To take your training and competition to the next level you need to do more than just put in time, you need to have a plan. Your training program requires constant adjustment throughout the year to avoid plateaux and burnout.
To set yourself up for success, it’s helpful to understand some basic conditioning principles. The following tips help you apply those principles to your training.
1. Proper Nutrition
You need to eat healthy, nutritious food that will fuel your training and avoid sabotaging your training with unhealthy food and drink choices. Regular readers of my blog will know that I gave up alcohol 3 years ago, and it’s been a great help to me reaching my ideal and racing weights, as well as helping me to be the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been. I’ve also given up fizzy juice and drink water (or milk) mostly. 🙂 You don’t have to do this, but (depending on how much alcohol you drink now) a month off the booze could do wonders for you.
Complex carbohydrates are the primary fuel for intense muscular effort, and should be the foundation of your nutrition plan. You are what you eat, so try to eat whole foods (meats, fruit, veg, fish, nuts, dairy) in place of artificial, refined or sugary foods. Feel free to have treats, but try to have them in moderation and opt for healthier options where possible.
2. Interval Work
Steady pace training is good for building a foundation and mileage, but to boost your performance level you need high intensity efforts or speedwork (several 90-second high effort intervals with a two-minute rest between) once a week. Don’t over do it though – high intensity training should be les than a tenth of your weekly total time or distance.
3. Strength Training
Building strength can provide the extra boost of power and endurance you need to set a new personal best. Strength exercises three times a week are enough to build power and mass, and don’t need to take lots of time. A well-planned routine of as little as five exercises can be all you need. Read more about strength training for sport. If you have a limited amount of time you can focus on the 5 most effective strength exercises.
Stretching exercises have also been linked to improved performance in some sports. One study demonstrated a 5% increase in power by increasing hamstring flexibility. The added flexibility appears to lead to better utilization of the quad muscles. So remember to include some basic stretching in your program. More about Flexibility Exercises.
Adequate fluid intake is an extremely important aspect of optimal performance. Research shows that losing as little as two to four percent of your body weight in water can lead to decreases in maximum speed and endurance. Adequate fluid intake means you need to drink about a cup of fluid every 15 minutes or so during exercise. Cold water is absorbed more easily and can help to keep your body temperature a bit lower. More about Hydration.
5. Rest & Recovery
Never underestimate the value of rest to an optimal performance. Overtraining is a significant problem in athletes who have hit a training plateau. Watch for signs of overtraining- listen to your body when it is calling for rest.
6. Follow the Ten Percent Rule
Increasing the intensity, time or type of activity too quickly is one common reason for injuries and decreased performance. To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the ten percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training.
This guideline simply states that you should increase your activity no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, weight lifted and time of exercise.
7. Keep a Training Log
You should monitor your training as well as your resting heart rate and body weight. Since you may be at risk of over training, you can adjust your schedule if waking resting heart rate is 5 beats above normal for two consecutive days. If your body weight is down significantly from one day to the next your may be dehydrated or lacking muscle glycogen repletion. If this is the case, drink more fluids, eat some complex carbohydrates and train at 60% of your max heart rate max. Or take the day off altogether until your weight returns to normal.
I have a weekly and yearly schedule planned around events and challenges I’ve set myself, and I use excel to record my activities. I also use Garmin and Nike plus to record any runs or other stuff I do outside. 🙂
8. Relaxed Breathing
Work on belly breathing. As you grow fatigued during an event, relax your breath and taking deeper breaths instead of gasping faster. Try Yoga, easy swimming or meditation as an addition to your regular training program.
9. Psychological Factors
If competing against others, visualisation is a great way to get an edge on the competition. Mental rehearsal for competition has been shown useful in improving performance in tennis, golf and other sports. It creates a positive attitude and can strengthen muscle memory so your body is more likely to make the correct movements automatically. Because this is like meditation you need a quiet, calm atmosphere in which to practice.
The goal is to imagine in detail every aspect of the performance as it unfolds in a perfect scenario. Think about the sensations and what your feel, see, hear, smell, and taste.
10. Have fun!
Last but not least, have fun! Set yourself goals but make sure they are realistic and achievable. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Consider goals other than time based goals.
See here for where I set other goals and had a great experience at the D33 this year. Set yourself the goal of having fun in an event, run with your heart rate between particular zones, talk to and get to know a bit about as many people as you can.
For the other posts in this series see: