How To Move Beyond Average Fitness - Preparing for Competition

It's important to build a solid base of fitness before progressing to the next level of training. But what comes after basic training? Learn how to move from base miles to competition level fitness.

Build a Strong Fitness Base

side plank for core fitness
side plank for core fitness. Getty Images

One of the simplest concepts in training for endurance sports, such as running or cycling, is that it's important to build a solid base of fitness before progressing to the next level of training. Most endurance athletes know the value of base miles that build endurance with long, slow, steady exercise sessions. They put in hours of easy miles of endurance training and start a basic weightlifting routine. They feel fit and ready for the next increase in training.

But what comes next?

This is often when athletes turn to their coaches or trainers for the answer. But what if you don't have a coach? Many recreational athletes become confused during this transition from basic training to competition level fitness. They often start doing too much too soon, or fail to add the intensity that will create real results.

So exactly what should you do after basic training?

This is the time to work on sports-specific skills, efficiency, and power, without losing your endurance. Here are four important steps to build upon base fitness and get ready for competition.

Add High Intensity Intervals or Hill Workouts

High Intensity Intervals
Add High Intensity Intervals. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Add High Intensity Interval Training

Interval training for your sport will build your muscular power and increase your lactate threshold (LT) and VO2 Max.

One simple way to start interval training is to add a hill workout once per week. You can run or cycling hills, rest on the way down and repeat the interval. Each week you should plan your interval to be a little longer and faster, but with the same amount of rest between repeats.

Train on hills that are long and gradual (perhaps a 5% grade), rather than short and steep. The distance should be long enough to allow you to add 1 to 2 minutes of climbing each week.

Early in the season, these will not be all-out efforts. Your rating of perceived exertion should be about 15 to 16. (This is equivalent to about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10). Your climbing speed and pace should be steady the entire hill. If you find you are slowing down or speeding up at the end, you need to adjust your pace.

Here's a sample 6-week hill training plan:

  • Week 1 : Perform 4, 2-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.
  • Week 2 : Perform 4, 3-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.
  • Week 3 : Perform 4, 4-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.
  • Week 4 : Perform 3, 6-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.
  • Week 5 : Perform 3, 7-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.
  • Week 6 : Perform 3, 8-minute hill climbs with 2 minutes rest between each.

Also See: Explosive Exercise Training Tips

Add Sports-Specific Skills and Drills

Sports-Specific Drills
Sports-Specific Drills.

During base fitness and endurance training you may not have been working on specific sports skills and drills, but this is critical to high-level sports performance. After your base mileage is complete, your body is perfectly prepared to fine-tune sports skills and mental focus.

Sports skills training requires isolating specific movements and practicing them over and over until they become second-nature and then adding them together in one coordinated, flowing movement. Examples include practicing cornering or riding in a pack for cyclists, balance training or plyometric drills for runners, shooting free throws for basketball players, or practicing transitions for triathletes. The number of sport-specific drills is endless, but if you use these drills to target your weaknesses you may improve your performance substantially.

Improve Your Mental Fitness with Sports Psychology Tips

sports psychology
sports psychology.

Mental Skills Training

The mind is as much of a part of excelling in a sport as the body. Many elite athletes rely on sports psychology techniques, skills and tools to get a mental advantage over the competition and learn how to improve their focus. If you haven't tried any mental skills training, start here: How To Use Imagery and Self-Hypnosis.​

Also See:

Maintain Your Endurance

Running. Photo (c) Tyler Stableford / Getty Images

Maintain Endurance Training

Up until now, you have likely been performing endurance training that included long, steady, easy efforts on fairly flat terrain. It's important to continue your endurance training 1 to 2 times per week, but now is the time to increase your endurance training pace. Increase your pace by increasing your cadence (rpms) on the bike and increase your foot speed during a run.

Perform your endurance training over terrain that is similar to that of the events you plan to enter. If the course is flat, train on the flats. But if the course is hilly, even your endurance training should be done on hills. Your effort level will be far less than on race day, but your muscles and your mind will be prepared for the course and you will simply increase your intensity accordingly.

You will also want to add some high intensity sprints at the end of your endurance training to simulate the final efforts during competition also known as the "final kick." During the last 5 to 15 minutes of your training, gradually increase your speed and pace. Maintain the effort through the finish and then cool down completely before resting.

These tips can help you move from basic training to the next level of fitness and ultimately help you peak for races or events in your future.