4 Winter Training Tips from a Pro Triathlete

How your plan for the off-season can make you stronger, faster and more efficient in upcoming races

There’s no avoiding it, winter is coming. Snow has already hit many parts of the country and freezing temperatures will soon be here to stay—unfortunately that makes outdoor training tough. Long gone are the days when you could toss on a t-shirt and shorts and head out on a run. Now you need to plan out gear and apparel more carefully and the same goes for training. Training in the winter, a triathlete’s “off-season,” requires careful planning and dedication, otherwise it’s very easy to spend the winter in hibernation mode.

Planning out your winter training—and sticking to the plan—is the key to a successful season, according to professional Ironman triathlete Travis Hawkins.

“Simply hoping for good weather and becoming a weekend warrior is one strategy, but that usually leads to inconsistency, loss of fitness and even injury,” said Hawkins. “Now is the time to sit down with your coach or training partners and put together a strategy. Not simply to survive the winter, but to set yourself up for a stronger year to come.”

Here are a few winter training tips Hawkins suggests you work into your plan:

#1 Learn how to swim correctly. Unfortunately, swimming unlike biking and running, does not simply get better with practice. In fact, practicing poor swimming form can be really destructive to progress and ultimately even cause injury. Use the winter months to drop your yardage in the pool but focus more on developing strong form. Find a local masters swim team or coach, ask a friend to film your stroke.  Feedback from others on proper technique is key to developing an efficient swim.

#2 Run without a watch. With the right layering of clothes, running year round is always an option. Focusing too much on distance, time and pace though can lead to burn out and injury. As endurance athletes, most of us deep down have a very strong connection to the mental benefits of running. If you don't, this may be the wrong sport for you. Ditching your watch will help you reconnect with your desire to run. Go running in the snow or with a friend you normally wouldn't train with, perhaps even a four legged friend. 

#3 Find an indoor cycling studio. I know it's a lot of fun to make puddles on your living room floor while you try to focus on a workout projected from a laptop precariously balancing on a pile of books. What's more fun though, is suffering through indoor workouts with friends—and guidance. Thankfully more and more indoor cycling studios are popping up. Things to look for:

  • You ride your own bike. Some studios even offer bike storage. As much as you may sweat in a spin class, it's not really cycling.
  • Power is measured. Look for a studio that uses computrainers or some other power based system. This will help with goal setting to keep you motivated.
  • A knowledgeable coach. Booking studio time on your bike can be a great way to get some individual coaching advice on cycling. This is much harder to do at 20mph in aero dodging traffic!

#4 Cross train. For your mind and body, treat yourself to some off season weight training and/or yoga—the stuff you simply can't find the time to fit into your mid-season training schedule.  For your mind, you will break the monotony of swim, bike, run repeat. For your body, actually the same is true. It's important to build strength and stability in those joints that have become accustomed to 3 very specific movement patterns.

By the time spring arrives, you will have learned a thing or two about your own abilities and set up some great habits.  You'll be ready to break out into the sunshine with a great foundation and a new confidence.

Find Travis Hawkins on Twitter or at theeverydaytriathlete.com.