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Take It Outside! Winter Training Tips for Endurance Athletes

By Gaelle Abecassis | Feb 2, 2024

We get it. It’s hard to motivate yourself to train through cold and dark days. You have to pull on all your winter running gear for even a short run. If you’re a cyclist, you need even more gear, especially if it’s raining. But when you brave the chilly temps, you get a fitness boost and a mood boost, as well. Instead of hiding from winter, own it. Consistency is the number one, most effective pathway to running, cycling, or doing anything faster year in and year out. Humango’s training app will help you maintain this consistency by designing and managing a winter training plan that builds you up for the spring. Below, we’ve shared our favorite tips for getting the most out of winter.

Winter Running & Winter Cycling

Traditional off-season endurance training for runners and cyclists usually features slow miles and long distances. It doesn’t have to be that way. Shorter, intense workouts can generate similar adaptations — and more body heat to keep you warm. These aren’t necessarily all-out sprint workouts. Instead, they involve several multi-minute race-pace intervals spread over an hour or so. With Humango, you can plug in the number of days and hours a week you have available to train and let Hugo, your AI-powered digital coach, do the rest.

Winter is the perfect time to address your weaknesses. If you regularly slow to a walk on hills, use this time to do hill repeats to build more power. Is running downhill problematic on your knees and back? Hit the weight room and shore up your stabilizer muscles and tendons to better handle the impact. Those weight-room workouts count toward your consistency. Plug in strength days into Humango, and let it adjust your cardio workouts to account for strength work. 

Your weakness can even come from running the same routes repeatedly, so much so that your body’s been trained to run them efficiently. This approach is great for training but not for race day, where the course is unfamiliar. So, use your winter training sessions to explore new routes. 

While we all adapt to and deal with chilly weather differently, air temperature and humidity require special attention. First, cold air is usually drier air, and as such, it sucks moisture out of our bodies with every breath. So work to consciously keep yourself hydrated, even if you don’t feel cold. Second, it takes practice to pull off max efforts in sub-freezing temperatures. Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow until you figure out what works for you:

  • If above freezing (32°F), max efforts are okay on a winter run or ride. 
  • Between 22°- 32° F, steady-state intervals are ideal. Steady-state translates to the pace you can sustain for an hour max.
  • Below 22° F, stick to a conversational pace.

Cross Training for Runners & Cyclists

Cross-training is a fantastic way to maintain your fitness consistency. Plus, it gives you a mental break from your core sport, mixes up the environment, and speeds your development by providing something new to learn. Triathletes can substitute Nordic skiing for their long weekend rides. Live near a ski hill? See if they’ll let you climb the ski hill on alpine skis or snowshoes as a substitute for hill repeats. In a snow-free region? Cyclists can sub in mountain biking to keep their cycling legs in shape while honing their bike handling skills on the trails. Runners can try swimming or cycling to give their bones and tendons a break from the pounding.

Weight training will work to correct any muscle imbalances from all those months on the bike or running with no upper-body conditioning. Free weight lifts will help all athletes strengthen their core, which will translate into being able to apply more force to a stride or pedal stroke. For cyclists, weight training will improve bone density lost from all those days on the bike.

Winter 101:
Overdressing is a common mistake for many winter outdoor athletes. If you’re going on a run, it’s best to start moderately uncomfortable in terms of clothing so you don’t end up with a sweat-soaked top that turns freezing once you stop. You’ll heat up fast once you start moving. The same goes for cyclists, although you may want to wear a jacket to start a ride. You can stuff it in a jersey pocket once you warm up. You’ll also want that jacket if your route includes long, fast downhill stretches.

When regulating your body temperature, take care of your extremities first: bundle your feet in warm socks or cycling booties, pull on gloves, and then cover your head. Still cold? Pull on a warmer top or jacket. Still feeling the chill? Time for leggings. If you start to sweat, take your gloves off before your jacket. The hands feature a massive surface area of skin criss-crossed with blood vessels (aka heat) close to the skin’s surface. Exposing your hands will help you cool off faster than taking off your jacket. 

When To Take It Inside

Let’s face it, it can be downright dangerous to train outside in the winter. A blizzard, cold driving rain, or sub-zero temps are good reasons to play it safe and train indoors. When you do, use the opportunity to do a short, sub-one-hour set of max intervals on the treadmill or indoor bike trainer. With Humango’s AI app, changing your workout on the fly is easy. Log your indoor workout data in the app, and it’ll adjust your successive workouts accordingly, scheduling the appropriate recovery time and modifications to your workouts so you don’t burn out.

In the end, the goal is to keep moving and build fitness through the winter. And when the weather plays nice and makes it possible to enjoy winter outdoors, even better.

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Posted by Gaelle Abecassis