6 Tips to Train Like a Professional Athlete
Ever wonder how your exercise routine stacks up against what the professionals do? Sure they might have access to more resources than you do, but a little knowledge goes a long way. The following insights can help you incorporate the best of the professionals’ training habits into your own fitness plan, making the most of your potential while minimizing the risk for injury. Remember to consult a physician before starting an exercise regimen.
1. Periodize your training. Most sports have one season, and the rest of the year is spent in training periods of varying intensity and activities. The New York Giants, for example, spend their summer in training camp, where they’re doing very sports-specific exercises. During football season, the Monday and Tuesday workouts after the games are less intense. The players’ workouts ramp up in intensity throughout the week as the games get closer.
In the off-season, the players are usually following some kind of general fitness routine, playing other sports such as golf. They don’t play one sport at full intensity for 12 months straight, and neither should you. Varying the intensity of your routine and not doing the same thing every day will help maximize your potential and minimize the risk of injury.
2. Build recovery into your plan. One thing we often see in recreational athletes is that they push themselves to go, go, go, and are reluctant to build rest into their workout plans. Whereas professionals get in shape to play a sport, weekend warriors play a sport to get in shape, and they’re afraid of losing progress if they slow it down. However, rest doesn’t have to mean that you’re just sitting on the couch. It just means that you’re giving your body a chance to recover from all the hard work you’ve been doing. When you think about the energy it takes to train on top of an 8 hour day at school or a 12 hour day at work, the need for rest is probably even higher for the lay person than for the professional.
3. Fuel your body. Eating in the 30-45 minute window immediately following your workout gives you the best chance at optimal recovery. Professional athletes have a support staff that make sure their sports shake is ready for them on the sidelines or on the course. Most of us don’t have that, but you can educate yourself about when and what you should be eating to both prepare for your next workout and sustain yourself in the current one. Once you have that knowledge, it can make a real difference in terms of how well you do and how you feel afterwards. If you aren’t sure where to start, a consultation with a licensed nutritionist, especially one who specializes in nutrition for athletes, can help get you started on the right path.
4. Set a goal—even if it’s just to enjoy yourself. Think about what you’re trying to achieve in a workout. Most athletes have a purpose to each routine; they’re either building strength or sports-specific skills, or they’re building endurance. A runner, for example, might have one run for endurance, one to work on mechanics, one to work on speed, and so on.
At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with your exercise time having no purpose other than pleasure. We all lead busy lives with a million demands, so if you want to get on a bike and read a magazine, you shouldn’t feel like you always have to push yourself to the same levels that a professional athlete would.
5. Consider investing in good gear. You don’t need a high-end training facility like the professionals use to get a good workout. However, you do need the appropriate gear for your sport, like a good pair of running shoes or a bike that fits you well. You don’t have to spend a million bucks, but an investment in the right equipment can both help reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance in your sport.
6. Listen to your body. Professional athletes have an innate ability to tune into their body, so they know if something’s wrong. They also have a training room available to them where they can come and say, “My back hurts, my knee hurts,” etc., and get it taken care of. If you’re having pain, don’t wait until it’s killing you to get help. Make an appointment and see a healthcare professional as soon as possible, preferably with an orthopedic or sports specialist.
Polly de Mille is the coordinator of Performance Services at The Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist, and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach.
Theresa Chiaia is a doctor of physical therapy and the section manager at The James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has guided athletes of all levels, from the recreational athlete, student athlete to the professional athlete along the road to recovery and a successful return to competition.