Prepare for a Successful Year Through Winter Cross Training

You’re most likely coming off a big summer season of running, riding and generally being outside. You’ve probably got a final race or two planned in the fall, and then you’ll begin contemplating how you’re going to get through the winter when the snow flies, and biting cold rain hammers across the Pacific Northwest.

This year instead of just taking winter off, I’d like to give you a few options that will not only give you a break but make you a better athlete. You’ll then be ready to tackle your next big season in about six months.

It’s hard to regain that lost fitness during the spring if you’ve sat on the couch all winter. But many of us, myself included, find it hard to stay motivated to train during the winter months for a variety of reasons. It’s wet and icy, no races on the horizon, and typically our down season.  This is certainly a time to take a mental and physical “rest” and change things up, but you’ll find you can do both of those if you take a different approach to your training during winter.

In this article I’m focusing on the indoor side of winter training since Jeff Browning will be addressing what you can be doing outside.  Both can be complementary. I wouldn’t want to just stay inside all winter with no outside play time, but some days were just meant to be spent inside. There are tons of helpful activities you can do inside to gain fitness.

First off, this period should still be a rest period, so don’t try to make a goal of working out everyday or keeping the same training volume as you would during the summer. Reduce training volume to a manageable and sustainable level. Mentally this will allow you to recover, stay motivated throughout the season, and then be ready for spring.

Changing activities during the winter can also help mix things up, give your body a physical break from your normal activities, work on some of the weaknesses you’ve neglected throughout the year, and hold onto a base level of fitness without the mental effort of training.

There are a variety of indoor training options that will work on different aspects of your fitness, resulting in big benefits later in the year.  Runners in general need to work on glute strength. The winter is a great time to work on that with low impact activities.  A few that can really help are an elliptical machine, the dreaded stairmaster, or just hiking uphill on the treadmill.  Each of these exercises are awesome at firing and activating those glutes, a perpetually weak part of a runner’s anatomy.  Substituting an easy session of climbing on one of these for a run or ride keeps the impact low and allows you to work on a crucial biomechanic deficiency. In the last issue of RaceCenter I wrote about the importance of strength training, so I won’t rehash that here other than to mention as your endurance training decreases during the winter it’s a perfect time to get back in the gym. This is going to help in more ways than one. First, it’ll make you stronger as an endurance athlete later in the year when your body is starting to break down. And second, it will greatly decrease your risk of injury throughout the running or riding season when you’re throwing all your energy into churning out miles. Get in the gym and work on those strength deficiencies as well as your main big muscle groups you’re using to drive you down the road or trail.

This period can be used to restore your mind and body from all the havoc you took it through during the racing season. Use pre-hab during this time to work your body back into a healthy state through once or twice-a-week yoga sessions, regular massage, and/or every other day self-rolling sessions. Since you’re not running or riding as much, you might have some free time you could spend doing some restorative work.

If you are going to “train” during winter (we’ve all had to) due to an ill-timed February race, I’ve found that indoor treadmill workouts are easier to swallow than just an easy run on the treadmill. I hate the treadmill but I also run cold, so doing workouts outside in the winter have always been more difficult for me both mentally and physically.  Transferring those workouts to a good treadmill has been very beneficial. Because I am warm I can get a better quality workout and having the ability to set the treadmill at a given pace I don’t have to use mental strength to push myself faster. Treadmill workouts always seem like they go by faster than an easy treadmill run. I find this to be a great way to actually gain fitness during the winter.

Heading into this off season, think about approaching it differently. Use different activities to motivate you and work on deficiencies you’ve developed throughout the year. This will put you into a great position to take off next year in better shape and in a healthier state that will help prolong your season and keep you going strong into next fall and beyond.