Winter brings cold weather, short days and longer nights which tempts many to stay indoors and cuddling up on the couch. Whether an athlete is in season or keeping fit in the off-season, winter workouts are not easy. The biggest challenge is an athlete’s mindset; it takes discipline and dedication to continue exercising in difficult conditions. Winter training also affects the athlete's muscles differently and precautions need to be taken to protect themselves from injury.
Motivation is a key element in maintaining a positive mindset when training in winter. Goal setting and working towards small achievable targets helps to keep athletes improving. Training in groups also helps to motivate an athlete as they have made a commitment, athletes prefer to follow through with the training schedule when working in teams as they do not want to let the team down.
Winter precautions to reduce the risk of injury or sickness:
1. Extend the warm up - Spend more time on warming up your muscles and joints in winter, before you begin stretching. You do not want to stretch cold muscles. Rushing through a warm up can result in tears as the muscle fibres are tight and brittle.
2. Dress appropriately - Wear many layers, if you get too hot it is easier to remove a layer than to add one. It is also important to pack a change of clothing for after training. If you have been sweating, the sweat will rapidly cool, dropping the body temperature and you might get sick. A warm shower and a change of clothes will protect against this.
3. Breathing patterns - Inhaling cold air has a direct effect on the athlete’s lungs, their bronchial tubes will narrow and the mucous membranes start to dry up. If your breathing begins to burn your lungs, you are not breathing correctly and you may cause inflammation of the bronchi. The best way to breathe is through your nose and out through the mouth. Breathing through your nose increases the distance air has to travel to your lungs, therefore warming up on its way through your nasal cavity.
4. Stay Hydrated - Drinking water is just as important in winter as it is in very hot conditions. You may feel like you are not losing a lot of fluids during winter training but fluids are still being lost. If you only drink water when you are thirsty, your fluid levels are too low and your muscles are already not performing at 100%. Remember to consume fluids on a regular basis, even when you are not thirsty.
5. Eat your Greens - The vitamins and minerals in fresh fruits and vegetables are important for muscle recovery and growth. The micro-nutrients in these foods also help to keep an athlete's immune system strong. For a balanced eating plan, remember to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
6. Warming down - All athletes should know that stretching and cooling down after exercising is important, but in the winter season, many athletes just want to get warm and indoors. Focusing on the warm down and stretching process will help with muscle recovery and stiffness, as lactic acid is being removed.
Winter is creeping up on us quickly. With the sun rising later, athletes are tempted to stay in bed a little longer. Self-motivation has never been more important to an athlete than right now. So remember to stay warm, set achievable goals, eat correctly and be cautious when training. There is no need to risk injury or sickness. By following these guidelines, you will be on track for some amazing results come summer time.