Winter training: What’s your excuse?

We’ve all experienced a cold winter’s morning when you look out the window and think, ‘I really don’t fancy training in that’. The thought of training in the cold, wet & wind is never pleasant, and for a lot of people, this is a good enough reason to stay at home and do nothing!

Whether it’s lashing down with rain or knee deep in snow, there’s always something you can do to work-up a sweat, keep fit, and boost your training goals. Training in the winter is not always about volume (how much you can do), but instead, you can train smarter to improve performance all year round.

The last thing an athlete wants is to be injured, and if the roads are too icy then accidents can happen. Therefore here are some alternative training methods if training outside really is just too dangerous.


Train at home – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

The worst case scenario is that you cannot leave your house – you’re snowed in or the road is closed (a tad farfetched I know). HIIT is a great alternative to long-duration cardio training, especially if you’re time restricted as it’s a quick, high-intensity workout that can be as short as 15-20 mins. Also the right training protocol can give similar training adaptations to hours-long endurance training.

Push your coffee table to the side and set up a space in the front/living room. Do a quick warm-up of jogging on the spot, high-knees with fast jabs, press-ups, star jumps, followed by some light stretching.

  • Squats / squat jumps
  • Burpees
  • Press-ups
  • Mountain climbers
  • Alternating lunges
  • Bicycle crunches

Perform each exercise for 1 minute with 30-45 seconds rest between each and repeat. This should take you no longer than 20 minutes.


 Improve strength and prevent injury with resistance training

You can safely drive your car, or your local gym is a short distance away. No excuse not to train in the gym and make use of the weight lifting equipment!

Winter is a good time to switch your focus to strength training to improve your strength, stability and help you avoid injury when you start clocking up more hours of intense training. Long training hours in the summer means you may have neglected strength and conditioning, so now is the time to get on top of it and support your training all year round, as together, they improve performance!

Squats and deadlifts are fundamental exercises to improve strength and posture, thus helping to prevent injury. Focus your strength training around these 2 main exercises and add other exercises that resemble movement patterns that are specific to your sport. It is essential that you get your technique right with low weights first before ramping up the weight, as this can cause imbalances and lead to injury. Seek advice from a qualified strength and conditioning coach. 

Other exercises that are important for running and cycling include:

  • Nordic curls
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Single leg step-up
  • Lunges
  • Wobble board single leg balance & squats
  • Leg press

Introduce 2-3 strength training sessions per week performing 3-5 sets of 3-6RM for 3-4 exercises per session.

NB: RM = the absolute maximum you can lift for that amount of reps. For example a 1RM is the amount you can lift for one rep in any given exercise.


You can’t choose the weather on race day!

It’s windy, wet and really cold…wrap up warm and get on with it!

If you’re a competitive athlete and you compete outdoors, then there’s no excuse not to train outside. I say this simply because you cannot choose the weather on race day!! If you train week in, week out on the treadmill or only when it’s sunny then you turn up to race on a cold and windy morning, you won’t be in the right frame of mind unless you’ve trained in those conditions before!

Remember to warm-up properly though because you may injure yourself if you don’t.

  • Get the blood pumping and warm up the muscles – first 5 minutes of continuous light jogging at 50% of your maximum is sufficient, but take longer if you need to.
  • Establish functional range of movement and muscle length – standing hip extension & flexion, standing knee raises (6-10 for each leg), followed by active stretching of quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  • Movement drills – fire up the CNS with fast paced explosive movements. Perform 5-6 squat jumps followed by a 75% jog on the spot for 5-10 secs with high knees and arms.


Foods that boost your immune system

Another common excuse for not training in the winter is because of illness. Don’t let this be yours. Boost your immune system and fight off the common cold with these healthy foods.


Oily fish are a great source of omega 3. These fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties that fight against infection and keep you healthy. Other oily fish include mackerel, sardines and trout, but if you’re not a fish eater then take a daily omega-3 supplement that is high in EPA and DHA.


Vitamin C is the usual go-to vitamin when people are ill. It is known for its excellent antioxidant properties to support immune health, however vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, therefore daily intake is very important to keep you healthy when training hard. Opt for a grapefruit instead of an orange as it contains nootkatone; an organic compound which may promote energy metabolism and weight control.

Green tea

Start your mornings and stimulate your workouts with antioxidant rich green tea. Nothing beats a hot drink in the winter so warm-up with a cup before your workout and rehydrate afterwards to help your body recover.

Vitamin D

Known for its classical role in bone health and calcium homeostasis, vitamin D also plays a major role in supporting immune function and muscle health. Vitamin D is found in small amounts in food (fortified milks & cereals, oily fish, shitake mushrooms) but it is primarily synthesised when the skin is exposed to sunlight, which is clearly a problem during the winter (as we get very little sunlight!). A vitamin D3 supplement of approx. 4000 IU each day during winter months will help prevent deficiency and fight against infection.


Take home message

You can’t choose the weather on competition day, but you can use it to your advantage and train smarter. Include strength training to improve performance and reduce injury risk, and create your own HIIT sessions to keep your workouts varied and enjoyable. At some point you are going to have to train outside, so keep yourself fit and healthy by eating a rainbow of colourful immune-friendly foods.

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