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With the vast numbers of fitness blogs and advice columns, it’s easy to get distracted by the minutia of working out and fail to remember some of the basic elements of a personal fitness plan. Whether you’re an expert training for competition or a novice that’s just learning the ropes, ensuring that you do the following will pay off:


Plan a nutrition strategy

Successful long distance runners plan out exactly what they’ll eat and at what point of the race they’ll consume it. Whether you’re running long distance, doing sprint training or just hitting the weights, think about what you’re eating and how it impacts your performance. Experiment with different food sources, portions and meal structure to see what works best for you.


Learn from someone smarter than you

A quick Google search will find millions of blogs related to working out. Read a few and learn from the successes and failures of others. Apply their lessons to your routine.


Stretch constantly

As you age, the need to stretch out your muscles drastically increases. You lose the elasticity of youth and injuries become more likely. Dedicate yourself to a daily stretching routine. The complexity of this routine isn’t as important as its consistency—start by spending 2 minutes each morning and evening loosening up your legs, shoulders and back. This will increase your overall flexibility. Before your workout, do some dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles and help prevent injury.


Stay hydrated

Dehydration is the bane of athletes. The key to staying hydrated is quite simple—drink a ton of fluids (caffeine and alcohol excluded). While you should be sure to drink plenty of water during and after your workouts, the key to being hydrated during exercise is gulping water well before you exercise. It takes at least an hour for fluids to work their way into your muscles, so if you’re thirsty when you start a workout, it’s probably too late to properly hydrate. That doesn’t mean you should cut your workout, just that you need to take note and plan properly next time around.


Compete against yourself

Odds are that no matter what exercise you’re doing or race you’re running, there is someone somewhere that does it better, faster or heavier. Competing against others can be disappointing and fruitless. The key is to keep track of how you perform and push yourself to do better every time out. Maybe you take a notepad to the gym with you and track the weight and reps for each exercise and try to improve by a certain number of pounds or reps each week. Personally, I prefer a more informal method. I have a five-song playlist I listen to when I run. My goal is to run as far away from my house before the playlist ends. Each week I try to go one block or one mailbox further.

Exercise should be an important and enjoyable part of your life. It addition to keeping you healthy and extending your lifespan, it should also make you feel good about yourself—via a runner’s high, the pump your muscles get after lifting, or just the way you look in the mirror. Don’t let ignorance or discouragement keep you from taking the steps to make yourself a better man.

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