Triathlon season runs from late spring through early fall; in other words, during the most weather-friendly time of the year. However, the off-season (winter) months are known for rain, snow, and cold weather, which make for difficult training conditions.
During these months, triathletes are encouraged to reduce their workload to allow the body to recover from the warm season’s physical demands. Nonetheless, triathletes should remain moderately active with their training in order to avoid a loss of strength or cardiovascular endurance. This guide will cover some tips and tricks to help triathletes continue to train throughout the cold winter months.
Stretch & Warm Up
While the winter snow in New York will probably serve as a greater threat than the winter fog in San Francisco, training in the offseason can be annoying in many regions. Any cold-weather conditions will affect training to some degree:
- The greatest concern with cold-weather training is keeping the muscles warm, and consequently, loose. It’s been said that warm muscles are happy muscles.
- Cold muscles tighten up and lose elasticity. Imposing an intense physical demand on cold muscles highly increases the chance of injury and drastically reduces physical performance. This is why it’s so important for all athletes to stretch before exercise. Stretching warms up the muscles and improves muscular elasticity.
Even though it’s important for an athlete to stretch and warm up in all weather conditions, athletes must be extra diligent with cold weather warm-ups. Stretching post-workout is also important so that the muscles don’t immediately constrict at the end of physical activity; this causes a buildup of lactic acid and evokes extreme soreness and immobility.
In case of rain or snow, wear waterproof clothing. The build-up of water on articles of clothing can weigh an athlete down. Running or riding in improper attire not only inhibits training, but it also increases the chance of catching a cold. Remaining warm and dry is a primary protocol throughout the winter months.
An effective way to keep warm is by dressing in layers of clothes. These days, there are plenty of options when it comes to clothes designed for cold-weather training. Don’t wear restrictive clothing like a parka, as such clothes reduce mobility. Instead, wear tight-fitting material like spandex, or dry-fit material such as Under Armour. A thin fleece is great to wear over a base layer.
When the thermometer really drops, extra head and foot gear become necessary options. The majority of body heat is expelled through the head and feet, so covering those areas is a great tactic for remaining warm. Beanies, neck-warmers, and thick socks are all great articles of clothing that will help retain body heat.
Up the Calories
Maintaining body heat throughout the cold months requires a lot of energy. As a result, the body burns more calories in cold weather than it does in the warm summer months. The more that energy is burned, the more that calories need to be consumed.
Triathletes should try to maintain a normal diet during the winter, but add a couple extra hundred calories into that diet — especially those who train outdoors for long periods of time (one hour or more).
Swimming in the Rain
Swimming is arguably the most challenging of triathlon’s three disciplines to train for during the winter. The more the thermometer drops, the less welcoming (and more frigid) a body of water will seem. The key in these situations is finding an indoor pool. One way or another, swimming must remain a part of the overall training regimen.
A wetsuit should always be worn if swimming in low temperatures becomes unavoidable. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer the body will remain. Foot booties and a head cover should also be considered. They will help maximize body coverage and alleviate the chance of numbness or muscle cramping.
Where swimming might be the most challenging sport for which to train during the winter, cycling is perhaps the most dangerous:
- If rain, snow, fog, or hail seem like any kind of threat to compromise the ability to see or be seen, err on the side of caution. Poor visibility lead to a serious accident. Alternatives in this situation would be to hit the indoor stationary bike, or choose an alternate discipline to train on that day.
- Cycling in wet weather is dangerous, as the odds of slipping and losing control of the bike increase noticeably. Don’t exceed unsafe speeds when riding in wet conditions. Due to the increased probability of a fall, athletes should ride in a location that’s either close in proximity to their home or in an area with lots of people around. Crashing can not only damage your bike, it can also result in serious injury to yourself
Riding in cold weather also poses the threat of wind chill, which can result in an illness if unaddressed with warm clothing. Wind chill can be dramatically harsh on the face (primarily on the nose), which remains relatively uncovered. However, do not wear articles of clothing that sacrifice visibility for the sake of wind chill. Glasses, a scarf, and a beanie under your helmet are safe, acceptable items to wear in order to fend off the cold conditions.
Run Through the Cold
Although snow generally inhibits the use of most fields or parks for training, many schools will keep their fields clear through the winter. So always remember to check out local schools to see if their fields (and bleachers) have been plowed or shoveled. If not, there’s always the treadmill!
Running is perhaps the easiest of the three events for which to train during the winter. Most people bundle up and remain inside during these cold, wet months. However, triathletes aren’t like most people.
When running in the cold, be sure to adhere to the same precautions that come with cycling: Remain visible, warm, and dry. When a wet-weather workout is over, change into something warm and dry and refuel/replenish the body immediately. A hot drink wouldn’t hurt either, as it will warm your body internally.
Braving the Elements
Training during the winter months can be challenging. Don't worry about trying to break any personal records, or achieve new distances during this offseason. Injury prevention and safety should ultimately be the greatest concern while training, especially in these conditions. So bundle up, stay dry, remain visible and alert, but also enjoy the unique training experience that winter provides!