Practice speed. You might think that if you were training for a race, you'd always train at your racing pace. Not so. Every other week, Kastor runs three 2-mile circuits of a lake at a faster pace than she'll run in the main event. The payoff, says Toby Tanser, a New York-based running coach and author of the forthcoming More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way, is that when you're actually competing, your race pace will seem easy. Tanser recommends starting out with one speed workout a week. "Just run a little faster than your usual workout—not at your maximum pace," he says.
Speed training isn't just for runners, either: Rower Anna Goodale, whose event is 2,000 meters long, says her favorite workout includes repetitions of rowing hard for 250 meters, then backing off to an easier pace. Carrie Johnson will kayak for 500 meters in her event in the Olympics, but her favorite workouts are 200-meter sprints in which she's working harder than she will in the race. Studies suggest that this kind of interval training can burn more fat and boost the metabolism more than working out at a slower pace, as well.
Build explosive power. Mike Day, a BMX racer, needs to rocket out of the starting gate and accelerate after landing jumps. That's why he—along with Rogers—is a fan of plyometrics. These exercises are helpful for any kind of sport in which you change direction quickly or require bursts of power, including basketball and tennis, says Greg Romero, Day's coach. Day likes three moves in particular: the box jump (he jumps, tucking knees to chest, and lands on a box as tall as 50 inches), the jump squat (he squats and does the kind of vertical leap you'd see in a basketball game), and the step-off (with one foot on a curb or platform, knee bent, he pushes off into a jump and lands on either the same foot or both feet). Romero says beginners should focus on two-legged exercises and try low platforms at first. Jumping rope is a great way to get your muscles and joints primed for these exercises, too.
Track your progress. Roach sets Saturday morning aside for a specific lifting workout and loves seeing if she can beat her record of the previous week, even if it's just by a pound or two. "Have a plan, and track your progress," says Cosgrove. He records his clients' every workout: how many sets and repetitions of each exercise, then how much weight they lift and how long the rest period was. Even if you don't go into that much detail, many people find keeping some kind of workout log motivates them to keep exercising.
Practice competing. If you're going to try a road race, triathlon, or even a round-robin tennis tournament, you'll want to be prepared for what the event will actually be like. You can never mimic exactly the conditions of the main event (nor do you want to, given the strain it can put on your body), but practicing certain elements can enhance your performance. Triathlete Julie Ertel likes to rehearse the transitions she'll have to make during her race, for example. She starts off with a quick swim, then runs to her bike and dons her equipment for a short ride, then quickly gets into her running gear and runs for less than a mile. The whole thing takes about 12 minutes, and she repeats the sequence three times, with some rest and a drink in between. "It's very race-realistic," she explains. Even beginners benefit from repetitive practice like this, says Graham Wilson, a Colorado-based triathlon coach.