The temperatures are falling sharply in the northern hemisphere, especially here in Richmond, VA, USA with temperatures hovering around 0-7c / 30-40f and making for challenging conditions to train outside. And with so many articles around in social media and many cool smart trainers on the market enticing athletes to stay indoors and maximise training, there are still those who love the freedom that outdoor training provides… but surely it's too cold to train effectively outside?
My time in the UK Army / Parachute Regiment over 25 years ago had our instructors drilling into us the 6 P's. Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance! And it's with this mentality that has stuck with me all these years. It's not the weather that stops us training but our willingness to plan and prepare for inclement weather. Finding the right clothing, tools and equipment to make your journey outside a relatively comfortable experience.
Take cycling for instance. If the weather is freezing at zero centigrade / 30f and the conditions are dry with light to moderate winds you need to layer up!
Start with a good base layer, thermal long sleeve top, long sleeve jersey (or short sleeve with arm warmers) and gilet / vest or light windproof jacket to block out the wind. You would be best served to wear long thermal padded (or non padded) tights with maybe an extra pair of padded shorts underneath too depending on how the cold affects you personally. Then add a thermal scull cap that covers your ears and your helmet (which you can cover with cling film to block out wind from vents and good thermal long fingered gloves (personally I prefer long 5 fingered gloves rather than lobster style gloves). Finally add a toe cover you shoes and then good fitting thermal / neoprene shoe covers and you are good to go!
The only downside to winter riding is the time taken to get ready! With all these layers it might take 10-15min just to dress! So make sure you have your drink bottles, energy food and bike ready to go as you will get warm very quickly when fully dressed!
With running, for me this morning it was 0c / 30f and I was going for a long easy run on a mix of trails and road. I start with long short style underwear, long thermal leggings, longer crew length thermal socks, long sleeve thermal top with extra arm warmers underneath, t-shirt over the top, thermal scull cap covering my ears, long thermal running gloves, and sunglasses as it was very dry and sunny out.
If the weather was raining I still go running but add a waterproof jacket and cap and use waterproof thermal 'sealskinz' gloves. On the bike if it was raining it depends how hard. If it was pouring then yes I would stay in and ride the trainer or Spinner® bike. If it was just drizzling I add a long sleeve waterproof cycling jacket and add mudguards to my bike. Or exchange the road / TT bike for the MTB and hit the trails instead to get away from traffic and enjoy the scenery with the rain.
So there really is no excuse for not riding outdoors unless you are really time crunched. If you only have time for 30-45min then yes best to jump on your bike trainer and do higher quality work rather than slogging it out in the freezing cold.
It takes a toughened athlete to stay outdoors through winter, and generally you will find the better / faster athletes are the ones that do just this. During races when the conditions change for the worst, those athletes that have trained through these conditions just grit their teeth and get on with it and always have a better performance than those who stay inside with their creature comforts waiting for the warmth of the spring!
So what are you waiting for… get out and train!