Training in the dead of winter can suck — we're talking icy runs, brutal trail conditions, and workouts in the dark. But, as true Spartans, we don't believe in excuses to get soft. (Yes, even when it's 10-degrees below outside.)
The good news? While the OCR offseason isn’t as long as most sports, it’s a prime opportunity to optimize your downtime with cross training that both builds your muscle groups and maintains your endurance threshold.
“The offseason can be a period of time when you, at a minimum, maintain your level of aerobic conditioning, and in many cases, increase what I call the ‘long-duration-elevated-heart-rate training period’,” says Yancy Culp, Spartan SGX Coach and DEKA program manager. “Aim for heart rate zone-two workouts that target easy aerobic effort. The offseason is a great time to step away from most, if not all, of your conditioning that focuses on ‘time on feet,’ and instead, mix it up.”
Long-duration-elevated-heart-rate conditioning fosters a strong aerobic foundation, which is essential to flawless OCR re-entry. According to Culp, you can quickly sharpen your speed as you come out of the offseason, but building, maintaining, and improving your aerobic base takes a long time. (Hence, the value in winter cross-training.)
“Reducing your time on feet during the offseason while maintaining, or even increasing, your zone-two aerobic conditioning can go a long way toward reducing injury, and letting the body wind down to fully reset from a challenging race season,” he says.
It also allows you to enjoy other training methods and sports that you don’t typically get to do during your OCR season. Culp suggests opting for daily workouts that include gratifying, heart-pumping activities you love combined into a block-workout style. (More on that in a second.)
Here are our favorite ways to cross-train for OCR (both in and outdoors) to stay fit and sharp this winter. The ultimate goal? Tear up the 2022 Spartan race season like a champ — and without pause.
Winter Cross-Training for Runners: Inventive Ideas for Your Next Sweat Session
Set It Up: The Two-Sport Block Workout
By blocking out a chunk of time to focus on two disciplines, you can amplify your long-duration training efforts and work the opposing muscle groups recruited for each activity, says Culp. The key? Keep it simple and dial back the intensity to stay within your zone-two heart rate.
TRY IT: For example, do a 45-minute bike ride (on a stationary bike indoors, or a fat-tire bike outdoors), followed by a 45-minute run (on a treadmill or outside).
PRO TIP: “When transitioning from different types of aerobic-conditioning methods, keep your transitions as short as possible,” says Culp. In other words, don’t rest in between.
Epic Ways to Cross-Train Like a Pro (Beyond Running + Biking)
Apply the block-workout concept above to any of the sports below, mixing and matching your favorites for a consistent winter cross-training routine. And most of all, have FUN. (Because when the 2022 race season begins, it’s game on.)
Strapping on a pair of snowshoes to hit your favorite trail is a killer way to work up a sweat. Not only does this low-impact sport activate muscle groups in your legs and core, but it also keeps your heart rate in the fat-burning aerobic zone as you tromp around. Amp up your workout by taking on tougher ascents and descents, like hill repeats, to get your interval fix without pushing into your anaerobic threshold.
2. Lap Swimming / Water Jogging
Swimming and water jogging strengthens your entire body with barely any impact on your joints. Because water has about 12 times the resistance of air, it takes the load off the lower body while still allowing you to push, pull, and move through the motions. If your knees took a brutal beating last season, getting into the pool will help you build strength and take a break from the consistent pounding of running.
3. Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing is a total-body workout that torches extra calories because your system has to work harder to stay warm in colder temperatures. A brisk ski gets your blood pumping to promote circulatory health, and it engages your upper body via the use of poles. It challenges your balance, improves proprioception (your body’s ability to sense movement within space), and activates your core and legs. A win-win, all around.
Climbing is our favorite way to improve flexibility, coordination, and grip strength. (Not to mention the best way to prepare for tough Spartan obstacles!) By working through routes on a wall or bouldering problems, you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and boost your mental game overall. If you’ve never climbed before (or if, thanks to COVID-19, you want to steer clear of the gym) check out CLIMBR: an exhilarating and efficient cardio and strength machine that provides similar benefits to climbing. (Think: the total-body strengthening, core burning, control-enhancing workout in a low-impact environment.)
With proper form (hint: good posture) a rowing-machine workout improves stamina and strengthens your cardiovascular system. It recruits your entire kinetic chain to pull through each stroke, helping you maintain your overall fitness in a low-impact way. It also boosts your immune system function and mood (think: endorphins), and can provide a calming, meditative effect on your mind thanks to repetitive motions where you can focus and relax.
6. Incline Treadmill Walking / Stairmaster
Another good substitute for a season of pounding, walking at an incline on a treadmill or using a stairmaster activates your glutes and core in the same way running does, but without the impact. By adding an incline or sets of stairs, you condition your body for more realistic terrain outside. (What trail is ever “flat?”), and it targets the posterior chain muscles at a lower heart rate so you can build strength and stamina fast.