One of the challenges with consistent training is keeping it interesting. Cyclists, runners, and triathletes can struggle with boredom when it comes to training on the same old routes, roads, and trails. To combat this problem, professional athletes have long taken advantage of training camps, traveling to a different location for a brief period of time with the specific purpose of training for a sport. I’ve successfully used training camps to supplement my standard training regimen, finding them to be a breath of fresh air from my normal daily grind and a great way to have fun while disguising a lot of hard work. Here are a few tips gathered from my experiences to help you use training camps to keep workouts fresh and take your fitness to a new level.
When I go away to a training camp, I go with one reason: to train the house down. I’ve found that when I go to a different location, it’s much easier to focus on doing nothing except the proverbial train, eat, and sleep. Even though my job as a professional athlete is training, there are always distractions at home. By going away, I create a sense of purpose that is very difficult to duplicate at home. Focusing on my training is easier when I’ve made the effort to plan a trip to a training camp.
Training camps can be as long or short as you’d like. I’ve done everything from short weekend trips to the Texas Hill Country to months away from home. Choose a length of time that’s appropriate for your life, family, vacation limits, and athletic goals. I’ve found that two weeks is a great length of time. In two weeks, I can push myself in training harder than I could at home. By then my body is in need of rest, so it’s time to travel home and rest.
In order to make a fitness gain, you have to create a training overload and then recover. If you’re doing the same training week in and week out, it’s very easy to plateau. A training camp is a great way to introduce a specific block of training that’s out of the ordinary. I find it’s helpful to have a specific block for that camp. For example: I’ve done a cycling-specific camp in Europe and a swimming camp in Florida (as a triathlete, however, I always make sure I keep up my other sports while I’m focusing on that block). When I was in Europe, we’d have a short swim before breakfast, bike all day, and take a short run in the evening before dinner. Though the focus was on cycling, we made sure to keep the other sports going—although in lighter sessions—so we wouldn’t lose our swimming and running fitness during the cycling block.
One of the biggest advantages of a training camp is exposure to new routes, roads, trails, and terrain. If you pick a good location, you’ll find it’s fun to run, ride, and swim in places you’ve never been. Even though pushing on the bike hurts no matter the location of the ride, the adventure and fun of experiencing a new road in a beautiful place tend to hide the pain of hard work.
Although you’ll be working hard, you can still have fun. Make a vacation out of the camp. Go to a location you’ve never been or always wanted to visit and you’ll find the experience all the more enjoyable. Training in Europe, California, or Hawaii can make for great memories.
Plan a trip around your home weather patterns. Northern European professionals have long utilized the warmer climates of the Mediterranean to escape their winter. I’ve used camps to cooler climates (such as Northern Michigan or Colorado) to escape the Texas summer heat.
Training is always more fun with others. I’ve done short stints of training alone, “Rocky style,” but I’ve found that a camp with others is always more fun. Plan your trip with friends and training partners; you’ll have more fun in the process, share great experiences, and have others to commiserate with as the fatigue of the new training load hits.
In planning your camp, your first inclination may be to head for the mountains for their beauty and cool temperatures. Although the mountains offer some of the best cycling and running in the world, be aware that higher altitudes can present challenges if you’re only staying briefly. Physiological adaptations take some time, and it’s very difficult to work hard while training during the first weeks at altitude. If the training is easy enough, then the altitude may not be an issue; however, if you are looking to hammer out hard sessions, you may find this too difficult to accomplish if you have only a week at altitude.
Make sure to spend time properly planning your camp. Doing extra research before you travel will save you time and energy when you’re there. You don’t want to waste days on location trying to find the best routes to bike and trails to run or searching for a local swimming pool.
When you come home from your training camp, realize that you’ve probably pushed yourself much harder than you’re accustomed. Take several recovery days when you return home; get extra rest and just go for short and easy sessions. Don’t stop training; you don’t need time off. Just know that it will take some time for your body to absorb the extra work you’ve done at camp. The worst thing you could do is to go home and try to keep pushing harder.
I understand that, for the majority of people, vacation time is very limited and family obligations are important. For this reason, training camps may not be for everyone. Talk it over with your family to determine whether time away at a training camp is an appropriate option.