Winter Challenge


Posted by Coach Christine Palmquist

As one of the northernmost Team MPI Coaches, I enjoy a great amount of good natured back and forth ribbing with the Texas/Florida/San Diego coaches during the winter months.  I share pictures of snow, my favorite balaclava and my brand new “Moose Mitts” with them. They send back pictures of their morning open water ocean swim, food on the outdoor grill and the jacket that they wore when the temperature dipped down into the 60s. 

Clearly, we will never be neighbors.They cannot fathom living through a northern winter and I cannot figure out how they endure endless months of sunny, warm temperatures.  After all, it is during the dark, cold months of winter when we northern athletes make the most progress towards our next season goals. Thank goodness for winter! It forces us to stop racing triathlons, rebuild base, recover and work on limiters.

No matter where you live, let me share some twelve-week “winter challenges” that you can implement to make your 2017 season stronger than ever. Some of you might just have to pretend it is 20 below and icy.


Strength Challenge

It can be very difficult to build strength during the competitive season. True strength building requires 2-3 sessions per week, working multi-joint movements with heavier weights, speed, low reps and lots of rest. Although these hard workouts are best for developing the all-body power that will help you bike, run and swim faster next year, trying to do them “in season” while also performing key bike, run and swim workouts is often too much for an athlete. So, pick three months during your “winter” and move strength building up to the top of your priority list. And good news, studies show that once you have built strength, you can maintain it for 4 or more months, “in season,” with just one maintenance workout per week.

Your challenge:  Commit to 24-36 strength sessions during 12 weeks. It is best to hire a trainer or enlist a workout partner who will require you to hold perfect form, assist with a safe progression of movements and load and provide spotting when needed. Be sure to include mobility work within each session (dynamic warm up, foam rolling and post workout stretching).

Run OR Bike OR Swim Challenge (No – you cannot do all three!)

Do you have a weaker sport or a low mileage sport within triathlon? Winter can be the best time to break through a plateau with your performance. Remember, it is winter, so do not try to focus on all three disciplines.  Pick one and work on increasing frequency, volume and improving technique while you back off the other two parts of triathlon.

Your Challenge: Over 12 weeks, increase your training volume within one sport by 10% each week. Every 3-4 weeks, back off to your first week’s volume so that you can recover.  It is better to increase training frequency by adding 1-2 days per week of training in this discipline to achieve the added volume, then it is to simply lengthen the workouts that you already do. It is also a good idea to hire a coach to do a video analysis, critique your technique and give you some drills or other suggestions to improve your form.

For example, an athlete who currently runs 10 miles per week can build to 21.4 weekly miles during 12 weeks (10, 11, 12.1, 10, 13.3, 14.6, 16.1, 10, 17.7, 19.5, 21.4, 10).  A swimmer who now swims 6000 yards per week can build to 12,892 yards during 12 weeks. (6000, 6600, 7260, 6000, 7986, 8784, 9663, 6000, 10629, 11692, 12,892).  Similarly, a cyclist who currently trains 3 hours or 180 minutes per week, can build to 6.4 hours over 12 weeks (180, 198, 217, 180, 239, 263, 289, 180, 318, 350, 386). Keep these efforts aerobic, focus on form and start next season with an efficient base on which to build speed.


Cross Training Challenge

The darkest secret of northern endurance athletes is that many of us don’t run, swim or bike much at all during the winter.  What do we do? We cross country ski – the sport that regularly produces endurance athlete gods and goddesses in the upper Midwest and other countries. I’ve had many winters where I have exclusively XC skied all winter then started the spring season in incredible shape. Nagging running injuries would disappear. I would train in all directions and planes, and therefore strengthen stabilizing muscles and my core more than with triathlon. I would “get away” from triathlon and then get excited about it again as the winter snows melted.

Your Challenge: Try another sport this off season. XC Skiing will be hard for my south-bound friends but if you live in snow, make the most of it. Take up XC skiing and try a race or two. The same idea applies to snow-shoeing or ice-skating. Swap these in for some of your runs, bikes and swims – you will come out ahead in the spring.  If you don’t have snow, “winter” is still the time to try some other activities. Mountain biking, trail running, hiking, kayaking, SUP, group workout classes - find something other than triathlon to give your off-season variety. You won’t regret it.


No matter where you live, have a “winter.” Try different activities. Focus on strength or one of your sports. Make the most of this chance to make a difference for your next “A” race!


Coach Chris Palmquist of Geneva, IL is a USAT Level III and Youth/Junior Coach, USAC Level I Coach and a F.I.S.T. Certified Bike Fitter with 18 years of coaching experience and has coached athletes to success at the regional, national and world level. She is a 2016 Team USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach and has coached elite athletes at ITU World Paratriathlon Events and High Performance Camps at Olympic Training Centers. Chris is also the Head Coach for the National Champion MMTT Youth Triathlon Team and coaches training camps for USAT Juniors, Challenged Athletes Foundation and Dare2Tri. As an athlete, she has numerous top finishes in many sports including triathlon, collegiate rowing, canoe/kayak, cross country skiing, speed skating and road bike racing. She is a twelve time Ironman finisher and a 2011 USAT Team USA World Championship participant. Her coaching philosophy is based on trust, communication, balance, achieving top potential and the joy of training and racing. Chris is married with two kids and can be reached via email at


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