Train Smart Winter Training Tips

By Nancy McElwain, M.S.

 Whether training for an Ironnman or your first sprint triathlon, the tips below will help you on your way.

Periodize your training plan.   

Periodization is the process of structuring training into periods in order to produce your best performance at a key race.  Each period focuses on improving specific aspects of fitness.  Your training for the year is divided into blocks of time with distinct purposes.  Workouts and rest are planned to develop specific skills and energy systems.  The periods are often referred to as base, build, peak, race, and transition.  Base develops basic elements such as aerobic fitness, strength, and sport skills.  Build works on improving energy systems that are needed for the targeted races.  During Peak, volume is decreased and intensity is maintained to bring the athlete to a peak for racing.  The Race period involves specific workouts and recovery so that you are at your best for your priority race(s).  After Race is the Transition period when the goal is to rejuvenate.

Begin by laying your Base.

Multisport athletes typically spend the winter months building a “base.”  The base is your foundation for the season to come.  The goals are to improve (1) strength, (2) aerobic endurance, and (3) skills.

Strength – Strength training can keep you injury free and improve performance.  The base period is an opportunity to “even out” strength imbalances.  First, if you know that you have weak areas that limit your performance, address those.  Common weaknesses for triathletes are hip stabilizers and core muscles.  Weak hip stabilizers often contribute to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and a weak core contributes to lower back pain.  Strength training for triathlon differs greatly from body building.  The goal is to improve function, not form.  So, a multi-joint exercise such as a squat that involves the hip, knee and ankle is much more beneficial than a bicep curl.  A triathlete’s strength program may involve the weight room, equipment like stability balls, body weight exercises, and flexibility exercises.

Aerobic Endurance – The aerobic energy system is your primary energy pathway for sustained efforts.  To develop it, stay below your lactate threshold.  This means low intensity, longer duration swimming, biking, and running.  One way to estimate your lactate threshold for running is to complete a 3 mile time trial.  Find a 3 mile course or track and wear a heart rate monitor with an averaging function.  After a good warm up, run the course “all out” as if you were racing.  Take your average heart rate for the course.  Your average heart rate will be about 101 percent of lactate threshold.  Stay several beats below this heart rate to train your aerobic energy system.

Skills –Winter is a great time to work on skills and drills to develop efficiency and economy.  Developing economy and efficiency means that less effort will achieve a greater result.  The fundamentals of good technique are well worth the investment of your time, and here are some drills:

Swim Drill – Count Strokes.  Water is nearly 1000 times denser than air, so your body moves quite differently through water than air.  Efficiency and form become very important.  Fewer, longer strokes produce the most economical effect.  To work on decreasing your stroke count, swim one length counting your strokes.  Concentrate on reaching out, extending, and getting the most distance out of each stroke.  Swim 3 more lengths trying to decrease your stroke count by one each time.

Bike Drill – Spin Smoothly.  On a flat road or on an indoor trainer, put your bike in a light gear with low pedal resistance.  Slowly increase your pedal speed, stay in the saddle without rocking your hips.  Pedal as fast as you can pedal well, without bouncing.

Concentrate on pulling through the bottom of the pedal stroke and pushing over the top.  Hold your top speed for 1-2 minutes, recover, and repeat.

Run Drill – Count Strides.  Elite runners typically complete 90 or more left foot strikes in one minute.  Long, slow strides tend to have a great energy cost and a greater impact force at the end of each stride.  Shorter, faster strides increase economy and reduce risk of injury by lessening the impact force.  To work on your stride rate, also known as turnover, count for at least 30 left foot strikes in 20 seconds.  Practice this at different points during your run.

Put a plan together and lay a strong foundation for your season.  Make your workouts count by tailoring them to develop specific energy systems, strengths, and skills.

Image from: www.coachrobmuller.blogspot,com

Nancy McElwain, MS, is the Founder Train Smart, LLC.  Nancy has a Masters Degree  in Exercise Physiology from the University of Virginia and is also an attorney.   Nancy McElwain  was a member of the 2001 Race Across America Team (RAAM) and the Children First Cycling Team.  Nancy is a world champion triathlete having won her age group and a gold medal at ITU World Long Distance Triathlon Championships in Sweden and she was the 2001 Kentucky-Indiana  Women’s District Time Trial Cycling Champion. She has completed 2005 IronMan Hawaii Championships.  Nancy is also a triathlon and cycling coach doing business as Train Smart. You can reach her at or (502)541-9541.




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