Powering Out of Winter
by Will Kirousis, MS, CSCS, CISSN
Every winter, triathletes from around the world do their best to keep performing productive workouts while making gains in fitness and knowledge that will set them up for a fantastic season. With a lot of productive work under the belt already this winter, what areas of focus will keep you consistently improving, and reduce the risk of fitness derailment? Here are a few!
With the amazing array of indoor training tools available today, and the fun game of one-upmanship we can all end up in with our buddies, comes the risk of intensity creep over the winter! What does that mean? Well, you won’t find that term in a textbook! It’s my term to describe how athletes can easily turn up the intensity during workouts each week, leading to increased fatigue.
Stay disciplined with your intensity. A few (2-3) sessions per week with higher intensity is plenty for most athletes. More tends to create training monotony, which carries the risk for higher rates of mental/emotional burnout and non-functional overreaching, or even over training. All those things reduce your ability to perform high or low intensity workouts while also increasing the odds of your season not going as well as you hope. Despite the psychological challenge, stay patient with your workouts and progress as the winter starts to fade, and keep your intensity discipline in place!
While not as often as intensity creep, I talk to many athletes who have pushed endurance training forward and really cut back on strength training earlier than they had originally planned. Often, this is just excitement to do more endurance training as the spring looms near. Resist this urge! Strength training has great benefits for endurance athletes including better fatigue resistance, improved power/pace at various intensities and better economy. Those are super positives and don’t even touch on the general health benefits of strength training and potential to reduce injury. Give yourself until the end of winter before thinking about reducing strength training – it’s too helpful to your overall wellness and performance to cut back on too soon!
Ok, this one is not fun, or exciting. That said, the biggest issue with long term fitness gains is consistency, and given you could train and rest really well, but still fall victim to things like the flu or other infections, basic hygiene related skills can be a big help with your fitness. This is simple, wash your hands prior to eating, and after any time when you have used varied surfaces – subway, grocery cart, door handles, etc. Likewise, work to minimize how much you may rub your eyes or touch areas around your mouth, nose, and eyes if you have not just washed your hands. Wash off things like cell phone screens, remotes and keys, with alcohol swabs as this may help reduce the odds of infection. Likewise, talk to your medical provider and get a flu shot! Note, when you read this, late in the winter, it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine! It takes a couple weeks for your body to respond to the shot, but that’s still got value given flu season runs into April.
To maximize your wellness, pay attention to your sleep hygiene as well: stick to a good sleep schedule; keep your sleeping space cool and dark; avoid alcohol and caffeine – minimize or better – don’t use electronics like your cell phone, computer, tablet or TV in the hour before bed. Quality sleep is not just one of the biggest performance enhancers known to sports performance, it helps keep you healthy and able to fight off bugs as well! I know these sorts of strategies are not exciting. Tell you what though, not missing a few weeks of training in February/March due to an infection can have a very positive impact on your multisport season.
Yes, as winter wains, you are getting closer to your racing season. That’s a time when any training book, article, or coach will likely suggest training should be getting more specific. I can’t disagree with that logic. That said, it’s a LONG season and unless you have a peak race in late April or early May, doing a fun cross training session with friends, say a hike, instead of a long run or bike ride now and then, can build fitness, while helping improve your emotional and physical freshness over the season ahead. It’s also still building aerobic fitness and durability – so a bit of social cross training is not losing fitness, it’s helping you improve over the long haul!
Look, if you have a major event planned early in the year, you may need to more aggressively push through the winter. But if not, or if you are focused on a longer season, the winter is a time to develop the basic abilities that set up your long-term performance. To do that, you want to be able to train consistently and enjoy what you are doing. The ideas presented here, limiting intensity creep; continuing to strength train; keeping healthy habits and hygiene up; and enjoying some varied and social workouts can really help you stay consistent and come out of the winter set up for a fantastic 2020. I challenge you to apply them in your training over the next few months – the rewards are worth it!
Will Kirousis has presented and written for national and international organizations on endurance training and has been coaching triathletes and other endurance athletes for over 20 years. He’s been fortunate to help athletes achieve a range of goals, from finishing their first triathlon, to winning age group national and world championships as well as professional national championships. You can learn more about Will at www.tri-hard.com or by following him on twitter @willkirousis.