Athletes are always training for something. Find your something — and that doesn't necessarily have to be a race. Having that deadline allows you to structure your training using a pro strategy called periodization. Think of it as a super specific scheduling method that gets you fit, fitter, fittest at precisely the right time to meet your goal (the Olympic trials, or maybe your best friend's wedding). A short-term plan might entail three weeks of increasing workout intensity followed by a taper, or down week, that allows muscles to recover and results to set in, says Andrew Kastor, a onetime competitive runner and current coach of the Asics Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California. That brings us to another term to think about when structuring your training: progressive overload. "It means making each workout push you a bit farther than you've gone before," says strength and conditioning coach Martin Rooney, founder of Training for Warriors and former speed coach for the New York Giants. "You add a little weight to the bar, or you run a bit faster, and you change your body." A good trainer or class instructor builds periodization and progressive overload into the workouts, so you're doing it without realizing it. No coach? No problem.
Try it: Apply this formula from Kastor to any cardio or strength program: Increase intensity by 10 percent each week for three weeks. Let's say you typically jog 5 miles. For Week 1, go 5.5 miles, which is 10 percent farther; if you usually lift 7-pound weights, up it to 8s that first week. Then for Week 2, dial it up 10 percent more, and again for Week 3. When you hit Week 4, you get a breather: Scale back to your base numbers (5 miles, 7 pounds). You can repeat the four-week plan with one caveat: Make your base intensities higher the next cycle.