Off-season training tips for runners, cyclists and triathletes

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Nothing puts the deep freeze on an athletes motivation like winter. Balmy months of sun-soaked back roads and shady trails fade into memory, as icy paths, snow banks and subzero wind chills become a bitter reality for many.

But by being creative, you can develop a winter training program that is both fun and challenging. So before forfeiting your sweat time for sofa time, consider the possibilities. Here are some winter training tips for runners, cyclists and triathletes.

Tips for runners

Cold weather doesnt have to keep you from running. On the contrary, winter training can help you avoid boredom and injury, and set you up for great springtime racing. Heres the plan.

Step 1: Have a good recovery, especially if you ran a fall marathon. Take a day off completely for every hour you ran in your last race, and then train lightly one day for each mile you ran in that race. If your fall racing season peaked with a marathon, your recovery period should take about four weeks, with 26 days of light training and three to five days off. Plan to do three easy four- to five-mile runs every week at 60 to 90 seconds over your marathon race pace, and an easy six- to seven-mile run on the weekend.

Step 2: Slowly increase the training. Elevate your midweek maintenance runs to six miles each during the next two months, and increase your weekend run to eight easy miles, with a 10- to 12-miler thrown in every third weekend. During this phase, youll recharge your physical and mental batteries while maintaining a good endurance base. Think of it this way: If, during the fall races, you were a race car screaming down the track at full throttle, you are now a muscle car cruising the boulevard, engine growling, restrained.

Step 3: Get the right gear. Proper clothing can tame even the most frigid mornings. Wear technical, non-cotton clothing that includes a long-sleeve pullover; a breathable but water-resistant running jacket; gloves or mittens; tights; and a headband or knit hat to cover your ears. Also, consider buying trail shoes for running on snow and ice. Plan to feel chilled at the start of your runs. As you warm up, youll feel perfectly comfortable.

Step 4: Use your winter training as a springboard to the spring season. Begin the transition after the New Year by running four to six hill repeats, or a six-mile tempo run at marathon race pace, once a week. If youre aiming for a marathon, add an extra two miles to your long run every other weekend. In February, find a clear track and start building slowly once a week from 400s to mile repeats.

Step 5: Remember the most important ingredient the right attitude. Dont let a little bad weather throw you off your program. Soon youll come to enjoy the cold, clear mornings, when your breath hangs in the air, and yours are the only footprints in the freshly fallen snow.

Stick to this plan, and youll earn big dividends in the spring, when youll be rested and ready to go.

Jeff Horowitz is a personal trainer and marathon coach in Washington D.C. He has run more than 60 marathons around the world, and when he finally sits still, he also practices law.

Tips for cyclists

You may think its too cold, but with the right gear, outdoor winter cycling can be as invigorating as bombing a double-diamond ski run.

Wear layers of clothing and pay particular attention to your extremities. Neoprene booties and lobster gloves are good choices in cold conditions. A snug balaclava over your head will fit well under a helmet to hold in heat. Vests and nylon shells will keep your core warm, while good Lycra leggings are sufficient for the lower body. Dress warmly, but remember that you'll heat up as you ride.

Winterproof your bike, too. Use lighter-weight greases in cold conditions and lube the cable housing to keep it smooth. Mud flaps and fenders prevent unwelcome sprays of cold water. Wider tires are safer, especially on icy days.

The salt and sand used to de-ice roadways can be a killer on your bike, so keep it clean. Make sure not to take out a wet bike, however. Water can freeze up in small spaces, like cable housing. Despite the cold, try to get outside at least once a week for a two- to three-hour ride.

Ride inside
If the cold is too much for you, take your ride inside. Indoor trainers allow you to securely hook your rear wheel to a set of rollers and spin in place. With an indoor trainer and some imagination, you can simulate an outdoor training ride. Incorporate hill work and sprint intervals into your ride. By switching gears or resistance settings, make the ride harder or easier to simulate terrain changes.

An example session could start with a 10-minute warm up, followed by a series of increasingly steeper two-minute climbs and a cool down. Incorporate at least two one-hour spin sessions per week into your schedule.

Get off your bike
For cyclists who log a lot of saddle time in-season, winter is a great time to try other sports and exercises. Weight training and cross training are key elements of winter workout schedules. Lift weights twice a week to help maintain strength. Focus on multiple reps, around 15 per exercise, rather than power lifting.

Diversify your aerobic training by running or swimming on days you arent on the bike. Other winter activities like cross-country skiing or basketball are also great for your cardio fitness.

Falls Church, Va., resident Bruce Buckley is a professional writer and amateur mountain-biker with seven years of racing experience.

Tips for triathletes

If you are like most multisport athletes, your plan for the off-season is simple: Train better. So what does that mean?

The winter months are not the time to improve endurance. The weather is unlikely to cooperate, and riding or running on a stationary trainer is too boring to get in enough volume for significant endurance changes.

Endurance is vital and must be maintained, but this winter, your purpose is to improve aspects of the sport that do not require high-volume training. That means you'll be working on better fitness, technique, mindset and planning. All of these goals can be accomplished with low-volume training.

Less volume, more intensity
Volume and intensity of training are inversely related. Many triathletes try and fail to disprove this fact, but it is absolute. Less volume allows higher intensity. Low-volume workouts should develop muscular strength, aerobic capacity (the volume of oxygen you consume at maximum effort) and economy (speed at a given energy expenditure). These are critical aspects of endurance-sports training and all need to be developed during periods of low-volume training.

Aerobic-capacity workouts are beneficial, but they come at a significant recovery cost. To achieve full benefit, their intensity must approach your sustained maximum effort. Try bike intervals of six to eight minutes at 90 percent exertion (an intensity you could maintain for a 15-minute time trial). Repeat three to five times and allow an eight-minute recovery between each interval.

Economy workouts must be fast and short (200s with a 200-meter jog on the track), but not so fast that you lose the efficiency of your stride. The purpose is not to improve your sprinting speed, but your efficiency at all speeds. Four to eight reps are plenty.

Focus on technique
Lab tests show that efficiency plays a greater role in fast running and cycling than fitness. Improving technique, along with strength training, will reduce the energy cost of fast running, swimming and cycling next season.

Without the pressure of important races looming, the off-season is the perfect time to develop better form. Drills should isolate specific movements that can be implemented into your swimming, cycling and running. Some of my favorites are the "catch up" drill for swimming, where each stroke only begins after the recovering hand has touched the lead hand, single-leg cycling on a stationary trainer or simply 30-second repeats of running in place at high cadences for running.

Other areas that should receive off-season attention include:

Sports psychology: Visualization, positive affirmation and meditation are powerful tools that too many athletes overlook in their racing and training preparation.

Seasonal planning: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." There is a where, when and how to every workout.

Muscle strength: The off-season is the perfect time for weight training.

Make the most of your winter by improving specific aspects of performance that don't require the endless miles. By next spring you'll be a new athlete.

Eric Sorensen, an eight-time USAT All-American, is co-owner of Fitness Concepts Inc., a coaching business in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached at

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