Guest blog by Helen Russell
The Benefits of Winter Training
For lots of sports people the main season is the summer.
As a triathlete most of my races take place in the summer when it is warm enough to swim in open water. However, my race results are often made during the winter months.
Last year my main focus was to complete the One Day Ahead challenge, where I cycled the entire route of this year’s Tour de France one day before the professional peloton for Cure Leukaemia.
Whilst the challenge took place in July there is no way I would have been able to complete it, if I had not had a solid block of winter training. Last year I was lucky enough to spend five weeks training in the Costa Blanca covering terrain that would be similar to that which would appear on the Tour de France route.
Making Winter Training, Work For You
Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to have a winter overseas but there are a number of key things that you can do in the winter to help achieve your summer’s sporting goals.
The first thing to do during the winter is to consider what you want to achieve in the summer.
Start thinking about what your aims and goals will be for 2016, whether it is to do your first triathlon, cycle a sportive event, or run a 10K. Then you can start to plan the training you need to do to achieve to meet this goal.
Write down your goal and then three things that you can do that will help you to achieve it. Doing the three things should help you achieve your main goal. Of course the aim may change during the year as you never know what opportunities could open up.
At the end of last year my aim was to win gold at the European Aquathlon but that all changed when I was offered a place on the One Day Ahead team and my goal changed to cycling the entire route of the Tour de France!
Be focused but flexible.
The winter is a good time to build strength that will help you come the summer.
Most sports need you to have some level of strength and the training will depend on your chosen sport. As a triathlete or cyclist, strength training can be done in the gym or on the bike.
There are a number of sport specific weight exercises that can be found online. A good way to build strength on the bike is hill-rep training. Find a hill that takes you a couple of minutes to ride and then climb it in as large a gear as possible without falling off! Then recover by just rolling back down the hill. Repeat this for about 5 repetitions.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to climb the hill. If you are doing it correctly, you will be going very slowly! Make sure you stretch afterwards!
A good way to build run strength is to take part in some cross country races, which are held over the winter or find an off-road Park Run that will build leg and ankle strength and core stability.
Improve Your Technique
As a cyclist, developing good technique will mean that I ride more efficiently, which translates into riding faster but all sports require good technique.
If you are a cyclist, try and find a Wattbike to see what your pedal stroke and leg balance is like. Most people discover that they don’t engage their hamstrings enough or have one leg stronger than the other. If this is the case for you then incorporate a weekly technique session into your training programme where you can do drills to engage the hamstrings or single leg drills to improve leg balance.
It is hard to explain how to engage the hamstrings but it feels like pulling the leg upwards – imagine wiping some gum off the bottom of your shoe or hitting your Achilles backwards to try and engage the muscles.
If you are a swimmer, then part of your swim sessions should include drills which get you to focus on the different parts of your swim stroke. There are plenty of drills to find online – the difficulty is in knowing which ones you need to do.
It is useful over the winter to get someone to film you swimming so you can observe your style or even book a swim analysis session where your stroke can be examined and specific drills suggested.
Runners can also incorporate run drills into session or do specific run drill sessions. The drills should focus on efficient run style and correcting any biomechanical imbalances that could lead to injury, again getting someone to film your running can help identify areas you need to work on.
Base Level Training
There is currently some debate about the old adage that winter miles = summer smiles.
Base training is done at an intensity that teaches your body to use oxygen most efficiently and tends to be achieved through long and steady rides. The idea of a pyramid is often used to describe base training – having a large base level will allow you to climb to a peak of fitness.
Training at an aerobic level means that your body becomes better at using oxygen and burning fat and getting in the long miles will help with shorter high-intensity, race focused sessions come the spring and summer. However, some question whether it is possible to do rides of a sufficient distance in the cold weather and shorter days to achieve these training benefits. As with most things a mixture is probably best.
If you are totally new to cycling or triathlon then I would recommend getting a good level of base fitness before speed work, whatever time of year. For the more experienced, then of course you will still need to do some high end sessions in the winter so as not too lose top end fitness. I do a mixture of steady rides and runs interval sessions each week, regardless of the time of year.
Warm Weather Training
Of course a great thing to do in the winter is to escape to the sun and do some warm weather training! Not only will you be able to get some quality training done but the chance of injury is less in warm weather and you will be able to get a healthy dose of vitamin D.
I usually try to have at least two one-week stays overseas. I have just returned from a week of training in Benidorm where I could ride on the challenging roads of the Marina Mountains, swim in the sea (with my wetsuit) and enjoy some runs along the sea front.
Whilst it is then hard to return to the British weather, after training in the sun I always return home feeling enthused and motivated to get through the rest of the winter!
So, whatever your goals are for the summer, the winter is a great time to take the first steps toward achieving them!
Good luck and have lots of fun along the way.
Helen is a Great Britain age group triathlete. She is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. This year Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team which raised £1million for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of this year’s Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth
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