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Posts Tagged ‘Winter’

Five Things to Do to Get the Most Out of Your Ice Climbing Season

December 21st, 2009

ice climberFinally, we’ve gotten enough cold temperatures so that ice can finally form here in New England, and we can at long last start giving serious attention to the ice climbing season. Every year the season flies by (it’s only about 12 weeks long– at least here in New England), so making the most of the time is key. Here are five things to do to get the most out of your season:

  • Climb with a plan- Most climbers I know are recreational climbers and just head out on the weekend with no real plan. They’ve probably mapped out a climb or two they’d like to do, but that’s about as far as they’ve taken it. That’s great if you’re content being recreational climber, but if you’re looking to improve over what you did last climbing season or even in the course of the current season,you need climb with a plan. View the ice climbing season as a ‘season within a season’ and plan out specific climbs you’d like to send, then break down the season week by week to progressively build up your workout schedule and skills to achieve those goals. Periodization applies to climbers, just as it does to triathletes or other endurance athletes.
  • Work on your weaknesses- Often times we’re content just to climb and stick with what we’re good at. You could have the best swing in the world, getting sticks every time with you tools, but when it comes to landing solid feet, you’re just not quite there yet. Take the time to work on your specific weaknesses, perhaps for a set period of time while you’re out climbing. If you don’t, you’re weaknesses will remain weaknesses.
  • Learn a new skill- Set a goal to learn at least one new snow or ice skill that will serve you well with the type of climbing you like to do. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive skill set that requires a multi-day class (although doing so is great)– it could be a small skill; something that will add tools to your tool box for the type of climbing you like to do. For instance, if you’re into alpine climbing and you’ve never learned how to build a V-thread, set some time aside to do so.
  • Explore a new area- No matter how long you’ve been climbing, there’s always someplace new to explore. I’m not necessarily talking about some far away place, but rather right in your backyard. For instance, if you live in New England, there are hundreds of ice climbing routes in a several different areas, each offering their own challenges and little slices of beautiful terrain. Pick one that you’ve never been to before, and go check it out.
  • Connect with the climbing community- One of the best parts of participating in sports is the enjoyment of doing it with others. It motivates you and gives you people to share learning and experiences with. Climbing is no exception to this, with a vibrant community. One of the unique challenges of climbing is that it requires partners to do (unless you’re a solo climber, in which case think you have other things on your mind), and staying tied into that community so you have climbing partners is key. I’m a huge fan of online networking to link up with folks, but nothing can beat being face to face. A great place to do this (and knock off one or more of the other items I’ve outlined) is at an ice climbing festival. Whether it’s the Mount Washington Ice Festival, Ouray Ice Festival, Festiglace du Quebec, or numerous other festivals around the northeast or the US, make it part of your plan to meet at least one new partner.

Enjoy the winter & take advantage of the ice while it’s here!

6 Essential Pieces of Winter Gear for Endurance Athletes

December 7th, 2009

running in winterIf 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.

The Case for Winter: Multisport at it’s Best

January 28th, 2009

gary-ice-climbingI’m a huge fan of the winter. It’s a great time to diversify your workout routine, get outside and explore. I have many friends and colleagues who don’t like winter, mainly because they choose to hibernate. (Hibernation is for bears). I also have many friends (and some clients), who continue to do the same activities they do in the summer, except they do it indoors on a machine. Don’t get me wrong– it’s important to continue to train your sport year round depending upon what your goals and objectives are (I myself spend lots of time on my bike trainer and in the pool during the winter), but at the same time, it’s important to supplement those workouts with other activities to challenge your body in new ways, vary up your normal activities thus making it more interesting, as well as take advantage of the conditions are around you. There’s no better opportunity to do so than the winter.

If you’re a triathlete, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or any other type of endurance athlete, here are some ideas for winter outdoor activities that you can do:

1. Nordic skiing- There’s possibly no better exercise in the winter for endurance athletes. Nordic skiing is a low-impact, full-body workout where it’s easy to manage the intensity levels. I prefer skate skiing since I like the motion and the speed, but classic cross-country skiing is also fantastic. In the winter, I substitute some of my runs with cross country skiing. I also continue to run in the winter, but find skate skiing a good way to break up the routine as well as give my body a break from the pounding of running.

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

2. Hiking/snowshoeing- Winter hiking is much more fun than the summer. Not only do you not have the black flies, but there are also fewer people around, not to mention that hiking in the winter is much easier on the body since the snow pack is soft (not hard, like the rocks you typically hike on in the summer). Winter hiking is an aerobic endurance workout, but also an anaerobic endurance workout, especially if you are carrying a pack going up steep terrain. I will often intentionally load up a heavy pack, find a steep mountain (typically in the White of New Hampshire) and feel my hear rate go up and my glutes burn up as I take steps up the peak. While you can choose to go hiking up a mountain, you don’t necessarily need to be gaining vertical height in order to go hiking in the winter. There is great hiking in many cities, mainly in parks. In fact, my wife (in the photo) and I went out for a snowshoe today in Great Brook State Park, which is right outside of Boston. We got a great workout on relatively flat terrain.

Leslie snowshoeing-- great winter workout for endurance atheletes
Leslie snowshoeing– great winter workout for endurance atheletes

3. Backcountry skiing- One of the best (and most fun) winter activities is backcountry skiing (skiing at a resort is okay if you conditions in the backcountry aren’t good). Backcountry skiing develops your aerobic endurance (since most of the time you need to skin up what you’re going to ski down), as well as your strength and balance on the run down (particularly in the backcountry where there are more obstacles you need to manuever around). Living in New England, it’s a bit tough to find great backcountry ski conditions, and when you do, it’s a limited window, so I don’t go as much as I’d like. However, when I do, it’s always a fantastic adventure, and one where I come back exhausted and exhilirated.

4. Ice climbing- “What?!”, you say, “ice climbing?!”. Yes, ice climbing. And, no, it’s not as dangerous as you think. Of course, you need to understand the basics of climbing and how to safely climb. Once you have mastered that, ice climbing is a fantastic aerobic endurance (yes, aerobic), as well as anaerobic endurance workout. Ice climbing develops core strength and balance, as well as forces you to sharpen your mental skills and stamina (many claim that ice climbing is 80% mental). In the winter, I try to ice climb once a week, not only because it’s a great workout, but also it gets you outdoors and to places you wouldn’t otherwise see (such as the ice-filled ravines of Mount Washington, NH).

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

I’ve listed just a few activities you can do in the winter– there are certainly many others. What winter outdoor activities do you like?