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Home>>Tips and Techniques: Winter Exercise and Fitness Part 1 of 2

You have trained all year long and the season is finally over and it is winter time. The challenge now is to maintain your base fitness level yet rest your body and mind from the stresses associated with achieving daily and weekly training goals. The challenge is further complicated by reduced daylight and adverse winter weather conditions. With proper planning you can prepare your body for optimal performance in competitions next year as well as have some fun, well rested and ready to train hard and compete in the next season.

Develop some winter training goals that provide focus to your workouts and prepare you for the next year of competition.  For example, winter training is an excellent time to develop a smoother cadence on the wind trainer or stationary bike or increase strength to help prevent injuries.  Combine the your winter training goals with a training log book which measures your progress against your goals. For example, I finished the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race in 9:11 [with a crash that ripped my seat off...I bounced a couple times]. I am riding my bike trainer a couple times a week now that snow is on the ground...strictly quality rides using a variety of interval workouts to keep it interesting. 

The winter off season is an excellent time to rest your mind, build core strength, increase flexibility and hone skills (knots, rope management techniques, orienteering, spinning, etc...). Here are some recommended training and activities that can prepare you for heightened performance next year.

Weight training.  The winter off season months are an excellent time to build core strength and balance.  Typically, schedule pressures lead to weight training as the first activity to drop off your training regime as you add more miles trail running, mountain biking, kayaking and other disciplines.  Weight training and free body exercise suggestions: push-up with feet elevated on a yoga (or stability) ball, crunches, pull-ups using a finger board, dumbbell flys, presses, and military presses using the yoga ball as a platform.

Core fitness.  Adventure racing, mountain biking, climbing and trail running all benefit from developing core fitness.  For variety and all-around strength building trying some of the unique, but challenging exercises offered by CrossFit.

Concept II rowing machine.  If you cannot cross country ski, the concept II rowing machine is your next best bet for complete fitness in a single exercise.  Originally developed by rowers (crew) for rowers, the Concept II rower rapidly became the gold standards for rowing machines in health clubs up and down the country. The Concept II rowing machine mimics the motion of crew; exercising your major muscle groups as well as providing a tremendous aerobic workout. Try 1000 or 2000 meters for time.  There are in-door rowing races sponsored by gyms and schools.

Nordic walking.  Nordic walking involves using trekking poles to increase the aerobic intensity of your workouts. Trekking poles enable users to actively engage the upper body in highly technical trail running and mountaineering, thus recruiting the upper body muscle mass. As a result, exercise intensity increases, muscle strength, endurance and cardio-respiratory efficiency improves, while reducing stress on the knees, ankles and hips. I first became interested in trekking poles after reading an article in a fitness journal about the increase efficiency [roughly 27% more efficient] as a result of using trekking poles vice simply hiking or running. Add a ruck sack (back pack) with weight appropriate for your conditioning and you can achieve a high intensity aerobic workout without the pounding associated with running.

Nordic Skiing.  There are two basic styles of Nordic skiing: classic and skate technique.  Classic technique can further be divided into backcountry touring and touring at a prepared facility.  All the styles can result in an excellent high intensity low impact aerobic workout.  Nordic skiing is only second in terms of maximum VO2 development to water polo. Nordic skiing works the upper body as well as providing aerobic conditioning benefits. Review  recommendation on Nordic gear selection.

SnowshoeingSnowshoeing is easy to learn and provides access to backcountry terrain or your neighborhood golf course.  Snowshoe racing is becoming increasingly popular and maintains your running fitness levels albeit with a slightly different stride to accommodate the snowshoes.

Wind trainer or stationary bike.  Placing your bike on a wind trainer or using a stationary bike provides a quality workout that is independent of weather and light conditions.  Using a wind trainer allows you to focus on pedaling efficiency and cadency in the safety of your basement or garage.

Ice Climbing.  Ice Climbing provides an venue for your climbing urges without having to wait until spring.

Indoor climbing.  If ice climbing does not appeal to you, then join a local rock gym and work your climbing muscles indoors during the winter months.

Trail running.  Winter training is an excellent time to work on your aerobic base for the next year.  The very nature of winter conditions lends to long slow distance running.

Proper clothing.  Wearing the proper clothing during winter exercise is critical to your health and your enjoyment of winter and cold weather exercising.  Layering helps manage the balance between being cold and sweating which ultimately leads to increased heat loss.

Proper hydration.  While you may feel cool to cold while exercising during the winter months, proper hydration is still important and you still need to drink plenty of fluids for optimal performance.

Combine the above activities with the training goals you developed at the start of winter for optimal results and an excellent winter training season.