Training in winter - 11 common mistakes to avoid

winter running mistakes snow run

When it comes to training in winter it doesn’t take much to get you out the door – after all, you love being out in the elements and you always feel great afterwards. But hold fire, because every year I see athletes make the same small errors. Get a leap on your winter training by avoiding these 11 common mistakes

1 You don’t warm the engine

I’m the first to admit I’m crap at this. In fact, I’d struggle to tell you the last time I performed a technically-sound warm up before a run, cycle or circuits session. It’s easy to omit in summer when your body temperature is warm right out of bed, but that's not the case now.

It doesn’t need to be complicated but, like any good car, your engine needs warming. All it takes is consciously starting your run or ride at an easy pace, increasing the effort over the first 5-10 minutes. If you're doing some circuits or strength training, do some mobility first too.

To really nail it, add five minutes of post-training stretching.

Running in winter - warm up

Yes, you are a raging muscle car ready to rip. But just like any powerful motor, you need warming up first

2 You get too friendly with the indoor training

Zwift, Peloton, the treamill, gyms and so on - wonderful tools and all good pals of mine offering a tonne of benefits but don’t get too comfortable in that warm, sterile, (and cold-infested in the case of a gym) environment. It’s often best to get outdoors because:

  • Fresh air strengthens your immune system
  • Muscle recruitment exercising outside is different – tendons and ligaments are challenge more by variations in terrain
  • The lack of proprioception (natural feel for where your feet are and what they're doing) on a treadmill decreases tendon and ligament strength

It's best to save indoor training for hard sprints and those days when the weather really exceptionally shocking.

Running in winter - treadmill

You can run on the treadmill if it looks like this outside

3 You over-dress for cold weather training…

It’s bloomin’ freezing out there, so it’s natural to reach for that thick jacket. But, as your core temperature rises and the sweat starts to flow on the move, you might regret your kit choice.

And everyone knows how grim it is to exercise in saturated garments  - plus it's a one-way ticket to chafe city.

But on the flip side your body temperature will also drop as cool air chills your skin as sweat builds up and the body's natural cooling mechanism kicks in.

The solution is to layer up, and you can then peel layers off as needed. A good rule is dress as if it was 10⁰C warmer outside. Channelling the Royal Marines' mantra of 'be bold, start cold' is also handy. 

Running in winter - clothing

Leave the jacket and scarf at home when you’re exercising this winter – you really don’t need them

4 …or perhaps under-dress

Much less common than the over-dresser, we all know someone who refuses to wear anything more than race shorts and vest (I'm looking at you, cross-country runners!) and who probably tells you to 'MTFU' - or similar - on an annoyingly frequent basis.

Unless you are a grizzled Northern fell runner or hardened cross channel swimmer, get your thin base layer, outer shell, leggings and gloves on and do it properly!

5 You’re failing to fuel properly

Winter does funny things to our appetite, but a focus on fueling your training well always pays off.

Don’t restrict calories, despite having over-eaten over Christmas - restrict calories and you won’t have the energy to exercise properly.

Eat plenty and you can still shed that excess fat - you shouldn’t go hungry. Focus on natural, whole grains, good fat sources and maintain a high-quality protein supply. Our article all about beating the winter slowdown will help you make better food choices.

Running in winter - fuel nutrition

Eat natural as often as possible to keep training through winter

6 You go too big, too soon

We’re all pumped up by ambitious New Year resolutions, chomping at the bit to get exercising harder than ever. However, if motivation purely comes from burning recently acquired fat, you’ll find yourself on rocky ground.

Motivation needs to come from deeper than that. A desire to make some lifestyle changes, to improve health and to challenge yourself this year will have you training consistently for months, not just weeks.

Running in winter - goals

Hold your horses. Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

7 You stress about data and specific targets

Yes, goals are important but they're less important in winter. Stressing about run pace, weight, your power on the bike or the number of press ups you can or can't do isn't the way forward.

Focus on simply keeping your fitness ticking over and enjoying being out there, not about setting PBs.

Running in winter - pace

Keep calm and enjoy what winter training has to offer

8 You’re going too technical

Leave those exploratory runs and narrow lane cycles for spring. The risk of injury at this time is high enough already, without adding new, poorly lit, muddy, untrodden trails and roads into the mix.

9 You think hydration doesn’t matter in winter

It’s less appealing to drink cold water in winter, I get that. But you’re still sweating and you still need to replace the fluid. Not just detrimental to performance, dehydration is also linked to increased injury occurrence and increased DOMS.

Aside from water, green tea is a winter winner - it’s hydrating, loaded with antioxidants and gives a little caffeine boost. For a caffeine-free option, rooibos (redbush) tea is a great alternative.

Running in winter - hydration

Herbal teas rock in winter. Skinny jeans and hipster jam jars optional

10 You’re not flexible enough

No, I don’t mean bendy stretchy flexible. I mean you’re too rigid with your exercise plan and nutrition. 

Relax, it’s early in the year and consistency is the goal here. To be consistent, you'll need to flex and alter sessions as things crop up: work, life, winter weather.

Running in winter is great, but don't get too serious at this time of year

Take a chill pill (in the form of a slice of cake, preferably) if ‘life’ crops up and you need to alter your training

11 You don’t put safety first

I know, I know, it’s terribly boring but no winter exercising list would be complete without a nod to the high-viz parade. This one's more for the cyclists and runners out there, but quick-fire safety tips include:

  • Research your route
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back
  • Take a mobile phone with you
  • Wear high-visibility clothing. The more the better
  • Don’t let pride get in the way – call in a pick up (cab, bus, mate's car) if you need it
  • Always carry an emergency blanket

One of the best ways to look after yourself is by taking care of your nutrition, it's the foundation of your performance after all. Just one spoon of our Ultimate Daily Greens mixed in water will give your body all the nutrients it needs in an easy daily shot.

33fuel exercising in winter - ultimate daily greens

Alkaylse your body for optimal health and immune function with our Daily Greens

Cover this lot, get up, get out there and enjoy doing what most don’t this winter. We'll see you out there!

More performance boosting content

From the Vlog - Building growth and resilience through action

From the Podcast - Win at winter training with Taylor Thomas

From the Blog

10 tips to train through winter

Lose belly fat after 40

Mobility - why it matters and how to improve yours

10 best anti-inflammatory foods

How to keep your family healthy this winter