Winter Alternatives


Winters are not for sissies. They’re dark and cold, and can be downright miserable. But that doesn’t mean you have to take months off from training only to start from scratch come early spring. There are other options to beat the cold. – BY RAY ORCHISON

If you’re not one of the brave souls willing to tackle the dark of night or skate across the tar on frost then your first option is to hit the gym, which gives you a number of cross-training options. During a jam-packed running season, there is often little time for anything other than running, so the winter months are an opportune time to get back to some strength work. Key muscle groups to focus on for runners include the glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings and core.

Spending some time on strength work will go a long way to keeping you injury-free and will make you stronger and faster come the start of the new running season in September. Here are a few recommended cross-training workouts and their benefits:

1 Rowing machine
Time: 32 minutes
Workout: 5min easy warm-up, then 5x2min on high resistance as fast as you can with 3min easy between, then 5min easy cool-down.
Benefit: Develops all-round body strength and cardio capacity.

2 Elliptical trainer
20 minutes
Workout: 20min easy
Benefit: Reduces impact from the road (especially good if coming back from injury) and develops base fitness.

3 Stair master
20 minutes
Workout: 5min easy on bike to warm up, then 10x30sec fast with 30sec easy between, then 5min easy on bike to cool down.
Benefit: Develops strength, speed and cardio capacity.

4 Swimming
20 minutes
Workout: 5min easy to warm up, then 10min of 1 lap hard/1 lap easy, then 5min easy to cool down.
Benefit: Develops core strength and lung capacity. (Start with short swims if you’re a beginner.)

Hamster on a Wheel
Some countries get so cold during winter that it’s not actually possible to train outdoors, and in these countries, many top runners do the bulk of their training for months on treadmills and still achieve some amazing results. The treadmill is a great option for getting your easy runs done – I say “easy” runs, because it’s very difficult to do proper quality sessions like hill repeats or intervals on a treadmill. It’s difficult to gauge correct pace, build up to correct pace or work out what the incline for your hill repeats should be. Also, trying to maintain your running pace while pressing buttons and pulling levers is bound to end up with you on the floor behind the treadmill with a case of ‘belt-burn.’

When you do quality sessions outside, you’re working harder and therefore generating a lot more heat, which makes colder mornings or evenings far more doable. Therefore, my advice is to use the treadmill for your easy runs and hit the road or the trails for the balance.

Midday Running Break
Another great option is to head out for a quick run during your lunch break or between meetings. Instead of sitting at your desk putting calories in, hit the road and burn excess calories while setting yourself up for a great running season. Here are a few great lunchtime workouts to keep you improving your fitness during winter:

Midday Run 1: Take the Stairs
45 minutes
Workout: 20min easy warm-up, then 20×20-30m stair sprints with walk down recovery, then 15min easy cool-down.
Benefit: Develops your explosive power and fires up your fast-twitch muscle fibres.

Midday Run 2: Run Hard & Rest
46 minutes
Workout: 20min easy warm-up, then 4x2min hard with 1min rest between, then 15min easy cool-down.
Benefit: Develops your speed endurance.

Midday Run 3: Short Sprints
40 minutes
Workout: 20min easy warm-up, then 5x30sec sprints with 2min easy jog between, then 10min easy cool-down.
Benefit: Gets the legs turning over and develops base speed.

Midday Run 4: Hop to it!
36-40 minutes
Workout: 20min easy warm-up, then 2-4x100m single leg hops (50m on right leg, then 50m on left leg) with 3min easy jog between, then 10min easy cool-down.
Benefit: Develops base strength. (If you’re a novice, start with 1 or 2 reps and gradually build up from there.)

No More Excuses
Before you know it the smell of spring will fill the air and the weekends will be packed with races. Don’t waste the last six weeks or so of winter tucked up under the duvet or stuck behind your desk. Get out there and start working on your weaknesses. What you do now will go a long way to ensuring a great and fulfilling running season.