Key elements to improve your fitness level

Make sure you keep track of your training and progress; quantifiable results will help motivate you.
Random training produces random results. You may get faster, you may get slower, or you may make no progress at all. In order to increase your fitness level a few basic and key elements need to be in place. These elements are crucial to your athletic success and should be considered in designing your plan.


The first element is progression. Your body reacts to a stressor (workout), recovers and adapts to that stressor in the form of increased strength, speed, endurance or power. If you apply the same stress load week after week, you wont progress.

This is intuitive in regards to endurance; you have to increase mileage or duration each week in order to reach your race goal. Strength, power, and speed work require a similar progression. You must add greater stress loads each week and recover, in order to move forward.

If you add too much stress too quickly, or with inadequate recovery, youll overload your system and degrade your performance rather than increase it. A gradual progression in stress load is the next key element.

Gradual increase

In considering weekly increase of total stress load or volume, try not to increase more than 10 percent with a goal of roughly six to eight percent. Weekly volume includes intensity and duration. Its also important to note that an increase in intensity will require greater recovery time even if duration stays the same.

As intensity comes up, volume should come down. This progression may seem slow, but even a one percent increase in fitness per week is enormous progress throughout the season.

Quantify your training

Lastly, quantify your training and progress. If your goal is simply to complete a race, you should only be concerned with endurance. A steady increase in duration or mileage will get you to your goal. Strength, speed, or power intervals should be similarly quantified.

Each week gradually increase the number, duration, or intensity of your intervals. A coach can help you determine which workouts and when they are best performed throughout the season. Quantifiable results will motivate. Often athletes are unaware that they are making any progress at all. Make sure you write your plan down so you can see your progression.

Monthly field tests are another way to quantify progress. After a rest day record your average heart rate, speed, and distance over a 30-minute time trial. Try to keep the test conditions as consistent as possible.

Rest and recovery should be quantified as well. Make sure you reduce your volume every fourth week to ensure complete recovery both physically and mentally. Generally, I dont train my athletes hard for more than three days in a row without a rest or recovery day.

With multi-sport athletes, the various demands of each sport can be used to balance your plan. An example would be swimming the day after a hard run to give your body a rest from impact. Its important to note that your body is weaker after a workout and only gets stronger if it recovers properly. Keep a log of your sleep, resting heart rate and stress levels to indicate signs of overreaching or overtraining.

Overloading, overreaching and overtraining

Overloading is part of the normal training process. It simply means increasing the stress on your body to cause adaptation to the stress. Its typical to feel short-term fatigue with overload. Overreaching occurs when you continue to train at abnormally high loads, or increase them for about two weeks.

Performance noticeably decreases and fatigue becomes longer lasting, but with a few days rest its quickly reversible. If you ignore overreaching, you enter the third stage: overtraining, which can take months to recover from.

By incorporating these elements into your training plan youll not only get faster, youll reduce your risk of injury. Im often able to decrease athletes overall volume and produce greater results through more focused training and increased recovery. Remember to place a greater emphasis on quality of training versus quantity.

Matt Russ coaches and trains athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), and is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit for more information or e-mail him at

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