Top Workout Tips from Pro Athletes to You

Leverage TOP athlete’s key workout lessons to boost your fitness

I was world or nationally ranked in 3 sports while working as a professional tech investor, often 80-100 hours a week. Here I share with you surprises the pros know that you can use. I used to think recovery meant laying on the couch until I trained for an Ironman. I couldn’t believe “active recovery” meant to go on another run! There are surprises around each turn with the pros.

Mark Allen was a professional Ironman, rarely on the podium, struggling with injuries, and then he went to trainer Phil Maffetone who prescribed slowing down. Slowing down to train for a race? Yes! Like Mark Allen, before he met “Maf”, most of us work out at too high of a heart rate, and so we are not building aerobic capacity.

In this blog, I share how to make your workout strategy more targeted and less stressful.

I share mental frameworks to help you get the most out of your workouts.
  1. Signal your body and mind.
  2. Consistent Self Care during workouts.
  3. Showing up will get you far.
Then, I share pro strategies you can implement:
  • Moving averages – A day is man-made
  • Periodization – Ebbs and Flows in days, weeks, seasons
  • Heart Rate: SLOW DOWN to Improve FASTER.

Part I: Mental Frameworks

Signal vs noise of workouts

Signaling your body and mind is more important than any single workout. Yes, thinking about your workout, your form, your goals, and the outcome is more important than any single workout.

My friend (a personal trainer) was training for his first ironman. He had a good base of fitness and his training was going well. He entered the final 3 months before the race and started to increase his training volume. Then he was hit by a car while on his bike. He was hospitalized, and once released was told he had to rest for 3 months. He had so many injuries that needed time to heal. He spent the next 3 months in the bathtub! He rotated from Epson’s salts to ice baths. Meanwhile, he was not preparing for the biggest race of his life, or was he? While in the tub and around the house, he spent those 3 months visualizing the race and even visualizing training each day, even though he was not training. He did some light movement, easy runs, swims, and bike rides the week before the competition, that’s it! Otherwise, he took 3 months off. He completed that ironman. He was even pleased with his time.

I don’t recommend staying indoors for 3 months and then competing in an Ironman. That it can be done frees us from stressing about every workout.

Lessons for you:

  • If you have a base, each workout is not critical
  • Visualizing is powerful
  • Less is more
Consistent self-care even during workouts

Self-care is not just for after your workout. It’s also during your workout. How much water do you need, do you need salt or other supplements? How often? Does your frequency change with the weather? In the previous section, I advised relaxing, not worrying about every workout. Here, I will share that when you work out, taking a little more care of yourself will go a long way.

Even elite athletes lose focus and small things can be their downfall. My running trainer had the US record for 100-mile indoor track. Yes, 100 miles running around a track. That’s 400 times around. Takes a strong character! He taught me to take in salt consistently during long races. Why? Your blood needs a certain sodium level as sodium helps with signals moving throughout our body. So our bodies keep blood sodium percentage within a tight window. When it goes down through perspiration, your body reduces blood volume to raise the sodium percentage. This causes cramps as muscles do not get enough oxygen.

My trainer was attempting to win the 100-mile indoor track world record. At mile 85 he hadn’t had enough salt. His hamstring cramped, slowing him just enough to lose the world record by a hair. He was taking in salt, just not quite enough. He got behind, taking in just a bit less than he needed, so the deficit added up over the miles.

I ran a 50K during the month of February in Arizona, where it was supposed to be in the 70s and ended up in the 90s. Taking in salt won me a spot on the age-group podium because others cramped and faltered. You don’t have to be the fastest. Be the little engine that could! What self-care can you add to workouts to support your goals, even if it seems less spontaneous? For my long runs, I bring salt, water, lip balm and music. I used to bring gels but moved to Keto and now I fast during runs.

Lessons for you:

Keep an easy to access list of the things you learn you need.

  • Don’t stress about each workout, yet know what you need to perform
  • Know how your needs change in different conditions (cold, heat, humidity)
  • Showing up and relaxing

“Once I showed up for a bodybuilding championship and was the only one entered. I won the 2017 AAU North American Championship in Physique for Women overall!” – Emmy Sobieski

The distance between OK and Best is not that far. I used to get stressed about my workouts. I had goals on time, distance, pace, etc. I was so hard on myself, working out even when a blended walk-run would have been better. Then I read about Dean Karnazes.

Dean Karnazes was not always a runner. A burnt-out 30-year-old climbing the corporate ladder in San Francisco, Dean was drunk at a bar for his 30th birthday party. He walks home, has an epiphany, puts on some old sneakers around midnight. He runs to “sober up” and keeps running… 30 miles later. He called his wife to pick him up. Overnight he was reborn from businessman to ultra-runner. He has since run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, as well as the toughest races around the world. While he eats nutritiously at home. On runs, anything goes. He famously orders pizza while running, having the delivery van move next to him as he keeps running. He rolls up a large pizza, all the toppings, and eats on the run! Other times, if he needs water or wants to go to the bathroom, he’ll stop in a convenience store and do what he needs, then continue running.

After reading about Dean I realized that I didn’t need to be a prisoner to my Garmin watch. Movement would build my base. My stress went down and fitness up! Is there a way you can just show up, do a little less, give yourself a break, go DOWN on intensity, and up on consistency?

Lessons For You:

  • Your base fitness is your biggest friend
  • Build your base through movement, which can be broken up, paused, and restarted
  • Play and relaxation allow blood to get nutrients to muscles and improve motivation

Part II: Detailed Strategies

Moving Averages

There is no reason your food intake and calorie burn need to be matched each day. Your workouts do not need to be the same each day, nor does your nutrition. Think about workouts and nutrition in moving averages: the average over any 3-day period.

In past years, I would run 30 miles, come home, and stuff myself to get enough food to match my calorie burn. Eating felt like a chore. I felt sick. My body wanted to rest. My liver was clearing inflammation from my workout. Making it also clear toxins from eating added to the load. Days are just something man made up to follow the sun. A running book I read talked about athletic load and calorie intake in terms of your average over the past 3 days. This freed me. When I raced 50Ks, I stopped eating by noon Friday and didn’t eat until Sunday. This is what our ancestors did. Over a 3-day period, what do you eat? How much have you worked out? This allows for ebbs and flows in life and in ourselves. Now I run hard, take an ice bath, go to sleep, and eat the next day.

Lessons For You:

  • No need to force food or exercise. Relax.
  • Food intake is better thought of over a 3-day average
  • Exercise (or load) is also best thought of in blocks of days
Periodization is Like LEGOS

TOP athletes have annual schedules, with periods of harder and easier work. They call this periodization. There are books full of charts on how to best do this. If the winter has no competitions, they will build their base with more fundamental exercises, then as competition season approaches, they add volume. In the weeks prior to a key race, they add more intensity, then back off just before the race, so they are like a spring ready to explode. Within each month, you have weeks where you increase and weeks where you back off, same within the week.

This is like LEGOS. You have your wide base. You build up higher on that base, maybe you want to back off and widen the base so you can build higher.

This is relevant for weekend warriors with no time to work out during the week. The week can be time for short high intensity lifting, running, crossfit, and weekend for longer runs. If you are building your base with a new goal in mind, choose your weekday exercise to build a new base that supports that goal. You can think of periods as 7 days or 10 or even 14. For instance, I worked in one rest day every 7, but you could do 2 rests, or 3 every 10, etc. Within your period, or cycle, you have advances and lulls.

Lessons For You:

  • Always advancing leads to injury. Advance, retreat, build your base wider.
  • Changing sports or adding a new skill? Back off and build that base first.
  • 2 forward, one back will get you further than 3 forward, zero back.
  • LEGOs: chunk up your seasons, quarters, months and weeks.
Heart Rate: The dirty secret…

The dirty secret among pros is that nearly all amateurs are running too fast. You run just above your aerobic rate, working hard and getting injured instead of fit. Even pros run too fast!

Mark Allen was a professional Ironman, rarely on the podium, placing 6th, 7th, not enough to make a living, and struggling with injuries. Then he went to trainer Phil Maffetone (“Maf”). Maf prescribed slowing down.

Slowing down to train for a race?

Yes! Mark couldn’t believe it. He was walking up hills on his training runs. Mark called his athlete friends. Why did they recommend Maffetone to him? Walking during runs made no sense for a fit Ironman. Friends said stick with it. 6 months later he could power up hills at an extraordinarily low heart rate. He won 6 of the next 10 ironman world championships with far fewer injuries. Maffetone found this method reduces injuries by 60%.

Like Mark Allen, most of us work out at too high a heart rate. It’s fun to go fast! And…

Slowing down is the fastest way to build your aerobic capacity.

Make Maffetone work for you:
  • Your Max Aerobic Heart Rate = 180 – (Your Age)]
  • MINUS 10 if recovering from injuries, illnesses, operations
  • MINUS 5 for starting or inconsistent training, 2 or more colds per year
  • Add 5 if you are over 65, or training consistently with aerobic improvements over two years.
  • Work out at 85% of your Max Aerobic Heart Rate.
  • Now you are ready to train like a pro!

What will you change? Are you surprised how low your MAF number is? Will you stress a little less about your times each day? Will you look at goals over periods? Will you add short intense bursts to the middle of your week? Will you slow down?

About me, Emmy Sobieski, CFA, CNC:

We are all born with different strengths. I was NOT born an athlete. I built an athletic body. It took years. At 39, I was 9th in the US in the World Cup Trials in Dressage (equestrian). At age 51, I was AAU North American Bodybuilding Champion Physique for Women Overall (all ages). Also at age 51, I was silver medalist at the 100 and 400 meter dash at the US Masters Championships. During this time, I worked managing billions, often for 80+ hours a week. Each day was a stepping-stone, one at a time.

I founded My10Min to share leveraged self-care tips (nutrition, resilience, exercise) that fit into busy schedules. We All Have 10 Minutes!

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