Winter Training

article031The official definition of winter is “the fourth and coldest season of the year, coming between autumn and spring”. This is not to be interpreted as “a cold period of four months, from May to August, when athletes become sufficiently sedentary to gain 10-kilograms and lose hard-earned fitness”. Escape the clutch of your cosy couch with these winter training tips.

Tip 1: Daylight savings
Winter mornings are cold and dark; there’s no avoiding this climatological fact. Consider getting to work earlier so that you can leave earlier to take advantage of the evening’s light and diminishing warmth. Paddling is much more pleasant in daylight, before the temperature on the water plummets with the sun.

Tip 2: Phone a friend
We all know the experience of hitting the snooze button and spending the rest of the day smothered in guilt. “I normally train alone in summer (convenience reasons mainly) but in winter it helps me to hook up with other winter affected beings and do some group training. Otherwise I wouldn’t get up in the dark!” says Capetonian Owen Middleton.

Owen is in good company.
“The only thing that gets me to do any masochistic training in the cold is if I do it for somebody else; my girlfriend, my dogs and my friends,” says Joburg adventure racer Pablo Casado. “I hate cold. If it wasn’t for those around me I would be watching DVD’s and drinking hot chocolate and rum.”

Assemble a group of motivated friends, of comparable fitness, to rouse you from slumber and encourage each person to plan running and riding training routes from their homes. Take turns playing host.

Tip 3: Join a gym
The indoor, temperature-controlled gym environment is a winter training haven. Use your weeks spent here to improve your upper body strength with resistance training and calm your karma with yoga. Substitutional elements are obvious: trade your mountain bike for a spinning bike and the cold road and trails for the treadmill. Take advantage of the stair-climber to boost your hill trekking strength.

Tip 4: Cold acclimatisation
We’ve bought the story about the benefits of high altitude training and the importance of acclimatisation for mountaineering. We also know about heat acclimatisation, where an athlete’s tolerance of exercise in hot conditions can be improved by training in heat. The same principle applies to cold acclimatisation. But I’m not only talking about physiological benefits; psychological benefits are greater. “If you don’t expose your body to cold conditions during training, to see how it reacts, you are going to suffer in a race,” says Jacqueline Brook, adventure racer personal trainer. “If you struggle in the cold, train in the cold. This way you learn how to get through it.”

Tip 5: Creature comforts
If the insides of your ears throb in the cold, wear ear warmers. If your circulation seems to halt at your wrists, wear gloves. And, if you can’t stand cold air frosting your lungs “breathe through a Buff,” advises Jeremy Green. “Your outward breath warms the fabric and the air for the next breath is then warmed as you breathe in. It takes a bit of practice to get the Buff positioned just right so it doesn’t fall down and doesn’t end up in your mouth…”

Tip 6: Enter events
There’s nothing like the circled date of an event to boost your training morale. Aside from serving as goals, races are social occasions that maintain motivation. Enter one or two events – multisport and single discipline – to keep your focus.

Winter is not a valid reason to turn into a couch-potato. As the years pass it will become more difficult to get back to where you were before, especially with multiple disciplines to keep in check. Be kind to your heart, lungs and waistline by maintaining a good physical condition year-round.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Go Multi Magazine, Aug/Sept 2007