Do you know why and how you need to train differently when the chilly weather hits in the winter?
Lower temperatures bring forth new hurdles for the human body to conquer. It is good to be aware of a couple of things on a basic level.
The body naturally reacts and attempts to acclimate itself to cold. As the blood vessels constrict, the heart gets overstrained when pumping the blood. Due to this constriction of the blood vessels, the heart cannot deliver as much oxygen into the muscles, consequently they lose their elasticity and become more vulnerable.
Metabolism and calorie consumption accelerate during running sessions in cold weather. Namely we use more energy and burn more fat than we usually do during a spring workout. Our body can only maintain the internal physical balance at a much higher rate of energy consumption than under pleasant spring weather conditions. Under such circumstances, endurance trainings, primarily in the fat burning/base building zone, can be very effective.
It is an important physiological factor that we sweat as much in winter as during other times of the year or even more due to the technical outfit we tend to overclothe with, resulting in an increased sweating. Therefore, on the one hand, fluid replenishment is crucial during this period – even if we are less thirsty due to the cold. On the other hand, by sweating in the cold the body loses heat faster than producing it, so hydration is very important for our thermal equilibrium.
For this we need a proper running outfit:
Layered dressing is very important. The old-time rule is very true that if we are a little cold at the beginning of the training, but no longer after 5 minutes, we are dressed properly. If we are still cold after that, we either run too slowly or we are underdressed. If we are too warm, we are most likely overdressed and it is better to get rid of a layer.
We lose 35-40% of our body heat through our head, so wearing a cap in the cold is critical. (maybe added, but it is not included in the Hung version J): Head heat loss is linear with temperature, the lower the temperature is, the heat loss is higher.
Since we also lose a lot of heat through our hands, the best thermoregulatory garments are the gloves, which fine-tunes your thermal comfort and heat economy.
An important piece of clothing is the underlayer – on the top of which you do not (necessarily) need to wear to many layers – respectively the windbreaker in windy weather, which prevents the cold wind from blowing through your sweaty clothes.
The tube scarf keeps the neck area – where cold air flows in – warm. If you have a sensitive throat, you can wear it covering your mouth, thus the inhaled air warms up and you do not scale your throat with the cold breeze. Its disadvantage is that you may have difficulties in breathing.
It is important not to start running outside during the heaviest winter cold, but get your body used to the lower temperature gradually during the fall. This way your throat, trachea and muscles acclimatize to the cold systematically and your body is not shocked by the cooler air.
It is worth purchasing the right winter technical clothes, which are made of thicker material and can be worn from 0 to -15 degrees. Prior to your training session it is a good idea to lay your running clothes on the radiator. This way you can start your running session in warm clothes.
Winter training and the corresponding workout load:
In winter the running trainings take place in the spirit of the base-work. During this period, we do not improve speed and explosiveness but we rather focus on boosting the blood circulation (to increase efficiency and endurance.) That means a lot of low-intensity running in the aerobic zone. The point is to collect miles/kms and run as much as possible. The speed is not a goal right now because of the reduced muscle work described earlier and beside that the layered clothing slows us down a bit. In every two or three weeks, it is recommended to include an easy week, reduce the intensity of your workout and the weekly mileage.
Experienced runners can also do split distance running/speed work, but not as often and with less intensity as during spring or early summer months.
As a general principle we can state that the 75-80% of the pace or speed intensity associated with a given distance should be performed.
It is advisable to run with heart rate control through winter as well, but you have to take into consideration that in a healthy body the number of strokes decreases at the same pace during this period, so at the end of your low or moderate intensity runs, do some 50-100 m revved/speed splits to connect the fast twitch muscle fibres in even more. (Slow and fast muscle twitch fibres engage at every speed, however not in equal proportions!)
It is advisable to get a performance diagnostic test at the beginning of your foundation training period. By doing so the heart rate and threshold zones can be accurately determined, so that you can start the base-work more efficiently. These zones are different for everyone and are highly dependent on gender, age, genetics, stress, workload and general fitness condition.
However, it is also a good thing to use this period as an opportunity to learn how to run instinctively, not looking at either your pulse or pace and trying to get a sense of what is a comfortable pace for you. This way, you can determine what is the easy, moderate, hard or extreme pace for you – quasi – you develop your individual sensation zones. You can feel how intensive a given workout is based on your pulse and breathing: when you can no longer carry a conversation easily, you are breathing more heavily, you have surpassed the easy or the moderate pace. If you already feel the workout in your thighs and your movement falls apart after a certain time, then your pace is already in the effort zone. If you pay attention to these little signs, the winter period is a great opportunity to improve your body consciousness.
Where to run?
If possible, the best is to run sometimes during the day when the air is not so chilly, but a lot of people cannot do that. Running in the dark requires even more mental strength. Even if it is not snowing or raining, always be careful because roads can still be slippery. And if the snow falls, by no means should you do fast-paced workouts because you don’t know what’s lurking under the snow. It is worth doing trail running as the forest is charming and the temperature is more moderate during the winter than at the river side or in the city. Additionally, as in winter it is often foggy, the air-pollution is higher in the city, the streets are smoggy and grey. It is also recommended to apply sunscreen if your face is uncovered even in winter, as UV radiation is continuous.
Treadmill training is only recommended as a last case scenario – only if the roads are very slippery or if you don’t want to run alone in the dark – because your muscles get a completely different load on the tape, you spend more time on the “ground”. Once your muscles get used to the treadmill, it will be more difficult to adapt to outside running conditions.
Warm-up and stretching:
A lot of runners warm up while running, but the best way is to warm up by dynamic stretching in the warmth of your apartment in the winter and step out with already warm muscles into the cold.
At the end of a workout, stretching should be done immediately after the run, possibly in warm. But if it is not possible to go inside right after the session, you should rather stretch your warm muscles next to your car in the cold, putting an extra jacket or layer on to avoid catching a cold.
Other useful tips:
It is crucial to change as soon as possible after training, because it is easy to catch a cold in a sweaty outfit. Women should change their sports bra and underwear immediately if possible, as they can easily catch a cold due to their more intensive sweating around their waist.
We should keep in mind to be consciously prepared that the days are getting shorter, so we may not be able to avoid running in the dark more and more often. It is more difficult to maintain motivation under these circumstances. We need to be mentally prepared for this time of the year and just be stronger.
Overall, winter running requires better self-motivation, however it will certainly pay off and we’ll be prouder of ourselves in the spring, when the forest and the trail running becomes more attractive. Additionally, we will be able to build the speedwork more securely on the miles/kms collected through the winter. The acquired endurance will for sure pay off during the spring-autumn race season! Let’s do it!!!