All rowers know that winter training means lots of steady-state mileage in rain, wind, fog and snow. Many stretches of water freeze solid, but for those who are ‘lucky’ enough to be able to get on the water, the winter weather always presents the challenge of staying warm during training.
Start Warm to Stay Warm
One of the biggest mistakes made by winter rowers is starting a session cold. It’s hard to motivate yourself to do a proper warm-up when there’s ice on the water and the sun isn’t up yet, but starting warm is the best way of ensuring you stay warm during your session.
Perform your usual warm-up, be it cycle, ergo or something else, but be prepared to start slower and lengthen your warm-up to get fully ready. Boating quickly is key so temperature is not lost, so getting equipment and crew ready before warm-up is a good plan. Consider a change of kit between warm-up and session so you’re not getting on the water in kit damp from sweat.
The second water session of the morning always feels colder than the first, mostly because rowers don’t finish their break early enough to properly warm-up again. Don’t neglect your second session warm-up. Sitting in a warm crew room is not a substitute.
Once in the boat it’s important to get moving and avoid lengthy periods of inactivity. Consider warming up with the whole crew instead of starting in pairs, fours or sixes. If you do have rowers sitting the boat, cycle through the changes more quickly. Plan your outings and brief your crews so that their is less time sitting still on the water discussing what’s happening next or getting boats in position.
The second mistake is under-fuelling. Many rowers fail to eat enough before an early morning session and most don’t realise that they need to eat more when temperatures drop to provide the body with energy to heat itself as well as trai
See my article on Nutrition for more information on how to pre-fuel your training.
What to Wear? – Winter Kit (& Some Secrets Tips)
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” — Sir Rannulph Fiennes
Wearing enough of the right kit is key in the winter. Layering allows you to adjust how much you wear during the outing to regulate your body temperature. Remember that headwinds are cold and tailwinds are warmer, so dress for the headwind.
Body & Legs
Lycra baselayers allow movement while providing warmth. Most manufacturers have ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ materials, so stick to the ‘winter’ range in the colder months; these tend to be thicker material. Look for brushed ‘fleecey’ leggings. Double-up on leggings and long sleeved tops when it’s really cold. JL, New Wave and CrewRoom (UK) make some great rowing-specific kit.
Socks are often overlooked, but most people will find that if their feet stay warm their body stays warm. Double-up on wooly socks (invest in a larger pair of ‘winter’ shoes if necessary) or try SealSkinz waterproof socks to stop you getting damp cold feet.
A hat is essential in cold weather. A wooly beanie will keep your head warm. Look at cycling clothing for windproof options.
My tip is to combine a cap and headband. The cap keeps rain/snow off your face while the headband keeps the wind off your ears.
A Buff will keep your neck warm too.
Cold hands are a real problem for some rowers and gloves just aren’t an option when we need to feel the oar handle. Pogies (despite the image of being for ‘softies’) are brilliant! They keep the cold, wind and rain from your hands and still allow you to grip the handle as normal. You can also gloat about your hands being “too hot” while others are trying to shake the numbness from their fingers. I usually find that starting an outing with Pogies means my hands stay warm as my body heats up and I can take them off after my on-water warm-up.
Crewroom Pogies are waterproof and wind resistant.
Rock the Boat’s Pogies (made in Cornwall) share these features but are also colour coded (red & green) to match your oar.
My Kit Tips…
My ‘winter essential’ is my ‘Gamex’ by New Wave. Rowers who have one never turn up to winter training without it. The Gamex material is ultra-lightweight and completely windproof with great water-resistance. The Gamex long-sleeve tops make wind-chill a non-issue and the gillet versions keep your core warm.
Having lots of kit in the boat is great when the weather turns bad, but scullers without big hatch-covers often find that when they most need their kit it is already wet from sitting in the bottom of the boat. A dry-bag is a fantastic accessory to keep your extra layers dry ready for when you turn into that chilly headwind. Exped’s versions are lightweight, can be squashed down and come in various sizes. The XS works well in a single and, fully packed, can fit two long-sleeved tops and a Gamex. They are also useful in keeping your wet kit separate from your dry kit while travelling.
Hydration is still important during winter sessions but water bottles tend to get cold in the boat. Taking in lots of chilled fluid will lower your temperature. Insulated bottles, such as the Polar Bottle, mean you can take warm drinks on your outing (Ribena is a winter favourite). In summer you can fill one with an iced sports drink as a second bottle, to keep your extra fluid chilled for the second half of your outing.
When it’s really cold it would be great to have a hot water bottle in the boat with you… so why not do it? Mini hot water bottles are perfect for tucking into your lycra to keep your lower back warm (and help avoid injury). Just make sure it’s not in direct contact with your skin and you’ll enjoy the benefit throughout your session. Once you are warm enough pass it down to your cox and you’ll soon be their favourite rower.
When the water is frozen and it’s just too cold to go out, cross-training will break up the monotony of long ergo sessions. Consider which activities are safe to do on snow and ice.
If all else fails, snowball fights are a good way to get your rowers active. Even if rowers aren’t famed for their throwing accuracy, Rounders England have provided some useful snowball throwing tips to give you the advantage over your crewmates.
Leave a comment to share your favourite piece of kit or secret tip to staying warm on the water…