How to approach winter training

Struggling with consistency when the winter months hit? Do you lose motivation as the daylight starts to fade? Adapting your training routine or setting some winter-specific goals might be just the thing.

Many people don’t particularly enjoy training during the winter, but by being conscious of the fact that it is only three months before your focus switches to those summer goals, you might just be able to push on through your barriers. 

The below graph visualises how your body begins to lose its condition once you stop training. 

 

 Train Right

(Source: TrainRight)

 

Aerobic fitness (VO2 max) is maintained for approximately 30 days after stopping (+/- 7 days depending on different research), but then falls exponentially thereafter.

The smaller the reduction in training; the smaller the detraining effect. Whilst authors debate the exact timing before this de-conditioning occurs, it is seen as a 1:4 ratio, meaning one week of no exercise when this window begins (post-30 days of no exercise) means four weeks to return to where you were. Three months of avoiding training because it is the winter means 8 months to return back to full fitness. Exercising to at least maintain your fitness level (light blue line and yellow line on the graph) will set the foundations for an even more successful spring/summer goal next year.  

Learning to manage your expectations during the winter months can mean less anxiety, pressure and negativity around your training throughout the shorter days with little sunshine. That 6am sunrise run seems like a lifetime ago, and who wants to replace the vest, shorts and sunnies for a rain jacket, gloves and head torch?!

When it is cold, wet and dark outside, consider substituting the outdoor run with an indoor run on a skillmill/treadmill or join a small group exercise class.

Studies have shown that intervals of between 2-5 minutes of sustained intense effort interspersed with equal bouts of rest achieved better results in body composition and aerobic fitness than performing continuous, moderate exercise such as 45+ minutes jogging - so those indoor runs don’t have to be something to dread!

The winter is known for its cold and flu season. Due to shorter days and less sunlight, we get less vitamin D from the sun which reduces the function of the immune system and makes us more susceptible to infections. Continuing to train will aid in combating the cold and flu season. Research states that white blood cells produce antibodies more efficiently the fitter and healthier that you are and therefore make you more efficient at fighting off infection and disease - a rather hot topic at the moment!

For those who are tough enough to persist with outdoor training it is highly recommended to do an even more thorough warm up before you start. Low outside temperatures can decrease the body's muscle temperature which affects how your body will respond to exercise. Skipping a structured warm up means your body spends much of its energy trying to keep your organs and tissue at a constant 98 degrees, and the nervous system is inefficient at creating muscular contractions to perform your movements. Poor contraction, elasticity and synchronicity increases the risk of a soft tissue injury.

Consider a structured warm up such as RAMP:

Raise – Raise your heart rate, add in a 5-10min jog

Activate – Target the muscles we are focusing the workout around

Mobilise – Open and loosen the joints of the hips, knees, ankles and shoulders 

Potentiate – an explosive movement coinciding with the movements of the session you are about to undertake (e.g hops, skips or jumps considering most movements outdoors will have some level of impact).

This will put your body into a state of preparedness and therefore decrease the risk of injury during your workout.

Sticking with your training throughout the winter months will benefit your overall health, improve your immune system and set you up for the following year. Concentrate on setting realistic goals, manage expectations appropriately and do not forget to warm up thoroughly.