6 Tips for Making Your Winter Training More Bearable

Winter training just started for my team and, I have to admit, I felt like I had lost my “mojo”. While I love my team and I love paddling, somehow having a break during the month of October didn’t seem like enough this year. Sure, I went to the gym and rowed on the erg during our time off, but I seemed to be missing some of that sparkly enthusiasm I’d had in years past. Knowing that I had lost a bit of my passion, I decided to find some ways to get my head back in the game. Here is what I came up with:

1. Find a buddy

This may sound obvious, but you are more likely to hold yourself accountable if you’ve got a buddy who is relying on you. This doesn’t mean that you have to physically be at the gym together, although that is nice. A simple text or email with a teammate commiserating about the squats or bench press, or even sharing a new personal best is helpful in keeping you on track. I exchange frequent text messages with one of my teammates and just knowing that she is doing her part for the team makes it more likely that I will stick to my workout plan. I definitely wouldn’t want to let her down.

Another way of sharing the workout is an online logbook for your training. I use the Concept 2 Logbook to track my erg workouts and last year I encouraged my teammates to do the same. You can connect with teammates as “training partners” within the logbook and then you can see what each other has done in terms of training. Thankfully last winter one of my teammates became one of my Concept 2 training partners and was as diligent as I was about logging in all of her workouts. Knowing that she was racking up the meters kept me involved as well. I figured if she was busting her bum on the erg, I’d better get busy, too. Or, you might consider it friendly competition, something that challenges you to keep pushing for more. Whichever way you look at it, if it keeps you on track with your training, having a workout buddy is a good thing.

dragon boat winings

Photo: Ed Nugyen

2. Understand “why”

Don’t just go through the motions of working out. Take the time to understand how each specific exercise correlates to our paddling stroke. I’m not suggesting that you rigorously study each and every thing you do at the gym before even attempting anything. But while you are doing squats, for example, really focus on the muscles that are being used and think about how those muscles get used on the boat. Knowing that I need strong quad and hamstring muscles for leg drive helps motivate me to push myself more. Some exercises are understandably more difficult to relate to our stroke than others, but making the effort to do so makes the workout more relevant/pertinent.

3. Mix it up

I know everyone always tells you this, but really, it’s true. We get into ruts and find ourselves in comfortable routines, but it’s important to shake that up as much as possible. I realize that a work schedule and family life don’t always accommodate too much variety in your routine, but even making slight changes will challenge your brain and, in turn, keep you interested. Do you always run on the treadmill? Why not challenge yourself to swim 20 laps? Swimming is great cardio AND a full-body workout, plus the freestyle stroke really correlates to our sport.

Are you like me and loyal to your erg? Why not head outside and enjoy the fresh air for a run or some other outdoor activity? (For the record, I HATE running, but I do try to push myself to do it once in a while and when I do get out, I truly enjoy the outdoors, even when it’s cold…and even when I’m running!). I went snowshoeing for the first time last year and learned that it is pretty awesome.

Take a circuit class or bootcamp workout at your gym to really mix things up. A good circuit class or bootcamp workout will work most all of your body as well as your cardio, and you’ll be in and out in about an hour. Typically you can work at your own level, so choose your weights with a challenge in mind – there is no point to spending an hour in the class lifting 2 pound weights when you can go heavier. Why mix it up? Not only is it good for your body, it’s great for your mind and you just might find something new that you love for your winter training.

Winter Workout

Last year, I found out that I really like snowshoeing. Who would have thought? Photo: Paul Verscheure

4. Have data to back it up

Keep a workout journal or diary. Writing down your accomplishments, personal bests, erg times, etc.  will help you see your progress and give you something you can be proud of. Sometimes, as the winter drags on and on and on, you can feel like you are on the proverbial treadmill going nowhere. If you just go to the gym week after week but never bother to take note of your progression, you might as well just be on a hamster wheel, doing the same thing over and over and over. Having actual data to show what you have achieved in the gym helps spur you on to achieve more. I mean, really, does anyone ever look at their personal best on the bench press, for example, and say, “Yeah, that’s good enough. I think I’ll go eat some ice cream now…” Of course not. Once you reach your initial goal, typically a combination of pride and excitement drives you to keep pushing on.

5. Get creative

You don’t always have access to your gym. During the holidays you might be traveling or just too busy to get to the gym. But taking an entire week off can start you down that slippery slope that makes it tough to get back on track. Trust me, it’s a really easy way to kiss your “mojo” goodbye. So, get creative while you’re at your Great Aunt Mildred’s house for the holidays! Check out a local gym – you may find some new and exciting equipment like the climbing wall and ski erg pictured below. Or challenge yourself to do a specific amount of sit-ups and push-ups every day. Or go for a run to explore Great Aunt Mildred’s neighborhood. If you’ve got other family members who are into fitness, have a holiday push-up challenge with a friendly bet attached. Sure, it won’t be the same as your regular workout at home, but at least it’s something. And you just might win some fruitcake in the deal.

Winter Workout

My teammate, Kate, trying out the ski erg at Altitude Gym while visiting family in Ottawa. Photo provided by: Kate Davidson

6. Reward yourself

As a good way to keep the positive juices flowing, reward yourself with something you normally wouldn’t do. For example, I have a friend who treats herself to a massage after 10 workouts at the gym. Or you might indulge in a bowl of ice cream (my weakness!) or one of those foofy Starbuck’s drinks after 50,000 meters on the erg. Whatever floats your boat, find a way to honor your hard work and you’ll be more inclined to keep working hard.

Hopefully these six tips will help you face your winter workouts with renewed energy. While training during race season, it’s understandable that we get burned out. If you’ve been heavily training, you need a break at some point. The key is to not let that break turn into an endless couch potato marathon disguised as “time off”, otherwise, it’s even more difficult to get back to your pre-break fitness. How do you keep yourself motivated in the off season?

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