Winter Break Workouts

Winter Break Workouts

Posted by Marc Mangiacotti

It’s almost time for winter break and time to start creating required workouts that would be remiss of our athletes not complete.  As coaches, I’m sure we have a shared experience of writing winter break workouts only to find that when our athletes return, they are out of shape… It is clear that they didn’t commit much time, if any, to the assigned workouts.  For some coaches, winter break can last for a week, while for others an entire month.  No matter the amount of time, the reason for athletes not completing winter workouts always yields the same response.

Over the past 14 years of coaching I have realized a few key factors that increase the chances of the athletes completing the winter break workouts. Below are some of the reasons that I find make it more likely that the athletes will train on their own.

K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid):

Write winter break workouts that are extremely easy to understand. Do not give the athletes workouts that include multiple steps to follow. If the athlete has to take an extra step (call you for details) they are less likely to do the workout. Let’s face it, do you really want all of your athletes calling you over winter break.  It’s not just their break, it’s yours’ too.  Make their life easier, as well as your own!

Repeat Workouts:

Introduce your athletes to workouts prior to winter break. When I begin thinking about winter training, I typically include workouts that have been done at least 3-4 weeks leading up to break.  This allows athletes to have a better understanding of what is expected in each workout and eliminates any advanced work they may not effectively complete.


Don’t Let Them Make Excuses:

Give two sets of workouts to the athletes.  One set is ideally what you want them to do.  The other set of workouts are alternative workouts that can be done anywhere in the world.  For example, workouts that can be done on a track, on a field, in a gymnasium, on a cruise ship, or just about anywhere else that you can think of.  I may change up the ideal workouts from year to year depending on the group I am working with and where they are in their training. I generally recycle alternative workouts each year and modify them according to training progress.

Though this type of planning takes a little more work up front, it saves a lot of time later on and increases the likelihood of the athlete getting some sort of work done over break.  The alternative workouts may not be an ideal extension of training but it helps athletes maintain their momentum. If you do not give your athletes an alternative there will be days that they do not have access to a track, which will result in an excuse to skip a workout.  Don’t give them excuses!

Examples of some alternatives:

pushup clapBench Press – sets of push ups with a clap

Power Clean – sets of multi throws using a medicine ball, shot put, or other objects (I’ve had athletes throw a rock in the past), for example Over Head Backwards throw which is a triple extension throw much like Power Clean which is a triple extension lift.

Acceleration – No blocks, no bullet belts, no track access, not a problem.  The athletes can do short hill work and/or stadium runs with appropriate recovery.

Interval Training – something comparable on a stationary bike.  For example, if the ideal workout happens to be 6x200m @ 80% with 3’ recovery the athlete could do the following on a stationary bike.

Bike – 10’ warm up (bike medium)

Bike – 8 x 2/1/30 (2’ @ medium, 1’ @ hard, 30’ all out)

BW Circuit – Get of the bike and do a big body weight circuit.

Bike – 10 x 30/30 (bike hard for 30” then easy for 30”)

BW Circuit – Get off the bike and repeat the big body weight circuit two more times.

If done correctly the athlete should feel like they did the 200m running workout and more.

Give Them What They Want:

Sometime we have to give the athletes what they need versus what they want. That’s just part of life. Think about giving the athletes what they want, as well as what they need.  Winter break is a great time to use short speed endurance workouts.  Most athletes do not get super excited about traditional interval training. So, instead try something like:

4 x 4 x 60m @ 85-90% with 1’ recovery between repetitions and 5’ between sets.

Let’s face it, athletes like to run fast, but they hate to run long, which is why they often appreciate the speed workouts. Since this type of workout can be done on a track, in a gymnasium, on a field, on the beach, and a lot of other places, athletes can always find a space to complete this. No excuses!


Put Fear Into Them:

We test the first week of November each year.  This year we tested Over Head Back and Under Hand Forward Throws, Standing Long and Stand Triple Jumps, and 40m (you can time their block 30m and fly 10m at the same time).  I use the testing as motivation.  I explain to the athletes that I have data on their current athletic ability in November. I also explain that we will repeat some or all of the testing the week after break so we will all know who did and did not do the winter workouts.  Lastly, I explain that if their January testing is the same or worse than the November testing then it is going to be embarrassing when they race the Saturday when we return from break.  “It’s not me running around the track, it’s you!”

Start thinking about your winter break workouts now.  Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti.  I try to post workouts on a daily basis.


Marc Mangiacotti is an assistant track coach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

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  • Ricky

    Coach, Do mean 30 sec or min going all out on bike?

    Bike – 8 x 2/1/30 (2’ @ medium, 1’ @ hard, 30’ all out)

    What if I only have access to a treadmill?


    • Marc Mangiacotti

      Hi Ricky,

      Sorry for the typo. That should of been 30″ at the end not 30 minutes. Treadmills are better than nothing, but I try to stay away from those things.

      Marc Mang

  • Karen

    I had the same question about the last 30 on the bike workout (seems like it should be 30 seconds, but I await your response). Also, would this workout be as effective on an elliptical machine? (That’s all we have at home.) Can we substitute 2 flights of stairs for stadium runs if we can’t get to a track?

    • Marc Mangiacotti

      Hi Karen,

      I am sure you can. However, I do not usually use an elliptical so you may have to play with the sets and reps to get the desired response that you are looking for in the workout.

      Marc Mang

  • Marc Mangiacotti is 30 seconds. My bad. I have never used a treadmill. Not a huge fan of treadmills. A lot times the athletes spend too much time on the ground when they run on the treadmill (run heel toe). Just my opinion. I have used the workout on an elliptical. Seems to work well.
    Marc Mang

  • Ricky

    Thanks for the reply Coach!


  • Andy

    That’s a great stationary bike workout! I like to have my athletes do 20 minutes of continuous 30 second recovery, 30 seconds 75%, 30 seconds recovery, 20 seconds 85%, 30 second recovery, 10 seconds 100%, repeat. It’s a great workout to have sprints and distance together on the bikes!

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