Tips for training in cold weather
Training in the winter can be invigorating, but it can also be hard on your body. Sports performance manager Stephen Venugopal offered some tips for exercising in cold weather.
Why train in the cold?
Practice how you want to play. Spring sports begin their competitive season in February when temperatures can be very cold. Often, athletes have not prepared for this mentally or physically and are not ready to perform at their best under these conditions. Training now in cold weather helps the athlete to learn to prepare, play and perform in cold weather.
Mental toughness. Mental toughness is the ability to be resilient in difficult situations and circumstances. The ability to keep going when conditions are challenging only makes you a better athlete. And while the beginning of spring sports is played in cold weather, the championships are often played in hot weather. Training in cold weather can produce the mental resilience needed to perform well in hot weather and other difficult conditions.
Learn to prepare. Training in cold weather requires some thought, intentionality and preparation. It requires the right gear such as hats, gloves, footwear, socks and layers. Having to go through the thought process of planning and utilizing that gear helps you learn how to prepare yourself to have what you need in other conditions such as rain or intense heat.
Up your VO2. Training in the cold causes your body to adapt to narrowing blood vessels, which is more work for the heart and lungs, and it improves your muscles’ aerobic functions.
How to train in the cold
Determine if conditions are safe. Generally, cold and dry conditions are safer than cold and wet conditions.
Follow these tips for endurance sports. Whether you are a track, cross country or other type of endurance athlete, understand that cold weather conditions can vary. We can have dry and cold weather, wet and cold weather, windy and cold weather and there can even be sleet or snow. In all these situations, you must pay attention to how the conditions are affecting the gear you have. If your gear is not waterproof, wet and cold conditions can create issues that need to limit your time outside. Even if conditions are dry, the cold can change the amount of distance you are able to cover. That is why it is good to train for time outside as opposed to training for distance. For example, if you have a run that is supposed to be for 4 miles and it normally takes you 30 minutes in regular conditions, it is a good idea to just run for 30 minutes as opposed to trying to get the 4 miles. This can be exacerbated by wet, slippery and icy conditions that can slow you down even more.
Remember that building your VO2 max and working on your running form and economy are things you should focus on as opposed to just the times and distance. Look at the entire picture of your preparation and performance outside of time. When training in cold conditions, have a set time you will be exercising for. This will look different depending on the sport and conditions.
Follow these tips for team sports/power sports. Sports that involve manipulating an object such as a football, lacrosse ball, soccer ball, softball, baseball, etc. require a high skill component, especially if you’re using your hands or feet. That means the need for waterproof gloves and footwear, as well as paying attention to conditions such as precipitation, is very important. Cold and damp extremities for long periods of time can be dangerous and lead to complications such as frostbite.
Don’t forget these post-training activities. After being out in the cold, make sure you take the time to clean up, dry off and re-warm. Immediately change clothes and remove any layers that are wet from being outside. You can refuel after your workout with warm drinks or food. And even though it was cold, make sure you hydrate. Just because you are not sweating as much, you are still expelling water through increased respirations, so make sure you are hydrating and pay attention to your urine color as a rough indicator of hydration status.
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