Why Bother with Winter Training?

winter running

Making sure you're training during the winter is essential to keep your fitness. Everyone needs a short rest, even the world's best athletes, but the hard work you put in over the winter will set you up for the rest of the year.

Plan Your Winter Running Training

It is often the most difficult time to train, as well as the training being quite difficult. From the weather conditions and short nights, through to the cold and damp, nothing will help you with motivation apart from a training partner, a PT and of course your own self motivation.

Why is Winter Training Needed?

There's a few reasons really. Not only the obvious need to keep yourself in tip top shape, but also training across the winter will help you to build a base of fitness and muscle strength that will support you as the weather gets warmer. Whether you are a cyclist, runner, rugby player or swimmer, the winter training you do will make a big difference as the days get lighter. You will feel more strength and if you have trained the right way, less fatigue.

If you are training for competitions or just for your own fitness, your body improves both in cardio endurance and muscle strength. If, like some, when the bad weather comes you put your feet up and stop training then more than two weeks and your peak winter fitness level will drop. Then after a prolonged period of no exercise, your getting back to fitness will be difficult and arduous as you have to fight to get yourself back to the same fitness levels. You have been through "detraining"!

What is Detraining?

If you are a keen gym user, runner swimmer or sports fanatic and undertake lots of exercise and fitness on a regular basis, then take a break of 3, 4 or more weeks away from it, your fitness levels and muscle mass will decline over that period. Whether that's due to injury or an illness or an extended holiday, the effects on your body and fitness will be quite noticeable. When you start back on the training, it will be difficult, but actually this short break (even up to 8 weeks) may prove to be beneficial to you allowing you (if you are up the challenge) to get fitter than you were before.

A lot of top athletes now deliberately put detraining into their plans in order to go through the retraining process. As you have read above, they lose some fitness but also give their body time to completely relax and heal. Also, it is now known that detraining actually helps to increase the strength of the muscle fibres. All allowing you to train harder and longer when you return.

Two Simple Things for the Winter

Ok taking all of the above in to account, a winter training plan or regime can be covered in 2 key steps (it can be covered in lots more, but we're keeping it to a minimum) as .

Keep The Mileage Up

If you get to the end of October and think it's time to give up and relax until the New year, then think again! The less activity you do, the quicker your body will fall into what can be called "detraining". Unless you are a top level athlete we suggest you don't try "detraining" as it is common route for people to lose motivation as they cannot get back to the fitness levels they were just a few months before.

We suggest therefore, that running-wise you go keep running up to 3 times a week for about 45% - 55% distance of what you were doing. The days must not be consecutive and you must train at around 80% of normal capacity. For other sports, a similar level of training, but you can introduce other types of training, not necessarily all running.

Mix Up Your Training

Ever heard of Fartlek training? Fartlek, means "speed play" in Swedish, is a way of training that brings together both continuous training with interval training. This training ensures a variable intensity which in turn gives your body both an aerobic and anaerobic workout. Ideally, Fartlek training should be quite unstructured meaning the runner can vary speed, intensity as they wish and can manage. Over a 30 or 45 minute period (or more) exercises can range from aerobic walking through to anaerobic sprinting over 200 - 400m.

If you combine both Fartlek and upbeat timed runs over a longer distance (for example 5 miles at 85%) your body will be able to cope with the more intense training as you head towards your races and spring training.  The faster pace runs alongside the anaerobic sprinting will ensure fast-twitch muscle fibres remain very much intact and ready to go!

One Final Motivational Tip

Make sure you plan ahead. Give yourself a goal to aim for. Put a date in for your first race or event, complete your application and pay your money. There's no turning back then and you have a fixed goal to aim for. This will also, when you track back from the race date, provide you with your proper training schedule to get you race fit!

In Summary

At some point we will all have to think about a break from our training, whether it's forced through injury or needed due to family commitments. If you look at this way, a break of two weeks will not do you any harm and will help your body recover from previous training excesses nicely.

But unless you are a serious athlete or semi-pro, any longer than 2 or 3 weeks and you need to think seriously about a step plan to get back into training after detraining. We suggest you plan easy ways to ensure you keep your fitness levels topped up with minimum fuss and come the spring you will be raring to go and fighting fit.

Always think of alternative ways to train if you can. This will ensure you keep your interest as well as providing some slightly different elements into your routines. From spinning bikes to swimming, cross training to circuits, all of them will sit alongside your normal training and keep you fit over the winter period.


By Ian Duncan

PT Courses