By Mara Abbott,
Olympian, CTS Contributing Editor
With each winter storm, the decision: Grab a towel and head for the trainer, or gather your puffy coat, shoe covers and neck gaiter and get outside?
Personal preference guides many of those moments, but both indoor and outdoor workouts have benefits that you can leverage in your winter training plan.
Holiday obligations, cold weather, and short days combine to make December a tough time to get training in. Often, a good first step in creating a successful winter training plan is to set a specific goal for the season. Don’t let this be about your goal for next July – rather, come up with a quantifiable metric that you can link to your hoped-for performance at the end of January.
A near-term goal can help keep you motivated and provide a strategic framework for decisions about where and when you should schedule your workouts. Even if the goal is informal, let your coach in on your process so that he or she can frame the value of workouts you do each day and how they will help you get there.
Here are some tips you can use to keep your wheels spinning until the snow melts.
Get the most impact from your interval workouts
I know many athletes who choose to do the bulk of their interval workouts inside on a stationary trainer – even on beautiful summer days! – because it allows a more specific, controlled effort (I will confess that I never did this, but people I respect do).
Trainer intervals can be even more impactful in the winter, when roadway sand and ice lie in wait around every corner, ready to disrupt your effort or worse, sweep your sprinting wheels right out from underneath your oxygen-deprived body.
Interval workouts are a great choice for days when you need to ride indoors because their structure and inherent challenge makes the time go by quickly. Frequently, interval workouts are lower volume, making for an effective session you can get in before the sun even comes up.
Talk to your coach and see if it makes sense to structure more short, hard workouts into your training plan during the winter months in order to make the most of your trainer workouts and your limited time.
Multi-task family fun
Whether it is a family Christmas movie-watching tradition or a football game that can’t be missed, the mobility of a stationary trainer or rollers can allow you to let holiday screen time double as training time. In a time-honored Abbott family tradition, my older brother and my dad make plans to take turns riding the elliptical trainer in my parents’ basement while watching sports together.
Holidays are often full of family obligations. If yours is willing to tolerate a little eccentricity, try to find ways to integrate a workout into time together.
Get outside without structure
If you live in an area with unforgiving winters, try to find a way to take some of your high-volume workouts outdoors, even if that means deviating from your specific sport. Maybe cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or trail running with a set of spikes can fill in for portions of scheduled long, steady sessions.
If you don’t consider yourself a winter fan, seeking out a season-specific outdoor activity – or even some particular challenge – might make the cold months a bit more pleasurable. I’ve long been a cross-country skier, but this year, the big winter goal I’m excited about is learning to skate ski. (And, if I’m very lucky, one new, horse-owning friend might teach me skijoring in time for the Sheridan Winter Rodeo.)
Even if you’re still maintaining a regular training schedule, it is tough to transition from four-hour rides in the sun to weeks spent indoors under artificial lights. Even if winter sports aren’t your bread and butter, find sort of an outdoor outlet year-round to help keep motivation high when daylight hours are low.
Value brief hits of fresh air
I’ve been a bike commuter for many years, but when I lived in Boulder, my wintertime commuting was most constrained by temperature. Try as I might, I could never seem to find an outfit that would keep me dry, warm, and able to fit through an average doorway once the temperature fell below 10 degrees on rides that averaged about 20 minutes.
I now live in Buffalo, a small town in northern Wyoming, which measures roughly a mile across. My longest possible bike trip would be under 10 minutes – even if it is icy and cold outside, my mountain bike and I will arrive before frostbite sets in.
My mini-commutes made me realize that even a five-minute hit of fresh air can completely shift my mood. Even if your only outdoor opportunity on a given day is a bundled up walk around the block, don’t underestimate the mental and emotional benefits of spending time outside.
Watch the weather
I was spoiled by Colorado winters. Sure, it snows, but sunny skies typically clear the roads within a few days – it was extremely rare to miss outdoor training for a full week.
Even if you live in a less forgiving climate, if you pay attention it is often possible to modify your training based on the 10-day forecast.
I’ll admit – once you have a week’s training plan written into your mental calendar, it’s tough to adjust. The effort is worth it, however, if the manipulation allows you to have a higher-quality training session or keep mentally fresh, so check in regularly with your coach (who might not be familiar with your local weather patterns) about which workouts can be easily swapped or adjusted.
One of the most important lessons my CTS Coach, Dean Golich, taught me was the importance of being able to work with the unexpected. Bike racing presents many factors that will always be out of your control. Sometimes, your success will depend on your ability to be resilient and adapt to change – and those characteristics can be honed through continued practice.
Do you have any favorite strategies for managing winter that you would like to share with the CTS community? Leave them in the comments below!