The Greatest Fitness Tips. Ever.
Our all-time best fitness advice, all in one place.
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Three decades ago, endurance training consisted of pretty much one workout: all-out, all the time. Then fitness went mainstream, CEOs started wearing spandex, and “sports scientist” became a legitimate career goal. The result? Periodization, VO2 max, functional strength, and more. Herewith, a highly concentrated dose of Outside training advice distilled from 30 years of health-and-fitness expertise.
Get a Routine
Embrace daily rituals, whether it's making coffee just so or walking the dog. Routines can lower blood pressure and slow heart rate.
Learn from Other Athletes
“The Kenyan runners who always win marathons never jog,” says pro soccer player LANDON DONOVAN. So Donovan trains at 80 percent of his maximum heart rate until he's exhausted, teaching his body “recovery endurance” through a sequence of sprints and rests. Over time, you'll still need to give your body a break to optimize gains (see Train with a Plan, below), but this ability to push yourself to the brink of collapse and recover quickly is essential for top aerobic athletes.
Turn Big Challenges into Small Goals
“Think only about the present and focus on micro-goals,” says ultramarathoner DEAN KARNAZES. “Just make it to that stop sign up ahead; OK, now make it to the tree up the street; and so on.”
Find Your Lactate Threshold
What's that? LT is the point at which lactic acid accumulates in your blood faster than your body can process it—causing a drop in performance (read: pain). Training below your LT builds aerobic capacity. Training above it builds speed. How to determine your LT:
- Warm up, 10 minutes.
- With a heart-rate monitor on, run or cycle on a flat course as fast as you can for 30 minutes.
- Your LT is your average heart rate for that period.
Protect Your Knees
By doing nothing. A lot of blown ACLs could be avoided by simply staying down and resting after a fall. A stretched ACL is easily torn
on subsequent falls.
To Get Faster, You Must Push Yourself
“A runner churning out seven-minute miles will never know how quickly his arms and legs have to move to run a six-minute mile. You can't practice by running slow.” —MARK VERSTEGEN, Athletes' Performance founder, author of the Core Performance series
Train with a Plan
Here's how to reach peak shape for any sport with one 12-week program.
FIRST MONTH: Complete a full-body weight-lifting circuit twice weekly. Do your cardio workouts on three other days, going long once. Each week, increase the duration of the long day's workout by 10 percent. During the fourth week, cut the workout load by 50 percent.
SECOND MONTH: Follow the first month's plan, but cut back to lifting once a week and add another day of cardio. During the eighth week, which is for recovery, cut everything in half.
THIRD MONTH: Stop lifting and use that day for cross-training. Ramp up speed by completing one cardio day each week with intervals at your intended race pace. Your long cardio day remains the same for the first two weeks, and for weeks 11 and 12 you cut its duration in half. During week 12, taper by doing only 50 percent of week 11's work.
Lift. Lower weights slowly. It helps train your muscles to absorb shock and control your descent in real-world action.
Hydrate. For workouts lasting one hour or less, drink only water. For longer outings, bring a sports drink with carbs.
Relax. Don't try to make up for missed workouts by doing two long days back to back. If you miss a day, just let it go.
Maintain Base Fitness
“Never get so out of shape that getting back into shape would be a monumental effort,” says alpinist CONRAD ANKER. “I do two things every year: climb El Capitan and do a marathon-length run. They give me goals, and I train accordingly.”
“A competition is just to show off how hard you've been playing,” says freestyle kayaking champ ERIC JACKSON, who credits the fun factor for his success.
Schedule Recovery Time
You're not slacking off; you're recovering. Take two days off each week, an easy week every month, and a month of active rest—like surfing or riding a cruiser—per year.
Cross-Train with the Right Sport
Runners: Cycling maintains leg strength and cardio fitness while giving you a break from impact on your joints.
Cyclists: Running and rowing develop strength in the torso, quads, and glutes.
Climbers: Calisthenics use body-weight resistance to build strength without adding bulk.
Swimmers: Rowing builds key strength in the shoulders, arms, legs, and torso.
Kayakers: Swimming works the arms, shoulders, and torso, improving power and range of motion.
Mix It Up
“Strength and endurance are of equal importance, so if you only have limited time, do a little of both.” —MARK ALLEN, six-time Kona Ironman champ
You Need More Than Calcium
Bones weaken if you do only low-impact activities. Strengthen your skeleton by mixing in high-impact workouts like running, jumping rope, or playing ball sports.
Work Your Core
A weak trunk can cause chronic back pain and other torso problems. The prevention: crunches and planks (brace yourself on forearms and toes, body rigid like a plank).
Build Functional Strength
“When you sit down on an exercise machine, with your back against a chair, you tend to shut down the rest of your body,” warns LAIRD HAMILTON. “You want strength that you can actually control and apply.” It's called functional strength, and it dictates the way you should lift weights. Here's our complete workout. Do Group 1 once a week. Two days later, do Group 2. Concentrate on smooth, controlled lifts throughout.
Group 1 (10–12 reps)
(a) Dumbbell flies lying on a stability ball
(b) Barbell squats
(c) Wide-grip pull-ups
(d) Medicine-ball chops
(e) Standing dumbbell pullovers
(f) Dumbbell lunges
(g) Standing bent-over rows with hand on
a stability ball
(h) Upright barbell rows
Group 2 (25 reps)
(a) Stability-ball push-ups
(b) Stability-ball crunches
Don't Overdo It
Unless you're winning prize money, allow six months between marathons or Ironman triathlons.
Listen to Your Heart
It will help you avoid overtraining during intervals. Use a two-to-one work-to-recovery ratio. Let's say your intervals last two minutes each. After the first one, recover for one minute and check your heart rate. The first time your heart rate fails to drop to this number on subsequent intervals, you're done.
Stretching Is No Joke
OK, the scorpion pose is a joke. But daily yoga or stretching improves flexibility and muscle endurance.
From the Vault The Life & Times of Outside
On Second Thought…
Wow. As much as the exceedingly wise counsel here makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, we've also spouted some really bad health-and-fitness advice over the years. For example, the time we tendered this moronic little gem: “Exercising above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate yields little or no additional cardiovascular benefit” (7/86). D'oh! But wait, it gets much, much worse. Somewhere among the six cigarette ads in our June '83 Best of Summer issue, you'll find this: “Tanning shouldn't inspire guilt…. Relax. Enjoy the heat. You're going to look great.” But don't forget your “tanning product”: “Choose a label showing someone with a tan you especially like, then buy that one.” OK! And those strange new “SPF” numbers on some bottles? “Some mathematically inclined people pay attention to them.” But in our defense, way back in the fall of '79, we had the good sense to hold up for ridicule Chicago physician Allan Charles, who opined that jogging could make a woman's insides fall out. “Their pelvic muscles are too weak,” said the good doctor. “They're perforated by the vagina.”
Don't Blame Food
“Thinking that carbs make you fat is wrong,” says CHRIS CARMICHAEL, founder and head coach of Carmichael Training Systems. “You're fat because you're not exercising. To simply blame a food type for being fat is bullshit.”
Keep Your Head in the Game
Mental fitness can be just as important as the physical sort. Surfer KELLY SLATER says his record seventh world title was due largely to the personal growth he achieved from healing strained family relationships. “I'm relaxed as I've ever been,” he said prior to winning.
Hit the Sack
Skimping on sleep triggers a decrease in human growth hormone (HGH), which can cause muscles to wither and fat to build up. It's crucial for everyone to get a full eight hours of sleep each night, and you can use an afternoon nap to reach that eight-hour goal.
Understand What Motivates You
“I don't know if it's so much winning but the fear of losing,” LANCE ARMSTRONG famously said before winning the Tour de France in 2003. “I don't like to lose. I just despise it.”
- Exercise five days a week.
- Get antioxidants from whole foods, not supplements.
- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly.
- Get a flu shot.
Listen to Your Mother
Straighten up. Balance, coordination, and flexibility all begin with good posture. When standing erect, you should be able to draw a line from your ear to your heel, with the line bisecting your shoulder, passing through your hip, and grazing the back of your knee.
Stock Your Travel Kit
Keep this in your Dopp kit, and hope you don't need it:
IBUPROFEN and aspirin for sore muscles.
ACETAMINOPHEN (Tylenol) for pain from viral illnesses (colds, flu) and injuries involving bleeding.
COLD TABLETS containing pseudoephedrine to clear up sinus congestion without causing drowsiness.
ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP and hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds.
SHOT GLASS, in case none of the above works.
Have More Friends!
“Energy makes people beautiful,” says JACK LALANNE. “You don't want to be close to someone who's dead and crapped out all the time, who's bitching that it's a lousy fucking world and 'Christ, my ulcers are killing me.'”
- Lift weights to build muscle. This raises your resting metabolic rate, the energy you burn to keep your body (and muscles) alive.
- Eat often, approximately every three hours. Eating frequent, small meals is linked with lower body-fat percentage.
- Avoid calorie-dense foods, like sweets and dried fruits. Eat more foods with high levels of water and fiber, like raw vegetables and whole grains.