Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer


Catchy title? This article is for all you parents who are trying to help your kid get in shape for a winter sport. I spoke with a mom the other day who inspired me to write this. There is a saying I use often in my talks. It is in fact the title of this article.

If you want your child to perform poorly this winter I have the answer. The answer is cross country. I have had countless parents over the years tell me that they can’t figure out why little Janie or Johnny had such a bad winter sports season. They worked so hard in the fall, running all those miles.

Lets get some facts straight. There are no team sports where you run for miles at a time. Even if you actually “run” miles in a game, those miles are actually a series of sprints interspersed with a series of walks or jogs. In the case of a rare sport like ice hockey, you actually sprint and then sit down. Running long distances does not prepare you to run short distances. There is a concept in sport called sport specific training. The concept basically means that from a conditioning perspective the best way to condition for a sport is to mimic the energy systems of that sport. If the sport is sprint, jog , walk, than the training is sprint, jog , walk. Makes perfect sense

There is another very large concept to grasp here. It is simple. Train slow, get slow. The reality is it is very difficult to make someone fast and very easy to make someone slow. If you want to get an athlete slow, simply ask them to run slower, longer. Simple. They may be in shape, but it is the wrong shape.

Another problem with a steady state sport like cross country? Injuries. Did you know that something like sixty percent of the people who take up running get injured? Those are really crappy odds.

Last and certainly not least, who dominates in sports? The fastest athlete! The athlete with the highest vertical! Yes, conditioning matters but, train for the sport.  Lift weights, jump, sprint. Gain power. It takes years to gain strength and power. You can get in shape in a matter of weeks. Most kids are playing their sport at least a few times a week in the off season so strength and power are much bigger concerns than conditioning.

So this year, don’t give the gift of slowness, If you are not a cross country runner, don’t run cross country. If you like a nice outdoor run and don’t care about speed, be my guest. If you want to get faster and get in great sport condition than train the way the best athletes train. Use a combination of strength training and interval training to prepare properly.

29 Responses to “Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer”

  1. mboyle1959 Says:

    Kevin- obviously your cross country experience was the exception to the rule. I can guarantee you that there are far more cross country programs that simply run distance every day than there are that train as you describe. In a case like yours, you have only your experience to draw on. I have the benefit of dealing with 100’s of coaches and 100’s of athletes and can tell you that what you experienced is rare.

  2. Mr. Boyle,
    What cross-country team do you refer to that you think all they do is “run slow”? Every cross-country team that I am aware of does interval training involving 200m sprints, 400m sprints, hill repetitions and is made up of intensive weight-training programs. As a wrestler in the winter, I had an undefeated season because of my ability to wear down opponents on endurance and pinning them down without so much as puff of air. My team had three milers that could run a mile under 4 minutes and 25 seconds. Do you have any idea how fast that is per quarter mile? Put me in a field sport and good luck to anyone holding the ball. I will ride them the entire game. You seem disallusioned by the stereotype of the scrawny distance runner who can’t do a pull-up, buying into the bigger is better model. To me, nothing is more funny than the ultra-strong guy with the thick neck, over-sized arms and underdeveloped twiggy calves, who can’t make to the end of his driveway and back without a break in between. Strong isn’t fit. Fat guys are strong, too, and one cardio-test away from a heart-attack.

  3. “Yes, conditioning matters but, train for the sport.”

    Good point. Running is great exercise, but that might not be enough if you want to be 100% ready for the winter season. Running just needs to be part of the overall program.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    So you agree with me?

  5. Mike- Anthony Mychal doesn’t condone running miles and miles. He is a fan of using other things to keep your heart rate up for a longer period of time in a way that taskes the nervous system less than HIIT. Now I did find his ebook a little annoying because in the end, he admits that using HIIT one or two times a week in conjuction with a little lower heart rate, longer duration aerobic training is best. So he’s not even HIIT, he just used the title to bait in readers. Well, it worked, because I read it along with many others, and he makes lots of good points.

  6. Eric, I guess I am losing track of your point. Are you advocating that a kid would participate in cross country as their off season training approach? Or, are you advocating that steady state training can be a part of an off-season training plan, as long as it’s balanced?

  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    Erik- Anthony takes so many liberties it’s not even funny. He liberally quotes Born to Run ( a little out of context and written by an endurance person who happens to be a writer not a scientist ) and his first HIIT example is Tabata’s done to his family. Even his definition of HIIT in my mind is made up. He says that rest should be 50%? 50% of what. It’s a nice piece by a young guy but tells only the other side of the story. I appreciate his enthusiasm but I think there is way more too this. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I watched aerobic training create the field of physical therapy as we know it. I think the key is to understand the semantics. I am anti steady state aerobic training. I am highly pro interval training. I agree with Anthony that throwing someone into high intensity work is both dangerous and foolish, almost as dangerous and foolish as throwing someone into a low intensity steady state program. Steady state work gets people hurt, period, end of story. The statistics support that. Look at Jones et.al/

  8. “Erik- I guess the key here is that most of my readers deal with team sport athletes and that was the focus of the post.” – Mike

    Very few sports (and even fewer team sports) exclusively use the anaerobic energy systems, many have an equal or greater aerobic component. Sure ice hockey, soccer, etc have periods of sprints and anaerobic activity but they are relatively short and punctuated by significantly longer periods of aerobic activity.

    For example, a lot of people argue that soccer is an anaerobic/HIIT-style sport. However if you do the number crunching around 70% of play is at aerobic intensities and most “sprints” are only a couple of seconds long and are followed by 90 seconds (if not more) of lower intensity activity.

    Is the issue really that aerobic training and/or distance running isn’t “functional” and “harms performance”, or is it that most people don’t understand when and how to implement it properly?

    “The Myth of HIIT” by Anthony Mychal is well worth a read if you haven’t done so already.

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