Whatever your activity; whether you run, bike, play tennis, skate or climb, you’ll never get full body fitness from doing just one sport. It’s like working out by doing just one exercise at a gym: Some muscles and ranges of motion would get stronger, and others would be neglected, leaving you physically off-balance.
If you’re a serious recreational athlete, the type of dry-land training used by elite athletes can help you get into the most well-rounded shape of your life. Here’s how to create an individualized program modeled like those used by elite athletes.
First, write down a full list of your strengths and weaknesses. You might have strong legs, so you’re at the top of the pack in a road race with a lot of climbing. But your arms and shoulders may be weak, so you’re not as slick with bike handling, which keeps your results from ranking even higher. You may play basketball or volleyball, but a weak core limits the power of your shots. One of the things that can hold you back is pacing yourself so you don’t run out of energy during a long race or activity. Give priority to the elements that need the most work by writing them down in order.
Next, plan your “peak” time. Elite athletes might choose a premier event like the Tour de France to be at the peak of their physical conditioning. You can choose a specific event or a time period, like Labor Day at the end of summer, to peak. A subliminal benefit of this is that it provides a goal, which always inspires more motivation than vague open-ended training.
Plan your progression from the present moment to the planned peak. This is called “periodization,” a staple of any organized training program. It breaks the conditioning period into a series of cycles, starting with the overall start-to-finish cycle, then a “phase” cycle in which you accomplish smaller goals, such as developing more endurance so you can make it up a hard hill without slowing down or getting out of breath. Each phases should last about a month and should be progressively more difficult. That will help you move toward your overall goal while eliminating your weaknesses.
Then there are the “mini cycles” that keep everything interesting. These should last about a week or more and often consist of working on one or two muscle or coordination weaknesses, making them stronger. Give muscles a chance to recover before concentrating on them again. During a mini cycle, you may choose to add more poundage to every exercise in your dry-land resistance program, or work on pushing your heart rate up a little higher until your body comfortably adjusts to the new level of exertion.
Writing everything down will help with both progress and motivation. It’s preparing a detailed guide that gives you a path to follow.
Write down your training program over the entire periodization cycle, complete with daily and weekly sport training and dry-land exercises. But remember, nothing should be written in stone. Your body may respond faster or slower to different parts of the program than scheduled; adjust that by giving more priority to the areas that seem slower to respond. Include rest and recovery days as part of your training program. The most important thing to remember is not to overtrain. That’s when you consistently exercise too hard, wearing out muscle or connective tissue. It then must then thoroughly recuperate before further gains can be made; a process that can take months..
Your “bible” over the periodization cycle is your workout diary, which is separate from your scheduled training program. Your schedule may tell you what to do, but your workout diary records what you’ve done. Write down details of every exercise session or activity, which gives you a permanent record of how your body responds to an organized training program. Just like elite athletes, you can improve your physical condition to the top of your potential.