In the winter the cold weather causes our muscles to contract a lot more than usual and become tighter in order to conserve as much heat as possible. If our bodies are not conditioned correctly, then our muscles will over compensate in order to restore balance. The cold temperatures will add more stress than usual, which increases the risk of injury. This is why strength and conditioning exercises are essential in preventing injuries and maximising our training.
1) Rotator Cuff and posture (upper back)
The Rotator Cuff is a tough sheath of tendons and ligaments that supports the arm at the shoulder joint. It is a collection of muscles that is associated with upper back posture and plays a very important role when we are swimming. Keeping these muscles activated and strong will help improve our posture and help iron out any imbalances in our back. Good posture is very important when cycling and running, as it will lead to improved efficiency and the ability to sustain form under fatigue.
Lying on your front on the floor. Place a towel underneath your forehead and rest your head on to it, eyes looking down. Stretch your arms outwards at shoulder height, so your body forms a cross. Bend your elbows, so your forearm and upper arms are at right angles to each other with your fingers pointing forward and the back of your hands facing upwards; palms on the floor. Keep your elbow in line with your shoulders while maintaining the right angle. The shape you will form is a “W.” Once in this position, relax the whole body.
Without moving any other parts of the body lift both arms off the floor contracting your upper back only. Hold this position for 5 seconds. From here, extend forward both your arms in an outward direction while rotating your hands to finish off with your thumbs pointing towards the ceiling, forming a “Y” shape. Hold for 5 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat 5-10 times depending on strengthen and carry out for 3 sets.
To develop this exercise further add lightweight dumbbells and continue with the same movement and increase the reps.
2) Core Strength
Core strength should be a staple of any fitness-training plan. Strong core will help maintain form, preserve technique and prolong efficiency when fatigued. It is imperative that we constantly train this group of muscles as this will, ultimately, lead to a better performance. There are many effective core exercises, but one of my favourites is called the ‘Get Up.’
Kneel on the floor with a matt or a cushion under your knees. Back straight, shoulders back maintaining good posture. Looking straight ahead, raise one arm above your head and the other arm out to the side like an airport traffic controller. To activate your core, pretend to cough and feel your stomach tighten and hold that contraction all through the exercise.
Keeping your arms extended upwards and to the side, stand up without holding on to anything. With the leg you stood up on, bend and return back to the floor into the kneeling position - this is 1 rep. Repeat 8-10 times on one leg and then change and repeat.
To develop this exercise further add a weight to the extended arm as this will work on developing shoulder stability, as well as making it more difficult to execute the exercise.
3) Single leg balance
Strong ankles and stable knees are very important conditioning characteristics that everyone should consider developing during their winter training in order to stay injury free. Increasing the training volume will test their reliability as they act to keep us aligned and out of trouble. A very good exercise for this are ‘single leg half moons’.
Standing still, raise one leg and maintain balance. Point your raised leg forward and gently touch your big toe on to the floor.
Hold for 5 seconds and from this position, draw a semi circle with your big toe by pushing the raised leg as far wide as you can without losing balance, so the leg stops at full extension behind your static leg. During this movement, bend the opposite knee causing the quad to contract. Hold for 5 seconds and then bring the raised leg back to start, standing straight while keeping the leg off the floor. Repeat 6 times without lowering the leg onto the floor. The tension will build in your static leg and will force your stabilising muscles in your ankle and knee to work overtime in order to maintain balance.
To develop this exercise further - increase the time of the two holds to 10 seconds and the flexion in your knee in the static leg. Also, introduce a Bosu Ball or a wobble board for your static leg to stand on to increase the difficultly by making the surface unstable.
Consistency is key during winter. Staying fit and healthy is just as important as hitting target sessions. Training week in week out for months will lead to massive fitness improvements and to achieve this you must remain injury-free. Once out of the bleakness of winter and into the glorious summer days, you will be rewarded with the results you have been aiming for all year.
Remember the saying “Winter miles, summer smiles.”
Nick Beer is an Endurance Specialist and Corrective Exercise Coach, with a wealth of experience providing nutrition advice for weight loss and performance. Find out more on his website here and follow @BeerNickTri for more tips.