Train Like an Athlete
By Marni Rakes
Do you find it hard to use the word "athlete" when referring to yourself as a fit individual? Typically women who begin an exercise or weight loss program exercise at a different intensity compared to an athlete and therefore, rarely use the word "training" when describing a workout session. Even if you are exercising in order to participate in an upcoming Iron Girl event, you should never compare your fitness routine to the women winning their age groups at the races.
When you see an athlete training specifically for a race, it is common to think that all athletes strive to compete and win. As a fitness enthusiast, have you ever hesitated signing up for a race because you thought you would never win and you just hoped you didn't come in last? Sadly, many women, who love to exercise, pass on the opportunity to sign up for Iron Girl events due to the fear that they would need to train at an uncomfortable intensity in order to finish an event.
In many textbooks and exercise manuals, physical activity refers simply to keeping the body in motion. Activities such as mowing the lawn, taking a brisk walk or playing in the park are a few of the many physical activities that involve increases in metabolism and muscle contractions. Because people will exercise harder than they perform daily activities, it is likely that you are inclined to use the word exercise, over physical activity, when talking about a spin or aerobics class.
Exercise is simply a subcategory of physical activity and refers to structured activity in order to improve cardio respiratory fitness. Although athletes appear to have a little more agility, skill and speed compared to the normal fitness enthusiast, it is very possible to train like an athlete, no matter your fitness level. Training like an athlete not only controls weight, but also improves cardio health, endurance, muscle strength, respiration and flexibility.
If you are a woman exercising on a daily basis, do not be afraid to use the word "training" when talking about your exercise routine. Rather than exercising on the treadmill for an hour, think of your workout as an opportunity to train specifically for an upcoming event. Stop going through the motions of doing the same thing each day and start feeling the rewards of challenging your body by training like an athlete.
How to train like an athlete:
1) Weight training- Increase your weight (free weights or machine) by 5 lbs every two weeks. If you normally perform two sets of 15 repetitions (reps) start performing three sets of 15 reps. If you normally perform three sets of 15 reps, increase your weight by 5 lbs and perform two sets of 15 at the heaver weight. If you currently steer clear of the weight room, start weight training (two sets of 15 reps) two to three times per week.
2) Establish an effective core routine - Reduce the number of standard crunches that are performed on the floor and instead, start using equipment to challenge the core. The abdominal region is the foundation of balance and overall strength. A weak core equals a weak body. Work all areas of the core by using the Bosu, stability ball, captain chair, decline bench, hand weights or abdominal crunch machine. Instead of performing a high number of repetitions, an effective core routine will "burn" the abs at around 20- 30 repetitions (not 50-100 reps) and only two to three sets. Also, don't forget the back! A strong core requires that you strengthen the lower back.
3) Perform intervals - If you are doing the same distance and intensity on a daily basis, you will receive the same results. No matter if you are swimming, cycling or running, add a few 1-2 min. intervals, at a faster pace (above 80 percent max heart rate), with a 1- 2 min. recovery period at around 65-70 percent max HR (or about 6-7 on a perceived exertion scale). Adding five to 10 intervals into your current training routine will not only improve your current level of fitness, but you will burn more calories in a shorter period of time. Start with five intervals of 1 min. and gradually build to eight to 10 intervals. Once you reach eight to 10 intervals, start increasing the volume of the intervals from 1 minute to 2 minutes (don't forget to increase the volume of the recovery as well!). If you aren't into running, try fast walking on a treadmill and bump up the incline (rather than speed) for your intervals.
4) Sign up for a race and stick to a training program - Give yourself six to 12 weeks to train for a race or event. Not only will you hold yourself accountable to a training schedule, but you will also see yourself getting stronger and faster over time.
5) Train consistently and focus on quality - Athletes work out most days of the week. However, no workout is alike. Be sure to incorporate a variety of workouts into your weekly schedule by including; a long session to focus on endurance (60+ min), a short and intense workout to raise the HR (30-45 min), a tempo workout at a moderate intensity (60-75 min), a weight training workout to build strength and reduce your risk of injury (20-40 min) and an easy workout that serves as activity recovery (30-60 min). Don't be afraid to try different types of activity, such as swimming with a team, attending a circuit training class, running on a track or joining a spin class. The more variety in your workout the more likely you will avoid burnout or boredom from your training routine.