Winning at Winter: A Training Guide for Sprinters
BY DESTINY OGALI
As sprint athletes, we will be preparing for the season ahead during the winter...
In fact, a lot of the groundwork for the season is often done during the winter. For you to "win at winter”, it’s crucial to ensure everything you're doing is tailored to you and your goals. A generalised programme might help you across the board, but if specific weaknesses need to be addressed then the only way to do this will be through a specific training programme.
Being healthy through this period should also be prioritised. If you as an athlete are not healthy, then you won’t be able to consistently train and prepare. Adding too much load on too quickly can also result in injury. Knowing your body and what it can handle is pivotal to injury prevention. Your body will inform you when something isn’t right, which could appear through aches and pains, soreness or just general fatigue. When the signs come, don’t ignore them! Get checked out and ensure that a minor injury doesn’t evolve into a major one.
Is it harder to sprint in the cold?
I would say it definitely changes the way in which you train when the conditions are frostier.
You're less likely to be doing intense speed sessions as the conditions are simply not conducive for that kind of work. Proper speed sessions require longer recovery to ensure higher quality runs. When the weather is very cold, you aren’t going to want to wait around too much as your body will get cold, which can then increase the risk of injury.
If the recovery has to be shortened to keep the body warm, then the emphasis should also change. It also goes without saying that you should also wear more clothing to maintain body warmth. The more layers you wear, the heavier you are and the more resistance you have to run with, making whatever you're doing that bit more challenging.
With that being said, it is still possible to run fast in the cold, it’s just not as comfortable or ideal as you’ll continually be trying to maintain your body warmth by constant movement and the adding of layers as opposed to the freedom of sprinting in warmer conditions.
How do you train year-round for track?
Training is all about periodisation!
Many sprinters will increase their load during the winter (colder months) in order to decrease the load as it gets closer to the summer (warmer months). Proper periodisation and blocked training programmes allow you to better adjust to your training.
When you periodise your training, you can structure and plan everything to suit your specific goals in a measured time frame. If everything is random, then it makes it much harder to track and measure progress. In order for you to train all year round, you will need to make adjustments to your programme. These adjustments must ultimately take place because things can and do happen. You may pick up a niggle and miss some training for an extended period of time.
As a result, your programme will need to be altered to suit your needs. The rest of the group may be on a separate programme as they will have progressed, but for you to come back, you’ll need to catch up on what you’ve missed. If this training isn’t tracked, monitored and altered as time goes on, you won’t progress because you will have been continuously doing the same format of training without any alterations. This is why constant reviews of the programme need to be undergone to ensure every athlete is benefiting from their programme.
So, to effectively train year-round for track, you’ll need a detailed and comprehensive training programme tailored to suit your individual needs, accompanied by regular reviews and alterations as and when required.
One-on-one conversations with your coach/team will also need to regularly happen to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It's important to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. If these conversations aren’t had, this can often lead to you as an athlete being confused.
How do you build endurance in the cold?
In order to build endurance (speed or general), it will require a combination of load and recovery.
The load will consist of the amount of runs you are doing and the distance you are covering. This distance can vary and is dependent on which type of endurance you seek to build. For example, you may run shorter distances for speed endurance but in high quantities to build up strength. For general aerobic endurance, you may run longer distances but in smaller quantities. The rest time will likely be shorter to get you used to running further or more with less recovery, thus building up your endurance.
Again, the colder weather will mean you’ll have to wear more layers and warm up accordingly to ensure the muscles are warm and ready to go. This will take more time as the muscles will be cold. When it’s warm, this is less of an issue as the muscles are already warm, so you tend to warm up less to avoid fatigue. I would advise you to try and avoid doing fewer warm-ups, simply because it’s cold and you want to get on with it. Having the body warmed up and loose is ultimately crucial so the muscles won't seize up.
When it’s cold, the best thing to do is get moving. The longer you wait, the more difficult it gets.
Shorter recovery actually aids this process as you're spending more time moving as opposed to waiting in the cold. In frosty temperatures, the air might feel “thin” and it seemingly takes you much longer to recover compared to warmer weather. For that reason, it’s essential to ensure you communicate to your coach/team at any point during your session if you feel as though something isn’t right or you're struggling with your breathing.
How can I increase my speed at home?
Even though a lot of the main work required to get faster will need to be done on an actual track, there are still various ways you can increase your speed at home.
One of the ways would be through drills, which can be done almost anywhere. Specific sprint drills reinforce proper body position for striking the ground. These drills, such as “a-skip” and “b-skip”, can be practised from the comfort of your home as regularly as you wish. As you consistently practise these drills, you’ll find yourself more comfortable in striking the ground.
As you improve your ability to perform these drills, you’ll then actually see your sprint technique improve, thus making you more efficient when you run. Another way in which to increase your speed at home is through conditioning. You can perform various conditioning exercises such as pushups, pull-ups (if you have a pull-up bar at home), squats and crunches. Doing some form of conditioning at home will help improve your strength and muscular endurance which can aid you when sprinting.
Why recovery is important for runners
One final way which can improve your speed at home is through recovery. There are various recovery methods, such as foam rolling, hot baths, stretching and, of course, sleeping and eating. When at home, you should always take the opportunity to recover well. By allowing yourself to recover, you enable the muscles to repair themselves so you can maintain consistency in your training.
Without proper recovery, you can increase the risk of injury, which everyone will want to avoid wherever possible! Foam rolling allows you to work into any sore muscles and apply some slight tension to break up any potential knots that may have formed. Hot baths will allow the muscles to soothe and provide a prime opportunity to relax.
Keep your flexibility in check
Stretching is also a great way to increase the flexibility of your muscles to provide a better range of movement. Sleeping well enables your body and mind to rest and recuperate, and a proper diet will help your body to be well-fueled and maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Key considerations for cold weather sprinting
For us to win at winter, we need to ensure we’re taking all the necessary steps to ensure we are healthy and enjoying our training.
The key considerations would be proper planning, routine, good communication with coaches and consistency. If you can maintain these key points, then you're already on the right track. It’s also important to know that these steps and processes will take time, as you may be in a situation where some of these aspects are simply unavailable to you due to your circumstances. Your level of support may be less or more than that of another athlete of a similar level, so it's also crucial to simply utilise what you have.
But most of all, enjoy it! Have fun with what you're doing, and make some memories along the way!
About Destiny Ogali
Destiny is a sprinting athlete who competes for Harrow AC, and he is incredibly passionate about helping other sprinters and athletes go further in their athletic journeys!
He already has experience in discussing athletics topics with others through The Visions Podcast, where he has sat down and spoken with some great athletes, including Desiree Henry and Aidan Syers!
You can find Destiny's sprint performances on his Power of 10 profile.