The Art of Winter Training

By AJ Johnson, D3 Multisport Coach:

With the changing weather, shorter days and holidays, training through the winter months is more art than science. Many athletes see the winter as a time to get ahead and start building a base for next season. However, with the obstacle mentioned above, that can be very difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are some strategies you can use to avoid winter burn out and come into the spring feeling stronger than ever.

First, don’t think of base building in terms of big training days. Doing a 4 hour ride and 1 hour run on Saturday is most likely out of the question. Even if you can do that on the trainer and treadmill, you will likely go insane after 3 sessions. Instead, build your hours throughout the week. Putting in 6 hours on the bike is possible if you are willing to get on the trainer 3 to 4 days a week. Doing this you can keep the sessions short and focused. This principle works for running as well. Linking together 5 days a week with 1 to 3 hours per day will give you a great base. Plus by doing several sessions you can work on everything from endurance to power to form. This brings me to my second point.

Too many athletes go into what I call Total Base Mode. Every workout is at the same intensity, zone 1-2, in a misguided attempt at building base. Think of your training as a spectrum from speed work to base work. Sure, you can focus on base, but you can’t completely exclude speed or LT work. Many athletes make this mistake and come spring their leg turnover is slow and their ability to do threshold work is minimal. If you do 1 to 2 speed sessions a week, each only an hour at most, that is sufficient to remind your body of what a hard effort feels like. These sessions are practically tailor made for the trainer or treadmill since they are short and highly focused. You can start with intervals, 2 to 5 minutes in length and work to 20 minute single efforts. These don’t need to be super hard, or super specific, just get your heart rate into zone 3 and 4.

Last, you can do big days if you are willing to do either other sports, or multiple bricks. I am a huge fan of cross country skiing, specifically, skate skiing. It is an incredibly difficult sport that works every part of your body. In addition it won’t beat you up since you’re gliding on snow. In addition, skate skiing will force you to work in every heart rate zone as going uphill or going faster requires a lot of work. I get most of my hard sessions done on the snow and it has always paid off. A ski session of 2 to 3 hours will drain you if you’ve worked moderately hard. Another option is snowshoeing. Putting on snowshoes and walking through deep snow is a great way to build strength in your legs and hips as well as increase your increase your aerobic capacity. The other way to get in a long session is to do run/bike/run/bike, etc. bricks. The key is to keep these in zones 2 with some zone 3 as well. Also, you want to make sure that between the bike and run you towel off completely. Don’t go running in the cold when you are still dripping with sweat from the trainer. Take the time to towel off and dress appropriately. Failure to do this is often met with sickness.

The challenge of winter is in keeping yourself motivated and consistent. Making a few adjustments in your training will allow you to make it to spring with your mind and body feeling strong.

AJ Johnson is a coach with D3 Multisport.