As we all set in for the long haul of Winter, I feel like I’m torn between the old approach of my younger years when I would simply raise the fist to the cold and go outside anyway. A stiff chin, no headlamp in the dark, and an old cotton glove carefully placed in the mid-front, and I was on my way through hills and snow. And the desire to find new ways to keep things interesting and fun without having to wrestle with the cold, icy conditions day in and day out. I think there’s a happy medium in there where we can find both fun and fitness. So here are some ideas and some tips…
Winter Gear- You don’t have to spend a fortune, at least not all at once, to get enough gear to get you through a winter of training. Finding a jacket that has wind block paneling and some thermal properties to it is probably the one real piece of equipment that’s worth the purchase price. Using layers of clothing and being sure to keep most of your skin covered from exposure and you may not look the part of an olympian in training, with mismatched colors and styles, but you’ll be warm and safe even in the coldest conditions. Layering with old race shirts, a pair of tights under some sweat pants and using some thick snow mittens are all acceptable practices to allow you bragging rights with your run mates concerning wind chill and runs completed.
Snowshoeing- an incredible workout that can be done anywhere there’s enough snow. Getting into the woods to do so is not just a breath-taking step into a winter wonderland, but the trees can help block the wind-chill, while your effort level with snowshoes on your feet, is guaranteed to keep your heart rate up and your body warm. Regular running shoes work just fine for snowshoeing unless you tend to get cold feet. Then, try a wool sock blend or think about trying a gore-tex type run shoe.
Skiing and Fat Biking- let’s not pretend that the only way to stay fit is by doing sports that involve strictly running. Cross-country skiing and Fat Biking are great ways to get into the woods and work up a good sweat while still getting fresh air and some sunshine.
Indoor Training- from group fitness classes to indoor tracks, there is a plethora of options for staying fit without getting frostbite. Fitness Classes, weight training, spin class, lap swimming, water aerobics, treadmills, ellipticals, mall walking, and indoor tracks are some of the common ways to keep the fitness fire burning throughout the winter. A couple tips while enjoying these indoor means…
*Running on a treadmill w/out any incline can give a false sense of fitness as the movement of the belt may decrease true effort of the runner. Adding a 1 to 1.5 % incline on so-called, “Flat” treadmill runs will help you re-acclimate to outdoor running when the snow melts.
*Inside/Outside- Anytime that you spend a majority of your training time inside on a machine like a treadmill or elliptical trainer, the impact is decreased compared to running outside on streets or paved trails. When you begin to go back outside, please consider the 25% rule. Go back outside for only 25% of your runs for two weeks at a time before adding more outside workouts. If you run inside 4 days a week, add just 1 run outside and do 3 inside for two weeks. Then, do 2 outside and 2 inside for two weeks and so on…
*Mall walking or working out in similar conditions means the ground is actually quite hard and unforgiving. Be careful if you spend more time on hard surfaces like cement floors as you’ll want to acclimate slowly to the pounding to avoid injury and/or over-use issues.
*Indoor Tracks- Most indoor tracks involve tight continuous turning over the course of a distance run. Most tracks are no less than 8 laps a mile and most are actually more. Running tight circles for more than 30 min. at a time can really increase your risk of injury. Tight IT Bands, added pressure on knees, and arch pain are all commonly known concerns from running too much on indoor tracks. Consider alternating direction. (Most facilities actually alternate days for direction which makes this impossible.)
And consider not doing more than 30 min. a day on a tight, indoor track.
I firmly believe that treadmills are much more forgiving for most people than running multiple loops on an indoor track.
There’s no “one way” to get and stay fit throughout an “off-season” cycle. Even taking a season without any running at all wouldn’t be a horrible thing if you can continue to workout and stay healthy and active by enjoying the options you choose. If you plan to focus on running during your “in-season” then doing at least 50% of your training volume within your sport focus is probably a good rule of thumb. Whatever you choose to do, we hope that you continue to look far enough into the future to ensure that you find fuel to fan the flames of your health and fitness desires year-round.