The professionalization of sports has led to the fact that currently elite athletes can compete in their sports almost during the twelve months of the year, ensuring that the stimuli they face are completely specific and at the same time that the brands that sponsor them can appear more frequently in the media.
Thus, not long ago the season of a cyclist or triathlete was very well differentiated between winter and summer. Cold months in which to rest and train in other sports than specific ones (cross-country skiing or mountain biking, for example) as well as focus on improving strength in the gym and warm months where you can go outside to prepare in a specific way the competitions.
Now, however, the professional athletes extend their season of specific training and competitions to continue representing their sponsors something that sometimes seems to go against maximum performance at key moments of the season. The World Series in Triathlon (ITU), the IRONMAN races dispersed during all the months of the year and the professional cycling calendar that goes from Australia in January to the World Cup in September/October are some examples.
But for the amateur athlete the calendar is different and the cold months are still moments of the season to prepare the specific and competitive months in which the sun heats up. And thanks to the evolution of the training plans and the ways to develop them independently of the climatic conditions, the amateur can make a big profit thanks to which shine in summer.
The days with fewer hours of sunlight and fewer moments in which to have adequate temperatures to train are the determining factors that mark the winter training. These are some of the ways in which you can optimize every minute of training regardless of the outside conditions.
- Take advantage of the reverse periodization.
One of the last proposals to plan the training is the one that propounds to start with high intensity loads to evolve towards loads of intensity similar to the race.
Given that high intensity training can be reduced in duration, with sessions between 60′-90′ you can get the highest quality loads that complies with this type of planning, developing longer sessions and similar to the race during the second part of the season (warm months).
- Take advantage of polarized training.
Another new planning methodology is the proposal to train at high intensities (above the anerobic threshold, FTP or CP) combining them with low intensities (at and below the aerobic threshold). That fits with the ideal way to invest the cold months with short sessions both for one and the other extreme, both in high and low training zones.
- Improve the technique and with it the efficiency.
Training the technique in any endurance sport is essential so that the efficiency of the athlete increases in each of his/her movements and, in the end, his/her performance is increased too.
The technique requires coordination of movements and to improve this it is essential that the muscle is educated with actions at high speed and with high precision. This piece of the winter training puzzle fits perfectly with the previous two (plans where the intensity is high) and can and should be developed with short workouts.
- Pedal on the roller.
The technological evolution has led to the market the indoor trainers to pedal under ideal conditions simulating the effort outside, offering us a huge variety of brands and models.
On a trainer for the bike the possibility of reproducing with total accuracy each of the sets and repetitions, the possibility of keeping the watts and the heart rate completely controlled and the reliability of a 60′-90′ high quality session, are variables that are taken to the highest level with the great benefit that this implies for performance.
In addition, training the technique of pedaling on an indoor trainer is completely viable and is facilitated by not having the need to maintain balance or pay attention to traffic or road conditions.
To this day, a trainer is an indispensable tool during the cold months and it guarantees that the specific and competitive months will be reached having “done the homework”.
- Run on a treadmill.
With the same virtues as the trainer for the bike, the treadmill guarantees to make the most of each step at the desired intensity. And it is that, in the treadmill “you can not escape”, the tape does not forgive, it does not stop.
Thanks to the fact that each contact with that surface can be repeated exactly once and again, the improvement of the technique (once this has been studied through an appropriate test) is one of the variables that are most assured.
In addition, including short and high-intensity reps, 45′-60′ workouts are loads of the highest quality (which again fits with the planning models explained before).
- Develop strength.
The winter months, being away from the moments of the year in which the athletes face specific and competitive loads, are ideal to focus on the improvement of strength (especially at the level of the structure: tendons, joints, ligaments, bones and muscles).
This is because in this way, the requirement of specific training is not impaired by the requirement of strength sessions.
The benefits gained from the strength training in winter are used when the sessions that prepare the athlete for the competition arrive.
- Try different sports.
It has been shown again and again that the more sport stimuli, the richer the response of athletes and therefore, the more performance they develop. Therefore, taking advantage of the winter months to practice cross-country skiing, to spend more time on the mountain bike, to make a long walk in the mountains or to put some snowshoes on the snow, will always be positive stimuli that will enrich the specific sport that you want to face in the warm months.
In addition, that change refreshes the mind, something that will make the new connection with the specific sport even more powerful.
In short, the cold months are an extraordinary time to invest in training loads with which to reach the warm times with the best possible preparation to face the key training that leads to competition.