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.
David Oliver, whose event is the 110-meter hurdles, likes to simulate what he calls the "critical zone" of his race—the part where the race will be won or lost. He skips the starting sprint and the finishing kick and runs four separate times through a course of 10 hurdles, some set at lower-than-usual height. That mimics the race without putting too much stress on his body, says Koop. If you're training for a 5K race, for example, you can run three 1-mile segments: the first three fourths of each mile at race pace and the final quarter mile very easy.
Smart, the fencer, prepares for competition by sparring with as many as 10 teammates in a training session. That gives him practice against a variety of opponents. (You can apply the same wisdom to your own workout by changing your routine regularly, tackling different terrain or a different weight machine, say.) Smart, says Koop, is "trying to be adaptive to any situation." That's a skill that comes in handy outside the arena, too.