There's no doubt that finding the motivation to continue training through the winter can be a challenge. While most coaches recommend backing off of mileage and intensity to give your body a break, it is still important to maintain a certain level of fitness to set yourself up for success in the coming season. In fact, building strength and endurance when the pressure is off is key to scoring big PRs in-season.
In search of some mood-boosting motivation this winter, we mined for the latest research on the subject and talked to coaches about what can help keep triathletes going 365 days a year. Next time you're feeling your inspiration waning, try one or all of these approaches.
Turn Up the Volume
While purists often eschew the idea of listening to music and watching movies or television while exercising, it turns out that when you're spinning indoors, entertainment may improve your experience in the saddle. New research suggests that watching video and listening to music simultaneously can make working out on a stationary bike more enjoyable. "Music can certainly help to stimulate mood," says Ray Pelelas, the USAT-certified head coach of Chicago Multisport.
He suggests changing things up and coming up with a different playlist for the off-season. "Your stale playlist may not be enough to rev you up like it did in June," he says. "Make three new playlists of strong variety and rotate them daily. Reach for new rock and roll that gets your heart pumping, but still sprinkle in the old standards that remind you of race day, great memories or huge efforts."
There is plenty of research out there that links caffeine to enhanced athletic performance. The latest in that line of study showed that caffeine actually increased people's enjoyment while exercising, in addition to making workouts feel easier.
"Cold temperatures, less daylight, and no A races planned can be demotivating and when you add in the holiday sweets and home-cooked meals, athletes feel totally out of shape and often have trouble getting out the door for a workout," says Pelelas. "I definitely encourage all of my athletes to enjoy their coffee to start their engines in the morning."
With that said, keep in mind that what works for some won't work for others. "For some athletes, even a little caffeine can cause gastric distress and for others it can offer a boost before a key workout or race," explains Jenn Place, a USAT All-American and certified coach in New York City. "As is the case with any type of sports nutrition, an athlete who is considering using caffeine should always test it out before a workout and never try it for the first time on race morning."
Pick up the Pace
Too much easy-paced exercise can end up being mind-numbing over time. Although it takes a bit more of a push to get up for a big workout, a study published in 2011 showed that people actually found running a high intensity interval session to be more enjoyable than a moderately paced continuous run.
"A smattering of short intensity work can give the body and mind a kick start in the winter," says Pelelas. "I often plan one session per week that requires a stronger effort. It fires the endorphins more than long and slow work."
Place emphasizes that some strategy of how hard to drive in these sessions is necessary. "It's important to include harder sessions in one's training plan, but it's also important for the coach or athlete to know just how much to push," she says. "Including harder sessions where success is still within reach is key. If the workout is far beyond the athlete's capabilities, it may backfire and cause the athlete to be demotivated or may even cause injury."
Mix It Up
Variety is the spice of life and that also applies to your workouts. Varying training has been shown to increase enjoyment when it comes to working out. "Not only does a lack of variety breed boredom, but it also impedes an athlete's potential gains and may lead to injury," says Place.
"Use different workouts during this period to focus on weaknesses and limitations," adds Pelelas. "Try some cross-training and make sure to strength train. Very little strength work is done during the season and yet it's so important to prevent injury. Spend time in the winter getting strong and tough so you can handle more volume come spring."race.