Winter Training: What to Wear and How to Stay Safe And Motivated as the Weather Turns Cold.

Snow G8c5136128 1920

Winter training lays the foundation for any successful triathlon season. As they say, ‘winter miles, summer smiles.’ But winter can also be a difficult time to train. Especially if you’re new to regular training, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There is a lot to consider when it comes to winter training, from what to wear to how to stay safe and motivated. Here, at Super League Triathlon, we’ve put together this helpful winter training guide, to keep you up and running (and riding) all year round.

How do I start training in winter?

The off-season is the perfect chance to give yourself a physical and mental refresh. With hours, days, weeks and months of training ahead, a slow, steady build, rather than being burnt out before the racing season starts, is the best route to overall fitness and enjoyment of your sport. Remember, this is a long game. Don’t get carried away trying to do too much too soon.

That said, when it is time to get cracking again, with the long nights, grey skies, and chilly temperatures, sometimes we all need a bit of a pep up. Here are some ideas to help you get back in the swing.

  • New Year’s Resolutions. Yes, most New Year’s resolutions don’t last long, but taken in the right spirit, it’s still a great chance to reset your exercise regime and start to build habits. The good news is that others – whether endurance athletes or not – will also be in the same position of wanting to focus on health and fitness, so you’ll have company and fewer distractions than during the festive season.

  • Just start. While it seems basic advice, just getting outside and taking the first few steps, not overthinking training structure or planning is a great way to go.
  • Hit the trails. One of the easiest ways to start exercising – and also one of the biggest bangs for your buck fitness-wise – is to get outside and run. It doesn’t have to be for very long or very fast. Just get the first one under your belt – and notice how you feel at the end. 

  • Reach out for help. If you feel unmotivated, tell a friend, who could be a potential training partner. You’ll probably find you’re not the only one with a ‘stuck’ mindset and you can be accountable to one another.

  • Focus on what you can do. Not what you can’t. It might be biking is indoors on the trainer or running on the treadmill. If you’re pressed for time, a 15-20-minute core routine can be done pretty much anywhere.  

  • Book a warm weather camp away. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to get some winter sun, then not only is it focused pre-season training away from other distractions, it’s also something to look forward to. You’ll want to prepare before you go which will help kickstart training at home.

  • Plan a training diary. This can be online, with the help of a coach, or even just pen and paper and writing it down to embed it in your mind. Once you have a plan, it’ll be much easier to see the way forward. Having race goals gives you something to work towards, and work back from in your planning.
Super League Triathlon 2021 Jersey Mens Race - Yee, Brownlee
Having a race in mind can be a great source of motivation through the tough winter months.
  • Book a race. Having clear, defined goals and targets along your training journey can make it much easier to stay motivated and measure your success. Many people set themselves short, medium and long term goals, as a way on continually monitoring their progress. Thus, it can be a good idea to have a few smaller races booked, before your ‘A’ race to make sure your training is on track.

How do I keep training in the winter?

Winter isn’t always the easiest time to do the specific training you would like, particularly if you live in a location with sub-zero temperatures, or icy conditions, where most people would rather be snuggled up at home in front of the fire. However, there are still plenty of options.

Mix Up Your Biking.

Consider going off-road with a gravel or mountain bike. This is great for your bike handling skills and bags of fun. Alternatively, you could create your own ‘pain cave’ and get in some quality work on your turbo trainer. Long gone are the days when it would just be pushing the pedals and staring at a blank wall. Training apps are so good these days, you can race others, explore virtual worlds, and dial in specific sessions. Because there’s no freewheeling or stopping at lights, in the virtual world, it also gives you the chance to fit in an incredibly time-efficient session. It’s growing in popularity too. Super League and World Triathlon have even partnered to announce the first Esports World Championship Series powered by Zwift.

Zwift London
Zwift’s online training and racing platform makes winter rides engaging and exciting, and means you can get more out of your training this winter.

Try something new.

This is a great opportunity to embrace a different kind of activity. Triathlon is often described as a straight-line sport, but there are many other ways to get fit and strong: skiing, CrossFit, hiking, indoor climbing! Now might be the time to try something new.

Build habits.

Once you’ve set a routine, stick to it, even if it’s hard at first. The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature until the point it becomes automatic. Eventually keeping active will become a habit. Good habits take time to form though, so if it’s tough early on then accept that it’ll get easier.

Have a goal.

Focusing on a future event – even if it’s a bit daunting – can really help you focus on your training now because you’re working towards something. Visualisation also comes into this. Research the event and picture yourself swimming, biking or running certain sections of the course, and even taking the tape at the end.

Super League Munich Mens Race Vincent Luis

Manage expectations.

Winter is rarely a time to set PBs or PRs so don’t pay too much attention to times and just get the work done. Endurance athletes only tend to hold peak fitness for a few weeks, so being able to periodise your training to peak at the right time takes experience and skill.

What intensity should I train at in winter?

The common wisdom among endurance athletes is that winter is the time to build your base, with regular low intensity sessions of varying duration, whether you’re swimming, biking or running.

There is even a school of thought from dyed in the wool cyclists that you shouldn’t get out of your small chain ring in winter. Experienced runners tend to be slogging over cross-country courses rather than doing 400m track repeats. Keeping your heart-rate below 80% of maximum or Zones 1 & 2 depending on which formula you are using would be the type of low intensity approach advocated. For those less technical, exercising at a conversational pace or being able to exclusively ‘nose breathe’ while working out will mean gauging it about right.

While there’s a lot of sense to this approach to build your aerobic engine, it doesn’t mean you should avoid high intensity altogether. The body absorbing and responding to the right amount of stress is how fitness improves. In the pool, on the turbo trainer, and hill running are all good, safe places to include higher intensity work over winter.

In terms of higher intensity sessions, you might also find that you might also look to hit the right pace or power for a given interval session as you would during the height of summer. ie. 4mins per kilometre on the run, but do fewer intervals and have a longer rest period between intervals. As you then build your fitness you can add intervals rather than going faster still.

What do I wear for winter Training?

The correct training clothes are essential in winter to stay safe, warm and comfortable. With running and cycling, it’s all about layers and being seen. So bright colours and reflective clothing can be cool!

What to Wear for a Winter Run

Look for good quality base layers to keep you warm but with a wicking fabric that moves moisture away from the skin as you sweat. Windproof and waterproof layers will also stop you getting soaked through or catching a chill. There is always a trade-off between keeping water out and locking sweat in, but this is where trial and error and shedding and adding layers helps depending on whether the sun decides to appear.

Some runners will switch from shorts to leggings, and it can be worth spending a bit of extra money on clothing that is extra comfortable and technical. Also think about gloves and a hat/buff. You can always remove them if you get too warm.

Footwear is equally important. Consider the comfort, waterproofing and grip of the undersole. Typically, the deeper the lugs, the shoe has the better grip it will provide. Most runners rotate between a few pairs. This helps with having the right shoe to the terrain, and also gives each pair time to dry out before being used again.

What to Wear for Winter Cycling

Having appropriate clothing for the bike can be even more important, because the wind-chill effect is multiplied when moving at speed. Layers are again optimal. A good quality cycling jacket is essential to keep you warm and have enough easily accessible storage for nutrition, phone, house keys etc. Equally, gloves are perhaps more important than on the run because your hands won’t move much. Likewise, consider neoprene overshoes that can keep your feet both dry and warm. Once they become cold and wet it is much more difficult to get comfortable again. Consider shades too. While it might not be your first thought, they’ll protect your face and eyes from the elements and any grit thrown up from the road.

Snow G8c5136128 1920

How to stay warm running/cycling in winter

We’ve talked about the importance of layers for waterproofing, protecting against windchill and wicking sweat away from the skin. There are a few other factors to consider.

  • Keep moving. As your body works harder, you’ll typically warm-up.
  • Keep on top of your nutrition. Fuelling also helps you maintain your body temperature. Plan stop-offs to swap cold drinks for coffee or hot chocolate
  • Change clothes. If you’re doing a bike-to-run winter brick session, consider changing out of damp cycling clothes before heading off on the run.

How can I stay safe while training in winter?

Be seen. Wear bright and reflective clothing and have good quality lights on your bike or a headtorch, so others can see you and you can see where you’re headed

Take a phone. It might be one extra item to carry, but worth keeping a phone with you in case of emergencies.

– Let someone know where you’re going and how long you expect to be. Especially important if you’re heading off on your own. This is a good routine to get into, particularly if you’re heading off the beaten track and will be gone for a few hours.

Make the most of daylight hours. While it’s not always possible, if you can shuffle your exercise so you head out while it’s light, then it’s invariably safer.

Keep kit maintained. Particularly important for the bike. This includes making sure the tyres and brakes are fit for purpose for winter riding, and that you have high quality and functioning lights.

Check the weather. While looking out of the window will give you a good idea, checking the forecast is also useful. It can be especially important if you’re heading uphill or down dale where conditions can change, and the fog might set in. Knowing the forecast can also help you plan the timings of your sessions

– Be sensible. Training can always wait for another day if it needs to. You’re better to err on the side of caution or look to do a workout indoors than risk yours and others health by heading out when it’s dangerous.

Thinking of planning a winter training camp? Discover how to train like a viking with insight into Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt’s Norwegian triathlon training camp!

Sign up now