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Winter Fitness - Survivial Tips For Summer Athletes

Mix up your exercise routine to stay motivated this winter


Updated November 21, 2013

Groin and Inner Thigh Stretch

Groin and Inner Thigh Stretch

Ryan McVay / Getty Images
If you are primarily a summer sports enthusiast, you may find it incredibly difficult to get motivated to train through the cold, dark winter months. A daily gym routine can be draining, and trying to do your typical endurance work on a treadmill or stationary bicycle can be downright mind-numbing. So what's a summer athlete to do?

Fear not, there are many ways to find exercise motivation through the winter, and just as many reasons to avoid your regular routine altogether. Here are a few tips for surviving a winter workout routine.

Build Your Strength.
The winter season is a great time for strength training. Strength workouts can be done nearly any where, and you can get a great full-body workout in about 30-45 minutes. If you schedule strength training workouts 2-3 days per week, you will gain muscle, maintain your body composition and be well-prepared for spring training. Strength work is critical for endurance athletes, and greatly improves your ability to avoid injuries. So, plan a few weight workouts during the winter, and enjoy the change of routine. If nothing else, do the quick core workout twice each week and keep your core strong and stable all winter long. Read More: Strength Training Information

Get More Sleep.
Sleep is an often overlooked basic training technique. Athletes who skimp on sleep short-change themselves and their performance. Because the days are shorter and darker in the winter months, it's a great time to add some extra zzz's to your training routine. To help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly during the winter, turn off your electric gadgets at least an hour before you hit the pillow. The blue light emitted from screens (tv, iPods, iPhones, games and other gadgets actually decreases the body's ability to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin, for several hours. So if you have trouble falling asleep, pay attention to how much blue light you are exposed to before bed, and make a few changes in your routine. Try reading a book (not an eBook), listening to soothing music or doing some stretching before bed rather than staring at a screen.

Try a New Sport.
The off-season is a great time to have some fun with fitness. Rather than focusing on your primary sport, mix it up with something entirely new. Work a new set of muscles and rest those that get overworked all summer. Join a team, exercise with others, or sign up for a class. If you are a cyclist, try skate skiing, or swimming. If you play soccer all summer, try rock climbing at an indoor gym this winter. The possibilities are endless and the diversity of movement can often help alert you to specific muscle imbalances, weakness, or tightness you don't notice while playing your primary sport. Pay attention to what you learn when you try something new.

Do More Body Work.
The off-season is also a good time to work on specific muscle imbalances, weaknesses and biomechanic issues. Use these months to work with a trainer, massage therapist, body worker or physical therapist to correct and improve your movement patterns and structural imbalances. Invest in a foam roller and work the whole body at least once a week. You can also consider getting a regular massage from a sports massage therapist and focus on tightness and specific soft tissue adhesions.

Work on Sport Skills and Drills.
The off-season is the best time to master new skills and techniques that will improve your performance. Take the time to adjust your swing, stroke, pedal motion, start, stop, balance, transitions and any other sport skills you want to master by summer. Ideally, you will be working with your coach or a trainer who has a plan, and can assess your baseline patterns and measure your change over time. But there are many skills you can practice on your own. If you're a triathlete, for example, there is no reason you can't practice your transitions until they are seamless. Cycling pedal drills can help you focus on your spin, pedal speed and one-leg drills can balance out your power. Get creative and get to work.

Overhaul or Update Your Gear.
Are you in the market for a new bike, water bottles, hydration systems, running shoes, helmets, sun glasses, jerseys or even socks? Do your shopping now and your new gear will be a broken in and fine-tuned before you really need it.

Let Go of Structure.
If you have been following a regimented and structured training plan, go free-form for a while. Start a new routine that focuses on your body, and exercise only when you feel like it without much of a plan. If you are feeling good one day, go long or hard. If you feel fatigued, stop and do something else. This is not only a great way to mix it up and relax, but it's a great way to get in tune with your body and pay more attention to the subtle cues it's constantly sending. Don't push through aches and pains, but listen to them instead, and only workout when you feel like you are in the flow.

Just Rest.
There is no rule that says you need to continue training through the off-season. In fact, sometimes a week or two (or three) of downtime does more to improve your performance than continued training does. So allow yourself permission to just go with the flow, rest, relax and enjoy. Yes, you probably want to maintain your fitness with some minimal exercise, but you can maintain fitness during breaks with far less time and effort than you might think. So, kick back and relax a bit this winter. You can easily get back to your routine this Spring.

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