Depending on your sport, the training and competition cycle is a year round endeavour. The athletes who make the most of the winter conditions ensure that they maximise their training time and opportunities for improvement throughout the year.

To ensure your training doesn’t suffer in the winter, we’ve put together this article on maximising training time in cold conditions, highlighting what as athletes we need to be aware of in the colder weather, how we can combat the conditions and go on to make the very best of the winter training and competition season.

This is an article largely aimed at beginners, but there may be tips and information that more experienced athletes can benefit from.

Time to read: 6 minutes

Level: Intermediate

Key Points:

  • Winter Training - Whats the Difference?
  • Increased Injury Risk
  • Increased Calorie Expenditure
  • Muscle Function
  • Maximising Training Quality in Cold Conditions
  • KYMIRA in the Cold

Depending on your sport, the training and competition cycle is a year round endeavour. To ensure your training doesn’t suffer in the winter, we’ve put together this article on maximising training time in cold conditions.

Winter Training - What's the Difference?

There’s a temptation to not see much in the way of difference between training in the winter and the rest of the year – surely the body warms itself during exercise anyway, so what difference does it make?

To a degree, that’s true. Yes, your body warms up in the cold as it moves, but injury risk, safety considerations, calorie expenditure, peripheral numbness, underfoot conditions, dexterity and breathing can also be affected in cold weather, so we have to make preparations to ensure we don’t suffer as a result of cold weather exercise.

Increase Injury Risk

We know that in the cold weather a process known as vasoconstriction occurs – this is where peripheral blood vessels constrict, diverting blood from the extremities and more towards the internal organs, maintaining core temperature. 

This is why we typically experience colder hands and feet as the temperature drops. From a sporting point of view, this is an issue because we lose sensation in the extremities and in turn, dexterity. The subsequent drop in technique and performance is an issue for athletes, but what is more concerning is the increase in muscle injury risk. Research shows that the amount of energy needed to cause muscle injury in lower temperatures is significantly lower than in warmer conditions [1].

This thermal stress increases the requirement for built-for-purpose hand and foot insulation as well as base layers. If we can avoid the cold and promote blood flow, negating the thermal stress, we should.

Increased Calorie Expenditure

One of the often overlooked aspects of cold weather training is the increased energy expenditure during exercise. 

In colder conditions our calorie burn can increase dramatically, with studies estimating an additional energy expenditure of 10-40% [2]. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including additional clothing layers, sub-optimal conditions (wind/rain making exercise more difficult) and the cold response by the body (shivering for the most part) requiring additional energy. 

From a practical point of view, you have to consider the effects of the cold on energy expenditure and ensure you are both adequately fuelled for your run/ride and take additional fuel with you for longer training or competition events when the temperature drops.

Muscle Function

Fundamental to sporting performance is muscle function. The ability of the muscles to achieve maximum force production and rapid contraction is a key factor of performance. 

Research concludes that there is a negative effect on muscle function in the cold [3], with peak force and rate of force production both impacted. In English, this means that in the study the muscles were unable to generate as much force/power and it also took them longer to reach the maximum power output. The frequency with which they’d contract was also reduced. 

In order to maximise muscle function in the cold, you need to ensure you have insulated very well against the cold and have undergone a thorough, progressive warm up. 

Maximising Training Quality in Cold Conditions

If we look at the research it’s clear that thermal stress has an impact on our physical capabilities and injury risk, so in order to maximise our training quality we need to take a few steps. In this section we’ll outline what these look like in practical terms…

  • You need to insulate well against the cold and promote blood flow to the muscles and connective tissues. This will include base layers and thermoregulatory clothing.
  • From a technical standpoint, we know from the research that the extremities are the first to suffer the effects of vasoconstriction. For cyclists and runners this is a particular problem because the feet are so integral to both sports, but for cyclists the hands are just as important. The contact points with the equipment can alter our performance dramatically, so losing sensation and dexterity isn’t a desirable outcome. We need thermoregulating socks and gloves to prevent these issues.
  • Ensuring we have an appropriate fuelling strategy is important – if you do need to take food on a long run or ride, allow an additional 10-40% to make up for the additional calorie burn in the cold.
  • Muscle function and susceptibility to injury is affected in the cold, so spend the time required to warm up thoroughly. Preparing your body for the upcoming activity is important in any conditions, but vital in the cold.

KYMIRA in the Cold

KYMIRA’s KYnergy fabric has many properties that make it perfect for cold weather training, but two that stand out are the circulatory benefits of the fabric and the thermoregulatory properties. In colder climates, KYnergy fabric warms up quicker, and then store the thermal energy 63% longer than an equivalent weight fabric would.

These two benefits alone mean that your circulation will be improved and you’ll be kept warm in the cold, which will maximise your winter training time and improve the quality of your winter training.

October 15, 2020 — Stephen Hoyles

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