Snow sports like cross-country, telemark, and alpine skiing and snowboarding place multiple stresses on the body. The good news is these sports will help you stay in shape for spring runs and rides. They help you handle the bio-mechanical stress of transition more efficiently, while also helping you avoid injury.
The primary goals of training for spring should be improving cardiovascular and skeletal muscle function. The demands of exercising in cold weather also translate well to spring sports, improving your metabolic efficiency, and helping you maintain muscle strength and endurance.
Getting out on the snow and cold will prepare you for windy, rainy runs or rides come spring. Endurance not only improves overall performance, but helps reduce the probability of injuries that usually occur at the end of the day (often called “final run of the day syndrome”). Sustained endurance cardio efforts—30 to 60 minutes of walking, running, elliptical, or swimming—are all good complimentary alternatives for those days that live between snow season and spring training.
You should also mix cardio training with a couple days each week of high intensity interval training (HIIT) to increase endurance. This type of training replicates the conditions you’ll encounter when running or biking. Training for just 20-30 seconds for 2-3 minutes, three times per week, has proven to improve endurance more effectively than riding a stationary bike for 90-120 minutes three times per week.
When developing a HIIT program, the duration, intensity, and frequency of the interval should be considered along with the length of the recovery interval. As you transition into spring training, you’ll want to try shorter work intervals of 5 seconds to 30 seconds. As the warmer weather of spring sets in, increase the high intensity phase, performing for 30 seconds to 8 minutes. Intensity during the high-intensity work effort should range from 80 percent to greater than 100% of maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max), heart rate max or maximal power output. The recovery phase (or interval) should range from passive recovery (near resting state) to active recovery, in the 50-70% range.
One popular strategy is to do a 5-minute warm up, followed by 30 seconds of effort, then 90 seconds of rest. This is repeated for 20 minutes, and then followed by an easy cool down of 5 minutes. HIIT done 2 to 3 times a week like this will help you improve your endurance.
Free weights or kettlebells are the easiest way to build up muscle strength (if you have previous training experience with them)—focus on shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, gluteals, and quadriceps. Most experienced runners already have an upper body routine, but it’s the lower body muscles that suffer the most neglect between winter and spring, especially the quads.
Skiing doubles as an important strength exercise as the quads and the glutes power much of it. The quads come into play in two ways on the slopes: they help you bend at the knees and straighten them. It’s a little more complicated than that, but the point is that you don’t want to even have to think about it while you’re skiing. And it’s the glutes in combination with your core and quads that power your legs and provide your stability.
As you begin to train for spring, add planks and sit-ups to improve your core. Train the quads and glutes in tandem with lunges, deep squats and split squats, step ups and stationary cycling. Step downs (off a step) are a good way to train your quads eccentrically, which is very important in both running and cycling. Make sure your body alignment is stacked perfectly when you do these. Start with 25 to 30 reps and add weight to increase the effort if that becomes too easy.
Cyclists awaiting spring training should keep their focus on improving endurance. Runners should incorporate drills that improve foot speed to improve reaction time while reducing injuries. Jump ropes are an inexpensive tool for improving foot speed.
Proprioception and Balance
Proprioception is your body’s positional sense, or kinesthetic awareness. Because of proprioception, you know exactly where your body is in space, even when your eyes are closed. Yoga is ideal for developing this technique. Of all the yoga methods, Vinyasa Flow is particularly beneficial to runners and cyclists. It helps improve balance, joint strength, propulsion and proprioception, all keys to better running and riding technique.
A simple but efficient way to train for proprioception and balance is to stand on one leg with your eyes closed for two minutes twice daily. After you master this without wobbling, add small movements like lifting a knee up or putting your hands over you head to challenge your balance. Continue until training season starts.