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Winter Base Training

By Ryan Turbyfill

running on treadmillDo you have the racing blues this winter? It’s time to chase them away because building your base this season is arguably the most important part of your racing year — or macrocycle. The macrocycle, which is 12 months for most athletes, starts with the base phase also known as the first mesocycle.

During the base phase, the main goals I have for my athletes are to work on form in all three disciplines (swim, bike, run), build strength and create a large aerobic engine (cardio system). When these three things are accomplished, it allows the athlete to go into the next phase or mesocycle stronger, with less risk of injury and a large base to start building speed.

Winter training allows us to work on great technique. In the pool, along with the usual interval training, spend time on drills. I highly recommend the armpit drill (touch armpit with thumb on each recovery stroke) and fist drill (close both hands into a fist, making pull from forearms) as well as swimming with a band around the ankles to improve body position. Also, try ending a swim workout with a 500-yard pull set to help build sport-specific strength, as well as an aerobic base.

When the weather doesn’t allow us to get out on the bike, a trainer is not only affordable, but very beneficial. It will provide a consistent workout without stoplights, downhills, etc. To build your aerobic base, turn on a movie or watch a football game while you spin for a couple of hours. During this time, work on form (keeping heels down) and a high cadence (a common problem for runners). Not only will this help burn off extra weight gained during the offseason, but it will build a great endurance base.

The dreaded treadmill also has benefits for us when we are stuck training indoors. When overstriding on the treadmill and jamming the foot into the belt, the motor will bog, giving feedback of improper form. Also, it provides a cushioned surface to prevent injury and helps with pacing. To keep the treadmill exciting, work on stride turnover using short speed intervals.

To mix things up, try adding trail runs to your winter routine. Trail running is great aerobically on the uphills and also helps increase leg turnover on the downhills. The hills and uneven footing help to build sport-specific strength from the hips to the ankles.

Since triathletes have little time to strength train in the gym during race season, take advantage during the base phase. Being endurance athletes, lots of weight isn’t needed, but building muscle over the winter will allow adaptation come the next phase. I highly recommend the leg press as it eliminates the stress on the back and targets the quads and hamstrings. Also, reps on the lat and row weight machine will build swim-specific muscles. Don’t forget the core. Planks, Roman chair and the old-fashioned sit up will strengthen the mid-section where the power for all three sports is generated.

Remember to get outside, too. There are many gains to be made by going out for a couple hours snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Enjoy the season and relax — it will help prepare you for the upcoming racing season both physically and mentally.

Ryan Turbyfill is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level III Certified Coach. Having a family and as a cancer survivor, Turbyfill believes setting priorities in training and racing are paramount to a happy and successful life. He has competed in sprints to a full Ironman, as well as ultra-marathons and running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. Whether you are interested in improving your health, completing your first race or competing at your highest level, feel free to contact Turbyfill at and visit his website at