If you’re like me, one of the biggest challenges this time of year as an endurance athlete is figuring out how you can continue to do your workouts outside while the days get shorter and colder. I’m a big proponent of cross-training in the winter and taking advantage of what winter has to offer (see my previous post, The Case for Winter: Multisport at Its Best). Whatever outdoor activity you pursue in the winter, you’re going to want to think about the gear that you will need. Being prepared for the cold temperatures, wind chill and mixed precipitation will make your experience in the winter much more enjoyable, whether you choose to workout outdoors or are forced due to challenging conditions to workout indoors.
The six pieces of gear that every endurance athlete absolutely should have as part of their winter collection are:
1. A windshirt– Whether you’re going for a run, a climb, a hike, or a bike ride, a windshirt is the most versatile, practical piece of clothing you can own. (You could also throw in windpants which are made from the same category in with the shirt). In fact, I like to state that a windshirt is the best piece of clothing EVER invented. What makes it so great is that it is lightweight, it protects you from the wind very well (although it’s not designed with a ton of insulation to keep you super warm in very cold temps), it’s breathable, and it dries very fast (which is critical in the winter). I often wear just a synthetic base layer and the windshirt when I go skate skiing or for a run in cold temps and it ends up being all I need as long as I’m moving. My personal favorite is the Marmot DriClime Windshirt, but other companies also make descent equivalents, like REI.
2. Windstopper clothing– If I plan on doing a bike ride in the winter or go downhill or cross-country skiing on a very windy day, I always make sure I’m wearing windstopper gloves, hat (or on the bike, balaclava), shirt, and — ahem– underwear. There are two things to think about in the winter: insulation from the cold and protection from the wind. You often won’t need a ton of insulation since you’ll be generating heat while moving along, but you will need protection from the wind. Windstopper material is specially designed to protect against the biting cold of the wind. It does come with the trade-off that it’s less breathable, so you want to be sure to regulate any excessive sweat build up when using windstopper material. Any wind stopper gloves from REI, Black Diamond, Craft or other manufacturer will do. As for underwear, I’d highly recommend underwear by Craft, especially for men, who will need to protect certain appendages.
3. Running shoe ice cleats– There’s nothing more tedious than relegating all of your runs to the treadmill as soon as the cold weather and snow comes. I’ll often advise my clients to do some of their runs indoors in the winter, but will always encourage them to get outside when possible. After all, the races you’ll be running are all outdoors (unless you’re track & field person), so the more running you can do outside the better. One essential piece of equipment all runners are going to want to have are ice cleats for their running shoes. Ice cleats go on the bottom of the running shoe will help with the grip on icy or snowy trails, as well as roads (although I’d not recommending wearing them on roads where pavement is showing since this will ruin the cleats). Some good brands/models to consider are the Yaktrax Pros, Petzl Spiky Plus, Stableicers Sport, or Icespike. Runner’s World did a nice review of ice cleats.
4. A headlamp– Days are short in the winter and it’s virtually impossible to do your early morning workout or after-work workout with sunlight or at least without starting (in the morning) or finishing (in the evening) in the dark. Headlamp technology has improved leaps and bounds the past 10 years and it’s really easy to find an inexpensive, lightweight model to help light your way. I’d highly recommend an LED headlamp from Black Diamond, Petzl, or Princeton Tec. Something like the Petzl Tikka, Princeton Tec Aurora or Black Diamond Ion are just the right size and strength for nighttime running or skiing. Backpacking Light has a descent comparison of LED headlamps.
5. Bike trainer– Sometimes the roads are just going to be too snow-covered or icy to safely go out and do a ride or perhaps you just don’t feel like hauling our your mountain bike to hit the trails. That’s when a bike trainer will come in very handy. In the height of the winter (roughly mid-December to early March), I do the majority of my bike workouts on a trainer (it’s much easier to get on the trainer at 5:30am on that dark, -15 degree morning). You’re going to want to decide whether you should get a magnetic or roller trainer (I’ll defer that debate to another time) or even a CompuTrainer (which I’d recommend for advanced athletes with a bigger budget). I ride a magnetic trainer and highly recommend Kurt Kinetic or Cycle-Ops.
6. Home gym for strength & power- Okay, so this isn’t just one piece of equipment, but a few (which you’ll need to vary the types of exercises you can do at home). Sometimes the weather is just so crappy (think, 33 degrees and raining), that you have no choice but to workout indoors in the winter or it’s just easier to do the particular exercise or workout indoors (think weight training). That’s when a home gym comes in (if you prefer to go to a gym outside your home, make sure they have the equipment you need). I’m a big proponent of functional movement exercise to simulate the sport you training for, which as an endurance athlete, is not body-building (read: no need to be able to bench press 300+ lbs). Given that, most of the equipment you need for the type of strength and power training for endurance sports you can store in your home, would cost you about 1-2 months worth of gym membership (approximately $100-200, with the exception of a core board, which would run the budget up), and would include the following:
- dumbbells– get two dumbbells and about 50-60 lbs. of weight per dumbbell (you can always purchase more weight later if you need it). Having dumbbells you can add/subtract weight from will make it easier for changing resistance levels & for storage.
- physioball– you will use this for a variety of exercises, including balance, and strength. Check the specs to make sure you get the right size.
- medicine ball(s)– typically one 12lb ball will cover most exercises you’ll do.
- stretch cords (or resistance bands)– these can be used for simulating a variety of strength and stretching exercises. Make sure you get the right resistance level.
- core board– a core board is fantastic for core stability exercises and should be part of any home gym. The Reebok core board is perhaps the best one on the market.
- pad– any foam pad will do, as long as it serves as adequate protection for the floor and cushioning for when you lie on it.
- foam roller– a foam roller is fantastic for self-massage, which is something I recommend as part of active recovery. The more harder the foam roller, the better it will work.
- yoga strap or rope– any 8-10 foot piece of rope or yoga strap will work perfectly in assisting with active isolated stretching exercises, which I often recommend as part of active recovery.
Of course there is all the ancillary gear that goes along with the above list to help you do you workouts (such as your bike or skis), but I am assuming you have most of that gear. The items on the above list will compliment those items and allow you to focus on your winter endurance regime much more effectively and enjoyably.