What to do this winter to boost health and immunity and take yourself into the start of next season’s training in the best possible condition.
Winter months can be a challenge for triathletes. There is a balance to be found between easing up on training intensity, allowing time for other pursuits, perhaps coping with the weather conditions, and for some resisting the urge to forget fitness entirely for a few weeks/months, to succumb to the lure of the settee, Netflix, and one more chocolate.
Without doubt this year has been a challenging year for everyone, even those who managed to race, and it could be tempting to forget training for a couple of months. Resist. Use the next few months to really work on your health. In addition to the preparation for next year, working on base fitness over the winter months is going to give you your best protection from succumbing to Covid by boosting immune function and will have a positive effect on your mental health. That can only be a good thing over the next few months where the combination of lockdowns, restrictions from ‘normal’ socialising, cold and wet weather, and shorter daylight hours will combine to make life feel more challenging.
If there is one word which is used when talking about the training of successful athletes it is consistency. Consistency doesn’t just apply during the period of time before your ‘A’ races. We find that those of our athletes who continue to be coached throughout the year and maintain consistent training start the next season from a stronger position than those who take a couple of months off and then literally start again at the beginning of the next season. Do what you can to not miss training days. Consistency becomes a habit and it is easier to maintain a habit than create a new one. Consistency of training also reduces reversibility, the inevitable loss of training gains when training stops. (Use it or lose it!)
Consistency is sometimes lost because athletes do too much with too little recovery until eventually they become ill or injured. You should be aiming for progressive overload of what you do in your training sessions but also allowing for sufficient recovery. This is where having a coach is a useful thing so you have an objective assessment of when and by how much to increase your training load. The general rule is 10% increase in intensity or volume. Gradual increases are tolerated by the body and with sufficient recovery adaptation can occur. Too big an increase is likely to lead to injury and time out from training.
Recovery & Maintenance
It is also worth bearing in mind that often it is not all about how hard the session is. The key to unlocking performance and reducing injury risk is recovery. Recovery and maintenance are individual to each athlete but are an area that is often overlooked. An effective strategy is to dedicate as much thought to this part of your training as to the ‘shiny’ sessions. This includes looking at the quality of your sleep and ensuring you are getting enough.
Enjoy Other Activities Whilst You Have The Time
Over the winter is a good time to participate in other activities you enjoy. Do so for the fun or social benefits of participating, whilst still remembering that specificity is an important principle for effective training. For triathletes this means continuing to have some swim, bike, and run sessions. Reducing the volume of those sessions from your in-season training can allow you the time to also enjoy other activities to keep your mind and body stimulated.
You might choose to still stick just to swim, bike, run but change the terrain.
Trail running gives an opportunity to get off the pavement and work on proprioception, balance and a greater understanding of how to run well. Or have fun mountain biking which will add a whole different intensity and experience to your ride if you are normally on the road, yet in return develops your bike handling skills and strength. Both of these off road options also engage you more with ‘process’ as you have to pay greater attention to the constantly changing terrain.
Now can be a good time to back off the volume. Although it’s great to get out for a long bike ride on a dry sunny winters day, ask yourself if a 6 hour ride is the best use of your time. Consider this both from a training perspective but also a balanced approach to life. Backing off the volume gives you time to do other things..
The debate between quality and quantity in endurance sports can be simply expressed as training volume (how much and how often) vs training intensity (how hard). Both are important and you will never be able to complete an endurance race without some training volume but ideally your training should always be the smallest does of training to achieve the result needed in this moment. If you’re doing an Ironman next year there will be a time for getting your body ready for long hours in the saddle but unless it’s in the next few months, you have time to do that later.
A periodised training plan allows you to improve the quality of your training in a progressive way and gives structure to your overall schedule. Success in endurance sports is gained from doing the right things in the right amounts at the right time.
Skill & Technique Development
Now is a great time to assess and identify areas of skill and technique that are ripe for development, improvement, or complete overhaul. Work on basic skills and drills, especially on the bike and run. Learn how to do it better or practice to refine your skills. If you have a coach, ask them for direction on what you need to work on. If you train yourself, take care that the information you are using to guide you is reliable. Make sure you are not spending your time doing what ‘x’ on Facebook does. Take the time to understand and work on developmental areas.
Review This Year & Plan Ahead
Be honest with yourself about where you are now, how this year went, whether the allotted time you thought you had this year worked for you or whether life has changed for you and you have less or (if you’re lucky) more time available. If you kept missing training because of work or family commitments it may be that this reflection causes you to reassess your goals for next year. You might have the goal of a podium place at Ironman distance but if your maximum training time more closely matches the time needed to successfully train for 70.3 distance this is a good time to honestly evaluate what you choose to do next year. That’s not to say you have to change to 70.3 as you might need to let go of something else in your life to free up more time for the Ironman training. Equally do you decide that another branch of multi-sport is more suited to your time availability or physical abilities.
Plan your journey. Where do you want to be as a person and an athlete in 3 or 4 seasons, they are inter-linked. Ian’s early experience (30 years ago) was that it’s easy to simply plan on a season to season basis. You then bounce from event to event , cramming in the training to move towards a finish line. Sometimes this process has little recognition of what has gone before and what comes after. A breakthrough in thinking came when talking with a coach from another sport about planning for the longer term, several seasons ahead. This changed his success as he subsequently planned better from that point onwards.
We advocate that you initially plan over a period of 3-4 seasons. This allows your goals to be linked and allows you to feel that you are being successful a step at time. It also creates a consistent opportunity to reflect, evaluate and review your strategy towards the bigger outcome. Reviews and evaluation should be an ongoing process so that you are involved in the journey and it evolves as life does. Your year 3 is unlikely to look the same when it comes around as it did in year 1. Time spent this winter looking ahead at what you do could transform your training and racing over the next few years and beyond.
Strength & Conditioning
Now is a great time to develop a habit of strength and conditioning work.
This is a dimension of training often overlooked by athletes. Strength and conditioning can and should take on a variety of forms to allow a greater range of benefits. Incorporate quality key exercises from reliable training sources (not the latest feed of Instagram) including basic key weightlifting to a range of body weight exercises. Include some Yoga or Pilates, with a teacher that genuinely understands your sporting direction. Go to a few lessons, repeat what you learn regularly at home, and dip back for checks on your progress and form.
Review and overhaul your nutrition. This can include both your day to day fuelling and also your training and race-day strategies. We live in a world where for many of us accessing food is relatively easy, involving simply a trip to your supermarket and meal of choice. Do we fully look at or understand the nutritional information? Do we understand what we need for optimum function physically and mentally, both as a person but also as an athlete? How many athletes are relying on training with added nutritional products and supplements? Ask yourself do you need that energy drink for an hour on the bike in the next few months, potentially not. Have you established your tolerance to carbohydrates, our body craves sugars but do we need to feed it as many as we do.
We both eat a plant-based diet but even if we didn’t we would ensure we eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables each day to ensure we eat a range of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients.
Winter is a good time to look at what you are eating and establish some good habits. This increase in awareness of the nutrient quality of your food choices might also help you make positive choices at festive meals. It really is possible to eat well at this time of year and emerge into next year at a healthy weight and healthy and energised for training.
Try Some Low Intensity Training
Low intensity training, especially at the beginning, can be frustrating as you learn to run slowly. It requires patience to allow for the physiological adaptations to occur.
Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF training) is the training philosophy developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone, who coached six-time Ironman Hawaii World Champion Mark Allen back in the ’90s. The philosophy was born out of Maffetone’s observation that many endurance athletes were frequently becoming ill and getting injured as a result of pushing their bodies to incredible levels of stress in training. The method works on a basis of 180 – age, then additions or subtractions from this for injury, training history etc. The aim is to become an efficient runner staying at or below this figure. To start with this can be difficult to achieve. It can be a shock to discover that you can achieve very little speed at a low HR and may be difficult to put your ego to one side and allow yourself to run more slowly than you would like. Remind yourself of what is possible to be achieved, the improvement in running economy and how your body will respond differently. Time spent working at a lower intensity now will build great base fitness and allow you much better endurance in next year’s events.
So to summarise, our top winter training tips are:
Build or maintain consistency.
Have fun doing other activities during the months you can enjoy having time for them.
Reduce volume but keep some intensity.
Skill and technique development.
Plan and evaluate .
Work on your strength and conditioning.
Work on your nutrition and explore all the positive ways of enjoying seasonal eating without destroying your body.
Try some ‘MAF’ training and work on your aerobic function.
We are firm believers in the value of ongoing learning. Kate is very pleased to have just completed the IRONMAN Coach course and passed the assessment to be added to their list of Certified IRONMAN Coaches.
Most of us are lucky enough that we have been born at a time and in a location that our basic needs have been met. Without us having to be aware of this privilege, we have been able to aspire to much more than mere survival. Our ‘normal’ includes sports, creative activities, socialising in a variety of ways, theatre and arts, choosing to wear clothes which project our personalities and achievements. The list goes on.
Coronavirus/Covid-19 has crept up on some of us over the last few weeks. It started as a situation somewhere else and our lives continued as ‘normal’. Now it is here and amongst us and we have to create a new ‘normal’ for as long as is necessary. Clinging to what we had, pretending we can carry on with our intended plans for the day/week/year will not be as useful to you personally or your community/country/species as creating a new way of being for now.
Examples I thought of as currently needing reframing are:
Your self-identity as an athlete You will have spent time planning events for dates this year and envisaged your performance in these. Some may yet happen but it is possible that no events take place. In the meantime even though you are unlikely to be swimming, you can still bike and run (at a reduced volume and intensity to protect your immune system) and do bodyweight strength and conditioning at home and keep yourself as healthy as possible. You are still an athlete even if you are unsure when you will race again.
Self-identity is a double-edged sword. We use aspects of ourselves to create self-identity and the ones we excel in, give us physical or external rewards or we enjoy most can easily dominate our lives. If all of your identity is tied up in being an athlete then the rest of your life could go wrong and you could still be happy. However if your identity as an athlete is threatened you have nothing left.
The psychologist and psychiatrist Raj Persaud recommends self-complexity in order to preserve positive mental health. Self-complexity involves seeing yourself in a range of ways. “Positive mental health strategies should include ensuring that your self-esteem is not focused in only one or two areas of life.” [Raj Persaud, Staying Sane, 2011]
You may have got used to being an athlete and the personal satisfaction that brings you but you are not only an athlete. You are also a son/daughter, husband/wife, father/mother, worker, member of society. Allow these parts of your identity to be more important to you at this time. Be the best individual part of the solution to this crisis that you can be and let that feed your self-identity.
Your needs versus your wants The cycle-related equation n+1 doesn’t currently apply. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. [Maslow, A.H., A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943] Your physiological needs are homeostasis, health, food, water, sleep, clothes, and shelter.
Right now our health is under threat in a global way. If we don’t do the right things now this could threaten our ability to maintain supply of food and our ability to maintain shelter due to loss of earnings. The most important thing you can do right now is protect your health and the health of everyone else. That means staying home and keeping away from others.
It also means behaving in ways which allow others to do the same. You don’t need to buy products online which you don’t immediately need but which cause someone else to have unnecessary contacts and travel. (Yes we want to help businesses but the best way to help them long-term is to keep ourselves and others alive!) You don’t need that group cycle ride. You don’t need your usual hair cut, pub night, coffee and cake.
Being thankful for what you have
If you are reading this then be thankful that you are healthy enough to do so.
You also have time to read this so are perhaps not one of the frontline NHS staff who are working long hours and putting themselves at increased risk in order to save lives. (If you are one of those staff I am thankful for you.)
Be also thankful for police officers, fire service personnel, mountain rescue, delivery drivers, fuel station staff, supermarket workers, and cleaners, amongst many others who are working to keep society and supplies going. Don’t abuse this.
You have a good base level of fitness. You may, like myself, have an underlying health condition which elevates your risk of developing complications if you become infected but you are also fitter than the majority and have the best chance you can of staying healthy. You are also healthy enough to help others.
You have a home in which you can keep yourself safe.
You have the internet. You are not really socially distant. You can ‘virtually’ see and chat with friends. You can keep yourself informed. Used wisely and kindly, the internet is going to help you get through this. You have more ways of staying in touch than any previous generation. (Just be mindful that you are using it from your perspective. Someone else reading your social posts may have worked a long day on the nursing frontline or just lost a friend or family member.)
You can turn the internet off and have time to yourself knowing that no-one will knock on your door and disturb your peace.
If your work, like mine, has largely been cancelled for the next few months at least be thankful for the time you now have to read, write, think, take an online course. Now is the time to do all the things at home that you never usually allow yourself time for. No guilt needed.
Finally, the most basic of things to be grateful for, you are reading this via the light provided by the sun which is continuing to enable life on this planet. The planet will survive this. Be thankful for every sign of life continuing that you can.
Accepting what is
We all wish this was not happening and part of wanting to continue with our training and race plans is an unconscious desire to avoid accepting what we don’t want to acknowledge. Some are scouring the internet for the slightest hint of information about their race in case it is not cancelled. Accept that right now we don’t know how long this will last. We can’t know. We don’t need to know. We know what we need to do now. Stay home.
Ensure that you are accepting what IS rather than what you fear will be. Try to avoid catastrophising, projecting into the future, and imagining the worst. Try to stay in the moment. That is the bit that you have the power to control. Let go of the rest.
I personally think of and use the words of the serenity prayer. It is simple and useful. “… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” [Reinhold Niebuhr, 1932-33] I’m not remotely religious but I find this useful regardless as it reminds me of what is within my locus of control and what isn’t.
Building for the future
This will pass. You will race again. You will do so with increased awareness of the value of your freedom and health and appreciate it all the more for that. Keep doing what you need to do today so that you are ready to emerge from this physically healthy but also emotionally healthy knowing you did the best that you could on each day in the meantime. I have coped with tough times in my life by reminding myself that I did all that I could on each day to solve or cope with the problem. Be your best you by what you do during this crisis and that will give you a strength to take into your future.
This is merely my attempt to make some sense of the current situation and in the process to hopefully be helpful to others. I would be very pleased to hear your views.
So why do you want athlete-centred coaching by a professional coach?
Hopefully you’ll agree that we’re all different and have all got to where we are today on different paths in life. So why would you want to do an exercise or training plan that’s not designed specifically for you? Or one which doesn’t even consider your training history, life commitments, or current fitness state?
I’ll agree that a plan is better than no plan, especially if it is progressive. However, I see too many people following numerous routines that will leave them either fatigued, injured, or back at ‘square one’. Athletes with a view of “this worked for my mate, so will work for me” or coaches with a view of “this works for this type of athlete”.
One Google search for a training plan for any sport will result in thousands upon thousands of hits but how many are actually any good for YOU? The best plans, for all levels of ability (beginner to advanced), are those that are devised specifically for each individual in real time as relates to their specific situation (i.e. athlete-centred). That is because they would usually consider the person’s training history, current fitness state, work patterns, lifestyle, emotional condition, other commitments, injury history, and ultimately THEIR specific goals and capacity for training.
There is much more to the training delivery that makes for athlete-centred coaching. There are a myriad of coaches advertising their services on the internet as individual. Some coaches are qualified and experienced to deliver this, some are not. Some are simply re-hashing plans from another coach for their athletes with no real consideration of the impact on the individual. They assume that the training equation will work this time, because it did before. Recording your training and personal comments, including life factors and emotional responses in a ‘training diary’ to monitor your progress will also go a long way to identifying if things are working for you, especially over the longer term. Being open and honest with your coach assists them in developing your plan week by week in the right way for you.
At KI Coaching we have the experience and necessary qualifications to help you. We only work with a small number of cyclists, triathletes and runners at any one time in a truly athlete-centred approach. Knowing you helps us guide you towards your goal. Although you may choose to work with us as individual coaches you have access to the range of knowledge and experience we have between us. We have worked with a range of competitors from Age-groupers, ‘weekend racers’ and National Champions, those new to a sport, and those with decades of experience, those who are time-crunched and life pressured, to those with the luxury of a train any time lifestyle.
“Ultimately, the more coaches understand and connect with people they coach – by observing, noticing and communicating – the more they will be able to support them and help them thrive.” [UK Coaching]
Remember it is about a balance that enables you to succeed.
KI Coaching is a husband and wife coaching team, formed to combine our skills and knowledge acquired during 30 years of sports participation and coaching … and, just as importantly, to combine our working and personal lives.
Following a couple of years of a series of significant life events and external pressures affecting all areas of our lives we recognised a need to train and live in a holistic way in order to achieve work, life, relationship and sporting balance.
On reflecting on people that we have worked with in our coaching, we see a common thread amongst a number of individuals who demonstrate or experience a lack of true balance in pursuing sporting goals with family and life commitments. We want to be able to use our personal and coaching experiences to help you to achieve balance and success as you strive to achieve your goals.
So KI reflects our initials, Kate and Ian, but ki is also a word which reflects our coaching philosophy. Ki can be defined as the circulating life energy that is thought to be inherent in all things. The balance of negative and positive forms in the body is believed to be essential for good health. It is the balance of training load and type with rest, the balance of dietary and lifestyle choices, and the balance of mental as well as physical health which bring a sustainable success to an athlete.
Our coaching philosophy is aimed at helping you achieve this balance of participation or performance success in sporting goals as well as in life generally.