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Keep your body at the right temperature during winter run training sessions to maintain your fitness, says Garth Fox

Training in bad weather is a necessity for most British triathletes during the winter and knowing why you get cold and how it affects your training is essential knowledge if you want your training to count. After all, the more optimal training sessions you can accomplish during the winter months, the better your condition will be when it is time to get race fit. So in this feature I want to talk about the impact of training in poor weather and suggest some great ways to overcome it.

From a physiological perspective, the cold significantly reduces our capacity for exercise and subsequent performance. Research has shown that the maximal power output of muscle is reduced by three per cent per 1°C fall in muscle temperature, hastening fatigue, reducing the speed of movement, dexterity, strength and mechanical efficiency. All are very good reasons for ensuring that you are fully warmed up prior to training and especially before tough sessions or races.

One of the advantages of being a triathlete is that you probably carry less body fat than your sedentary counterparts. However, when the temperature tumbles you are immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to keep warm. Body fat is a very effective insulator against the cold. If you are tall as well as lean, then it just gets worse. Short, heavy individuals will always lose heat more slowly because they have a lower body surface area to body mass ratio – think Eskimos versus Kenyans. The tall, lean triathlete putting in the winter miles at relatively low intensities will struggle to produce enough heat to counteract the heat loss. This becomes a real issue when cycling because the more quickly we move through the air, the higher the rate of heat loss from the body – otherwise known as wind chill. What feels like adequate clothing when the wind speed is zero can result in uncontrollable shivering on a long descent.

Getting the right balance between maintaining core temperature and skin comfort is critical. Too much insulation leads to sweat production which in turn leads to wet clothing. Because water is 25 times more conductive than air, heat loss is increased by as much as 400%. Equally, too little insulation leads to sub-optimal training sessions due to the muscular inefficiencies mentioned previously.
Fortunately, there are various measures we can take to ensure that every workout can be performed as intended. This not only leads to consistent training, adaptation and progress but it also makes winter training a lot more fun!

Five Ways to Beat The Big Chill

  • 1. Eat Enough
    Winter training is not the time to experiment with low glycogen or fasted state training sessions. Our bodies produce heat as a result of a series of chemical reactions which drive energy metabolism. From resting to maximal exercise your metabolism can increase by up to 25 times and at its peak requires around 20kcal per minute. That’s a lot of food!
  • 2. Warm Up
    The reason a warm-up is so important is that it elevates body temperature and increases bloodflow to the muscles. A warmed-up muscle is much harder to injure than a cold one.
  • 3. Layering
    Clothing works because air gets trapped between the fibres, warms up and, in turn, keeps our body temperature up. Because both air and materials used in clothing conduct heat poorly, heat is lost slowly. Therefore, several layers of light, close-fitting material are much more effective at trapping heat than one bulky garment. Base layers worn against the skin wick moisture and considerably reduce heat loss.
  • 4. Wear a Hat
    Despite the myth, only about ten per cent of body heat is lost through the head. However, that’s no excuse not to wear a suitable hat. Wool or synthetic, a hat will go a long way towards keeping you warm.
  • 5. Be Organised
    Check the weather forecast to make sure you have the right clothing when you need it. Also try to organise your training so that you get it done when it is warmest and in daylight. Simple planning like this will give you an advantage over time: a fit and successful triathlete is always an organised one.

You can find more winter triathlon training articles here