How To Maximize Winter Training
For those that play sports or train at a high level, traditionally winter is so often wasted and looked upon as a resting period. Typically people, clubs and sports teams rest or dramatically curtail training for the winter and lose all the improvements they made over the previous season. They then spend the entire Spring trying to catch up on where they were at the end of last season and generally only get back to peak fitness in the middle of their new season. To me, that seems like such a waste of time and effort. You get fit then do little or nothing so you lose fitness, then spend the start of the next season trying to get back to where you were 6 months ago?
Winter or the off season, should be looked upon as the time to strengthen your body, improve your core stability, recover fully from any niggling injuries and improve your flexibility if inflexible. Then as Spring approaches, you can work on making your stronger more balanced body, work faster for longer and training should switch to focus on endurance or interval fitness training depending on the sport you play etc…
End Of Season – Usually Autumn
When your season finishes and races, games or events come to an end or are dramatically reduced, take a break. Rest and recuperate, if its been a tough season a few weeks rest will be essential for the body to heal itself. 3 weeks is plenty. Cut down on the quantities of carbohydrates (sugar) that you were consuming for fuel over the season, you wont need as much now. You wont be burning them off at this time of the year and your body can convert that excess sugar to fat increasing your weight and decreasing your power and speed.
If you’ve had a hard season your immune system may also be low so ensure your diet and/or supplements account for this. During your rest period, focus on recovering from any niggling injuries. Go to a good physio or physical therapist not a masseuse to recover form injuries. If serious you may also need some personal training to strengthen specific areas if advised to do so by your therapist. Also at this time you should do a Pilates course for 6 weeks, they’re cheap and if taught well, will dramatically increase your core strength and help with flexibility. DVD’s may be a good cheaper option or be useful for those that would be uncomfortable in a class.
To maintain your fitness levels after your rest period, include some intense interval training once a week in your training schedule and choose something that doesn’t have much impact. If your sport or chosen hobby involves running, I’d recommend using a cross trainer. It has little or no impact on the joints or muscles, uses upper and lower body at the same time so will push the heart and lungs quickly to get blood and sugar around the body. There is also very little chance of injury or flaring up any niggling injuries you may already have. A cyclist would benefit from using a spin bike, a stationary trainer and to a lesser extent a gym bike. Again it has little or no impact and with medium resistance will be gentle on the muscles, ligaments and joints.
- A basic example of an interval training program I give to my advanced clients would be what I call “2-9-1’s” 5-10 minute warm up at a easy to moderate intensity.
- Sprint for 2 mins, Rest for 1 min, Sprint for 90 secs, Rest for 45 secs, Sprint for 1 min and Rest for 30 secs.
- Repeat 2 – 5 Times depending on fitness levels and increase the number of times you do it as you get fitter.
- 3-5 minute cool down at an easy intensity Followed by some static stretching of the main muscles used while training.
At the end of your warm up you should be starting to sweat and get a little out of breath. The Sprint should be at an intense but controlled speed and you should be out of breath by the end of it. Speed and intensity will vary depending on how long the sprint is, for example the 1 minute sprint will be much faster that the 2 minute sprint. Your rest should be at a slow pace but not stopped and you should just be catching your breath when the rest time is up. This is not for beginners and wouldn’t recommend it at this time of year for running. Each 2-9-1 you do should get significantly harder and within 2 weeks you will find you are able to do more and at faster speeds.
Off Season Training – Usually Winter
For most sports winter is a time of little training and traditionally people lose all the gains they made to their strength and fitness over the last season and instead usually gain lots of body fat. However I look at winter as the time to maintain my fitness levels but build my strength. Do continue with whatever you traditionally did over the winter with your club or team but in addition get a few strength sessions with a personal trainer or even just get a proper strength training program that suits your sport. This will ensure you build on everything you worked hard to achieve last season.
You may also need to work on balancing the muscles in the body. For example if you have strong/dominant Quad muscles, ensure to strengthen Glutes and Hamstrings too. Take breaks every 4th week to boost muscle growth and if doing weights or strengthening exercises etc, vary your routine, reps, sets and exercises as often as you can. A good training program will be essential here. Cycling is my chosen sport, so I focus on building size and strength on my legs over the winter. My 90min & 2 hour King of The Mountain spin classes are also ideal winter training for cyclists.
I’ll be doing this through the 2x 90 minute king of the mountain spin classes a week and also through some weight training (usually the evening after the spin classes). I’ll also be doing some long steady outdoor cycles avoiding fluctuations in speed, intensity and with limited breaks. I’ll also use this time to work on my cycling skills and group riding experience when there’s less pressure to maintain a high pace and the fear of slowing the group.
I’ll also vary in some interval training spin classes and on the Cross Trainer where possible. A footballer, GAA player etc… in their off season should also focus on building their upper body too. This will help ensure next season that any tackles are easily dealt with and the opponents should bounce off them in any shoulder tackles etc… Assuming they’ve built a strong core. I’d also recommend working on balance, proprioception and ankle strength using a stability ball and/or BOSU ball. Plyometric exercises (impact) would also greatly benefit this type of person. Long distance runners would also focus on strengthening their legs and core but using more body weight exercises like walking lunges for example. Strengthening the core and improving flexibility would also be essential.
It’s important to set some goals for your winter training. It’ll help to keep you motivated to train and is a great morale and confidence booster coming into the next season, knowing you’re at peak physical condition. Remember to add lots of extra lean protein into your diet at this time of year, especially immediately after training. It is vital you have protein as soon as possible after training or your muscles cant repair to the best of their ability. Don’t waste the winter, while the competition is getting fatter and losing fitness, you’ll be getting stronger, more powerful and fitter than ever!
Pre Season Training – Usually Spring
About 6 weeks before your season starts where your matches, races, games or events occur. Change your training to focus less on building strength but more on making your now bigger, stronger more powerful muscles work faster, harder and for longer. Training should change to be more realistic to your sport, for example footballers would spend more time doing fitness drills on the pitch, cyclists would start increasing the speed of their rides and include longer hills at higher intensity, runners would start to increase their distance and avoid the treadmill if possible.
For any sport increase the frequency you do interval training and make it realistic to your sport so if you’re a cyclist do them on your bike, a runner on the road etc… This is the best time to work on your techniques, whether that’s cycling technique, speed drills, ball skills or shots etc. However you may find that your technique may have gotten worse at first. Golfers for example quite often lose accuracy when they strengthen, as they aren’t used to their new strength and power. Be patient and get proper coaching if required.
Be careful not to push too hard too soon, to avoid injury and very gradually increase your distances and intensity etc… It’s easy to get carried away with your newfound strength and fitness, so be patient. There is the myth of “peaking too soon” that so many people fear. I’ve never heard of anyone being too fit and I can only assume it refers to overtraining.
For me overtraining is basically where someone trains the same muscles in the same way too often and they become weak or strained. Never train in the same way 2 days in a row. When you train, your muscles are torn microscopically, your body then repairs the muscles with the protein you eat. The easiest way to think about it is if you cut your arm. A scab would form over the cut and heal the skin. If you keep picking at the scab it’ll take much longer to heal, will be sore and may never fully heal. Likewise, when you exercise, you microscopically tear the muscle (this is sometimes sore the next day), you eat protein and your body starts to repair the muscle making it bigger and/or stronger.
However if you then train in the same way the next day, your body hasn’t repaired that muscle and the tear reopens. This increases your chance of injury, dramatically reduces the benefits you got from training and may even mean you wasted your time training the day before. Rest days are as important as the days you train in my experience. Train smart and you can’t over train and wont “peak too soon”. Injuries do happen and are part of training, some argue that if you don’t get injuries you’re not training hard enough, but I wouldn’t agree with that.
The key to injuries is knowing to stop at the first sign of any pain. Listen to your body, don’t push through it. The next important step is the recovery. Think of it like this: if you get a cold then rest and recuperate, you’ll most likely be over it in a week. If you get a cold and go out partying for 3 days, work 40 hours a week and don’t get enough sleep, the cold will drag on for weeks and may even become a chest infection.
If you get injured the best thing to do is rest the area and seek proper medical advice. Pushing on and training while injured will only prolong and exacerbate the injury. Depending on the injury you should still be able to train but will just need to adapt your routine to avoid the injured area.
Thank you for reading, if you found this article helpful please share it on Facebook. Andy