I’ve found to benefit most athletes during the cold portions of the year.
We are getting into the thick of Winter now. By understanding when to go outside and when to stay inside, athletes can make big improvements over this portion of the year. There can be hazards to training outdoors that should be noted, but if done properly it will only benefit the athlete as race season approaches. For each, their winter and focus will be different, but even if you’re an athlete in Arizona, some of these ideas may benefit you as well. There are tips and tricks that many use in cold weather, so if you have any that you’d like to share, please leave a comment in our comments section below! So remember, just because its cold or snowy outside doesn’t mean improvements can’t happen. Often times athletes that have a strong mentality and solid motivation in the Winter make the biggest gains.