Winter Training Mode: Why You Should Use It

Recently, I dusted off my good ole weight bench.  Yes, there was a layer of dust on it. And, there were little splotches of mold or mildew on it too.  I hadn’t used that bench in six or seven years, so dust and mold (and old spider egg sacks?!?) were expected.  What wasn’t expected was how good it felt to get back to lifting. But this is a temporary addition to my workout routine, just a part of my winter training. Do you change up your training in winter?  I do, and it makes a big difference in many ways.

Winter Training Mode


For several years, I wondered if it was possible to stay 100%, tip-top, super-duper “in shape” all year around.  Wouldn’t that be great, to be at the pinnacle of your fitness level not just a few days or week, but 365 days a year, every year? Imagine being strong, flexible, and having great endurance all the time.  Who wouldn’t want that?  But after researching and reading about the pros and cons of training at a high level all the time, and after experiencing some of those cons for myself, I concluded that it might not be such a great thing after all.  So, I decided I should try a different way.  In 2011 or 2012, I started experimenting with what I call Winter Training Mode (WTM), and I’ve been doing so ever since.

About five years after I made WTM a regular part of my training practice, I reconnected with one of my former karate instructors.  We hadn’t seen each other since 1995 so we had a great time catching up.  He’d been deeply studying and training in a Chinese martial art (Bagua) for more than a decade at the time of our reunion.  During our fervent and enjoyable conversation, he mentioned a training principle of Bagua that sounded very similar WTM.  I couldn’t help but nod and smile.

What It Isn’t 

man holding remote control

Winter Training Mode is not an excuse for slacking off.  It’s not a time for lounging around the house, catching up on the backlog of television shows you recorded during the previous weeks.   And, it’s not permanent; it should last just a season, three to five months, tops.

What It Is


Winter Training Mode is a time to allow your roots to thicken and grow deeper.  Or, said another way, this is a time to:

  • Set a short-term goal or goals and go after it.
  • Reassess and shore up the four pillars of your base.
  • Cross-train in, and explore other exercise and movement methods.  
  • Take care of your immune system so it can take care of you throughout the winter. To do this, lower intensity training with sufficient rest, especially during wintertime, is all but essential. The intensity of training must be lower, but the training days and times should remain consistent.
  • Research any ideas or theories you have related to health, fitness, martial arts, etc.
  • Be more mindful and aware of various aspects of your training, your diet, and your life as a whole.

During WTM, I decrease the intensity of my training routines while increasing the depth of my personal martial research and experimentation.  Because I really enjoy training, I have to remind myself quite often at the start of WTM that is okay, and necessary, to not push so hard during this time. 

The Gains

photo of man with muscular body

I’ve experienced the following benefits through WTM:

  • My immune system tends to be much better able to deal with winter’s challenges
  • My enjoyment of training and teaching deepens even more
  • My understanding of the topics I’m exploring grows even as many new questions are sparked by the few answers I find
  • Replenished mental and physical strength
  • A powerful sense of mission during WTM
  • A potent sense of renewal and excitement at the end of WTM

I usually enter WTM in late October after my major karate training seminars and events have ended for the year.  This season’s switchover was delayed due to a karate tournament in early December, so in some ways, I’m just now getting into the groove.  

I also add a new / alternate exercise or set of exercises to my routine.  Kettlebell training, strength-stretching routines, and the Five Tibetan Rites have been very helpful in the past.  I will probably use the Rites when I begin the transition from WTM back to standard training; I’ll share more on the Rites soon.

Give WTM a Try

person writing on white book

Though spring is just weeks away, there’s still time to try Winter Training Mode for yourself.  It’s simple: 

  1. Determine what you would like gain, and write it down.
  2. Map out your lower-intensity workouts.
  3. Pick one or two alternate exercise methods that you’d like to explore.
  4. Examine your base and do what is necessary to give each area the appropriate attention they need.  Remember, you cannot grow without a strong base.
  5. If you enjoy self-directed research, pick a topic, write down any questions you seek to answer as well as any hypotheses you might have.

Once you implement, remember to keep track of your goals, stay fluid and adjust as needed, and enjoy the journey.

Maybe you already have your a WTM-type routine, or perhaps this will be a new experiment for you.  Either way, be sure to share your WTM experiences and let me know how it goes.

Best to you!





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