Alberta’s outdoor race season is over for the average fair-weather athlete, but training definitely isn’t … or at least it shouldn’t be.
Finding the motivation to exercise in the winter months can be harder than actually working out. Dark mornings, dark evenings. Comfort clothes, comfort food. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
Katie McLean, an Alberta Cancer Foundation trustee and chair of Joe’s Team Calgary, shares how she pushes past the times she wants to snuggle deeper into her couch and slip into hibernation. “You might know a few people that just look like they’re fit all the time and they never have any issues motivating themselves,” she says. “I guarantee you that without a goal, those people are not that motivated.” What she does, along with many others who never seem to lose their desire to exercise, is set a new goal days or weeks before achieving the current one.
It’s OK to base your goal on fear. “I like to take on a challenge that frightens me enough and motivates me to get ready for it,” McLean says. For example, she plans to do the 2013 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in March. “I’m so scared, I actually get nervous just thinking about it – and I’ve done a lot of races.” Fear can be the driver to make trainees head to the gym instead of home and bed. An alternative can be to work out in your home, driven by the knowledge that training is required to cross the finish lines in spring and summer of all race types and distances. Besides, maintenance in the off-season makes for easier spring training.
When you work out at home, you’re amongst loved ones instead of spending hours across town in a gym, meeting your plank and burpee quota. A con is the lack of space in most homes to set up exercise machines. McLean’s answer is a bike trainer, especially if you already have a bike. (A bike trainer lifts one wheel off the floor and turns your road or mountain bike into a stationary one.)
She plunks her trainer in front of her TV. “I’ve watched some great movies,” she says. McLean makes it a social gathering by inviting friends, and their bikes, over to use another trainer she has and off they go – stationary bike buddies. She and her husband trained together in their basement last winter to prep for the 2012 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer – her husband’s first long-distance bike race.
Inside or outside, you should grab a friend. “When someone pushes you further on a lazy day,” McLean says, “your competitive side kicks in. On your own, you’re more likely to say, ‘Ahh, I’m finished. That’s enough.’”
When training on your own, discouragement is inevitable – that’s where music comes in. “Get a playlist together that inspires you,” McLean says. Movies are just too hard to concentrate on when she’s working out really hard.
Training for running is more difficult than biking in winter if you don’t have a treadmill at home, a gym membership or the desire to suit up appropriately and run outside. If you have a room with the space and a high ceiling, McLean suggests skipping to build cardio endurance. Her modification, because she doesn’t have the space, is to jump up and down while making small circles with her arms – all the motions of skipping without the rope.
A person’s existing fitness level and goals will determine the intensity of their winter workout regime. “I love the idea of always maintaining a base level of fitness,” McLean says, “because that means you’re ready for training for almost any sport.” Her definition of “base level of fitness” includes a routine of working out three times a week in, for example, a spin class, yoga or playing some kind of sport. This foundation of fitness makes it much easier to kick things up a notch, take things outside and train for a June event, like her pet project: Joe’s Team Triathalon/Dualthalon, a sprint event to raise funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation in support of head-and-neck cancers.
Take it Inside
Kari Berridge of Fit 2 Motivate is an Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association (AFLCA) trainer who trains (and inspires others) for triathlons, ultramarathons, and more. Below, she describes five low-space indoor exercises she encourages everyone to do while the weather outside looks frightful.
PUSHUPS (chest muscles and triceps)
How to: Palms on the floor about shoulder width apart. Push whole body up, with back and legs in a straight line, then lower yourself back down staying about a fist width from the floor. To focus primarily on strengthening chest, place your hands wider apart. To focus primarily on strengthening triceps and back, move your hands closer together.
SQUATS (thigh muscles/quadriceps and buttocks)
How to: Stand up straight with arms stretched in front, parallel to the floor. Bend knees until thighs are parallel to the floor. Centre weight in heels (you should be able to lift your toes up slightly at all times) and push your body back up to standing position.
STATIC LUNGES (quadriceps, hips, buttocks and hamstrings)
How to: Stand with right foot forward, left foot straight back about three feet apart. Bend knees to lower the body towards the floor (hold weights in each hand if desired). Keep front knee behind the toes (in line with your heels) and be sure to lower straight down rather than forward. Keep torso straight and abs engaged as you push through the front heel and move back to the start position. Avoid locking the knees at the top of the movement. Switch lead leg and repeat reps. There are lots of variations.
THE PLANK (builds endurance in abs and back, as well as stabilizer muscles)
How to: Lay face down on mat, resting palms flat on the floor similar to a pushup start position. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on forearms and elbows. Make sure elbows are directly under shoulders to protect shoulder muscles from unwanted strain. Keep back flat, in a straight line from head to heels. Tilt pelvis and contract abdominals to prevent rear end from sticking up or belly sagging. You can also drop to your knees, if staying up on your toes is too hard. Once you drop down to your knees do a pelvic tilt. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat for three to five times.
SKIPPING ON THE SPOT (entire body, great cardio exercise)
How to: Keep back and head straight, then gently jump from one foot to the other (shifting weight side to side) as the rope passes under your feet, as you skip. Aim for about 70 skips a minute (each time you change feet counts as one skip). Pick up speed to 80 as the workout progresses. Fast skips, aim for 90 per minute.
BURPEES (chest, arms, front deltoids, thighs, hamstrings and abs and burns fat)
How to: Place hands on the floor, palms down. Jump both feet straight out behind you (you can also step your feet back one at a time). Jump both feet back in to your body so knees are to your chest. Come up to standing. Raise arms straight up into air then jump straight up. Crouch back down and start again.
Berridge recommends doing these exercises three to five times per week as a circuit workout.
For the lunges, squats and pushups, each should be done in 12 to 15 repetitions for three to five sets. Plank can be done by working your way up to 60 seconds for three to five sets, as well.
For each round of burpees or skipping (these can be interchangeable for circuit), proceed continuously for one minute and complete at least three rounds during the circuit.
Katie’s Core Routine
Professional triathlete Scott Curry is Calgary resident Katie McLean’s coach. He posted a core routine on YouTube (http://youtube/ub3mZZNZLT8) as a way to train her remotely from his home in B.C. McLean focuses on her core to support her back. “If you have a strong core,” she says, “you are far less likely to get injured.” Refer to the video link if you already have a base level of fitness – the routine is challenging. McLean searches the Internet frequently for videos and says many are out there for all levels of fitness.