How Triathlon Training in the Cold Works

Despite the risks, it's possible to get a good triathlon workout in the cold.
Despite the risks, it's possible to get a good triathlon workout in the cold.
Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Triathlons are intense physical and mental tests for athletes, challenging their strength, endurance and discipline. Training for a triathlon takes months of preparation, determination and athletic skill, but training for a triathlon in the cold takes even more resolve and additional preparation as well. Swimming, bicycling and running each have their own difficulties when the weather feels good, and each of them has their own dangers when the weather turns cold as well.

Colder temperatures make it more difficult to focus and can cause muscles to contract, both of which can lead to potential injuries. Your body responds to cold weather by preserving the energy it has to keep the body warm and to ensure that your organs are functioning properly. But when you begin to workout, that coveted energy is being expended by the muscles. Hypothermia is obviously a factor to consider when working out in extremely cold conditions and avoiding this potential danger, as well as other cold-weather-related injuries, will take a little more planning than usual.

Despite the risks, it's possible to get a good triathlon workout in the cold. On the next few pages, we'll explore some of the dangers of triathlon training in the cold and discuss some precautions you can take so that you don't inadvertently harm yourself while you're trying to strengthen your body. In some cases, it's as easy as adding a layer or two of clothing, or drinking the right type of drink, while other situations may involve cutting back on certain types of workouts or adjusting the length of time you're outside in the elements.

Keep reading to find out more about the dangers of training for a triathlon in the cold.

Dangers of Triathlon Training in the Cold

Remember: It's possible for your body to sweat just as much on a cold day as it does on a hot day, so hydration is just as important when it's cold out.
Remember: It's possible for your body to sweat just as much on a cold day as it does on a hot day, so hydration is just as important when it's cold out.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Training in the cold can lead to certain dangers that aren't really an issue in warmer weather -- and even some that you may not have thought of. In temperatures below zero (or even colder), it's possible for an injury to occur without you knowing about it. This could either be an old injury flaring up during a run outside or a new injury occurrence. Whether you're running, cycling or swimming, incurring a new injury or aggravating an old one could hamper future training efforts, or even keep you out of a competition.

When it's cold outside the metabolic heat production that keeps your body's core temperature where it should be, slows down. When this happens, your body is more apt to suffer from things like frostbite or hypothermia [source: McManus]. Frostbite occurs when an exposed area of skin and the tissue layers under the skin freeze, which can lead to permanent damage on those areas of the body. Because triathlon training involves swimming, hypothermia is also a risk for cold weather training, because it can be onset by swimming in cold water. Hypothermia affects the body when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Being exposed to the elements for any part of triathlon training opens athletes up for these potential cold-weather dangers. In addition to frostbite and hypothermia, cold-weather asthma can occur, especially when running, which makes it difficult for athletes to breathe.

Aside from these dangers, training in the cold can cause one other unexpected issue, dehydration. It's possible for your body to sweat just as much on a cold day as it does on a hot day, so hydration is just as important when it's cold out.

On the next page, we'll take a look at how you can prepare for cold-weather triathlon training and how you can avoid some of these dangers by taking a few simple precautions.

Precautions When Triathlon Training in the Cold

Here's a cold-water training tip: Try wearing two swimming caps instead of one to keep more heat from escaping your body.
Here's a cold-water training tip: Try wearing two swimming caps instead of one to keep more heat from escaping your body.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Don't be discouraged -- training in the cold for a triathlon can be done, it just takes a little more preparation than usual. When your body gets cold, it uses energy faster than normal in an attempt to keep itself warm. Making sure your body retains heat during certain training periods can be critical.

When it comes to swim training, there are a few precautions that will help keep you safe and a little bit warmer, too. The first is by wearing two swimming caps instead of one to keep more heat from escaping your body. Some types of caps are better at protecting your head from the cold -- such as Neoprene caps -- because they provide a better buffer between your head and the cold water compared to latex caps [source: Koskella]. Another precaution is to train in a full wetsuit to protect more of your body from the cold water. You should also cover your armpits, where heat tends to escape. Aside from protecting your body, it's also a good idea to swim with a partner in cold weather conditions, just in case your body reacts strongly to the frigid water.

When it comes to cycling training in the cold, make sure you wear the proper layers. The layers need to be able to breathe so that your sweat doesn't build up underneath them, causing your body's temperature to decrease too rapidly as the sweat turns to ice. At the same time, you need to be able to protect your skin from the wind-chill effect as you ride. Assess the amount of time you'll be training and how hard you'll be working before piling on too many layers. Your body will perspire in cold conditions and you'll need to be able to allow it to cool down.

The same goes for running in the cold. Assessing the right amount of layers will help keep you warm; however, you should still allow your body to stay cool during the workout. The cold affects more than just your body: Running shoes can lose their ability to supply ample padding in cold weather conditions. You should change the soles during cold weather conditions because not all types of padding respond the same way when it's cold out. Polyurethane soles won't give the same support when it's cold, so some people recommend using an ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam in cold weather conditions because it retains more padding strength [source: McManus]. If your training shoes have mesh or other areas that are exposed, cover them up and make sure your feet are protected from any type of moisture that could get in [source: McManus].

No matter what precautions you take, make sure to limit the amount of time outside in extremely cold conditions. To stay hydrated and to keep your water from freezing, drink sports drinks, or mix some in with your water, because the sugar will lower the freezing point of the water [source: McManus].

For more information about triathlon training and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Koskella, Kevin. "Coping with Cold Water Swimming." April 27, 2010. (Sept. 7, 2010) http://triathlon.competitor.com/2010/04/training/coping-with-cold-water-swimming-2_9072
  • MayoClinic. "Frostbite: First Aid." (Sept. 8, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-frostbite/FA00023
  • MayoClinic. "Hypothermia Definition." (Sept. 8, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypothermia/DS00333
  • McManus, Melanie Radzicki. "Winter Advisory." Runners World. August 2004. (Sept. 7, 2010) http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-269-9262-0,00.html
  • Prazak, Tawnee. "Cold Weather Training and Your Body." (Sept. 7, 2010) http://www.active.com/triathlon/Articles/Cold_Weather_Training_and_Your_Body.htm