Training camp tips from elite athletes

By Chris Knight | 8 Minute Read

Finding a winter training camp or an off-season block to train somewhere different can be a tricky undertaking. There's so many questions to be answered - When should you go? Where should you go? Who should you go with? What should you take?

Thankfully, we've sought the advice of some of the finest elite athletes with PH in their bottles to answer the who, what, what, where and whens of training camps... 

 

1) What should first timers look for when trying to find a camp that’s right for them?

4 x time Paralympian Claire Cashmore, MBE: I'd ask a few questions of the venue - is there a 25m or 50m pool with lane swimming? Hotel pools are nice but generally the pools are weird shapes, although you could do all your swimming in the open water if it’s warm enough.

Is there good trail running? It’s good to do some running off-road on slightly softer ground, especially if you're increasing your running load.

What are the roads like for bikes? Are the local people patient with cyclists?

Ultra-runner and Performance Coach, Anna-Marie Watson: Bring everything back to one key question - what do you want to achieve on the camp?

Think about your overarching goal and be specific. It might be to learn from the best, focus on a specific skill, train for an A race, escape the weather or urban environment, connect with like-minded people, enjoy the experience of training overseas, or a combination of factors.

Once you’ve decided your reason(s) start reaching out within your sporting community, ask for advice, start research online and engage with any recommended coaches or facilities through social media. You can never ask enough questions!

Brad Williams, pro triathlete and Team PH Captain: Finding a camp that fits in with your training plan from a timing standpoint is key. A location that minimises travel time to/from training is also key, as the training volume is typically quite high, so having extra time to rest/recover rather than travelling is helpful.

 

Brad WilliamsImage: Brad Williams via FinisherPix ©

 

 

Ben Martin, one half of the UK's No. 1 Swimrun team: The camp has got to have the right mix of facilities for the needs of everyone going, and that includes friends and family if they're going along. We have two kids so the only way Rhian [Ben's wife and Swimrun partner] get to train together is to go on holiday. We need lakes, roads and hills. But we also need activities to do with the kids.

Ok, so not all athletes will have this particular problem, but it’s an example of how to maximise the camp for all involved.

Pro triathlete Sarah Lewis: The main thing I'd be careful of is the focus distance - you don't want to go on a long distance Ironman training camp when you're doing sprint and Olympic distance! 

Bellator MMA fighter & two-weight division world champion, Terry Brazier: I think first time 'campers' should look out for a few things when planning camp.

Firstly, the quality of coaching will be important but the coaching advice always sinks in better if your surroundings allow for rest and recovery, so I'd be looking for somewhere with sun, the ocean and food to help promote an active and healthy recovery between sessions.

 

2) What is the ideal time to plan a camp?  

Claire: For me, it's 100% the winter. Training at this time of year is really tough and it’s a lot of long hours. I find after Christmas, January and February can be a bit stale and I think, as much as it’s great to get away for some vitamin D and winter miles, it’s also important from a mental side of things.

I find getting away to a place with no distractions and where the weather is good just gives you that change of stimulus and a bit of a mental boost.

Anna-Marie: From a self-certified 'fair weather athlete' perspective, I find planning a training camp in February or March really kick-starts my season. After battling the British rain, wind and seemingly endless storms over the winter months I find the prospect of a week in warmer climates really appealing.

It’s a metaphorical mental 'carrot' and motivates me to head outdoors for the weekly long run or jump on the turbo for a long session through November, December and January.

Ben: I like camps to build upon my base fitness. I don’t like going to a camp only half-fit, so will ensure that I’ve got a strong base of training in. We tend to plan a camp (or actually a family holiday, where we take our wetsuits, running shoes and lots of PH!) about six weeks before a major race. 

Brad: Typically, the best time is during the 'winter' months if you live in a place with the typical winter weather of short days, lack of sun, rain and, heaven forbid, snow! I typically try to break up the UK winter with a trip back to the US to see family and also spend some solid time out in the sun.

 

Winter runerImage: Andre Morgan via Pexels (copyright free)

 

Sarah: This depends on what you want to get out of the camp. Spring is a good time - you're hopefully not really unfit so can cope well with a camp and the benefits will last until races.

Terry: My camps stagger from 'pre-camps' (i.e. low intensity, high food intake, maximising the amount of knowledge I can take in) to actual 'fight camps' (i.e. focusing on a goal to beat a particular opponent and dieting down to target weight), and then 'post-camps' where I work on weaknesses. 

 

3) What is the biggest mistake athletes make on their first training camp?

Claire: Smashing absolutely everything they do. Yes, you're on camp and it’s great to get some quality work under the belt, but you want to make it through the camp without getting ill, injured or just absolutely shattered. PACE yourself through the first few days. This is even more essential if you've had a long haul flight or jet lag. 

Brad: One thing I hear and see athletes trying to do is going into a camp to get to 'race weight' or lose weight. Training camp is one of the worst times to attempt to cut weight as you need to keep the body fuelled during camp, otherwise you're going to crash and burn. Most people ramp the training volume way up, don't eat properly, and then end up sick or super-fatigued and unable to execute sessions.

Anna-Marie: The biggest mistake is getting completely overexcited on the first couple of days and totally destroying yourself. This easily translates into being too fatigued or getting injured – which both negate the entire point of your training camp. You really don’t want to be watching the fun from the sidelines!

Ben: It probably goes without saying, but take your supplies of PH and nutrition products with you. Train on what you know.

 

4) What should athletes do post-camp to make the most of the gains made?

Claire: It’s easy after camp to slip back into old routines as life takes over and there are far more distractions at home, but trying to replicate and maintain what you have done on camp is key. One of the biggest factors to success is consistency so try to get back into a good training routine (even if it's much colder and greyer outside!).

Brad: Properly recover once you get back from camp. If you get back and continue to smash yourself, you're either going to end up sick or injured. So rather than taking two steps forward and three steps back, really focus on the recovery from camp. After those few days of easy training get back into it, and you'll see a jump in fitness.

Anna-Marie: Take time to capture the key lessons you’ve learnt over the camp; in relation to technique, nutrition, hydration, kit or any other golden nugget that could impact on your own training or racing. If you’re into technology and self-quantification, review your data to gain a deeper insight into your current physical capabilities; then update any future goals, plans or aspirations.

It can be useful to gauge your progress by planning a minor race as a milestone shortly after the camp. For example, post-camp I’ve taken part in local 50km 'shake-out' events in the lead up to longer distance ultra-running events to evaluate my physical and mental readiness.

 

RunnerImage: Tembela Bohle via Pexels (copyright free)

 

Ben: Don’t come back home and binge-eat or drink! 

Sarah: Rest a little then try to keep up the momentum in at least one of the disciplines - hopefully your training will lift a little once you've absorbed the effects of the camp. 

Terry: Post-camp is a great time to evolve without upcoming competition pressure, so have fun and work on your weaknesses

 

5) Are there any camps or locations you recommend? 

Brad: Lanzarote is always a top spot. Many people mention Club La Santa, but I personally enjoy Tri Sports Lanzarote, which is a bit smaller, but has a 25m pool onsite. It's also all-inclusive (beer & wine as well), and has an 'at home' feel. With it being a 14-person Villa, you also have the chance to get to know other people and typically have others to train with.

In the US, my personal favourite is Leucadia, California. It's on the coast, has a really cool small town vibe and is about 45 minutes north of San Diego. And then there are the other favourites of Tucson, Arizona, Boulder, Colorado and Bend, Oregon, all of which are great and offer a variety of training environments.

Claire: Hmmm, I have been to lots of places as a swimmer but I have actually only ever been to the Algarve and Cyprus (ETE training camp) for a triathlon training camp. Both locations are great. The weather is not super-hot in January but it’s much warmer than the UK and it has clear blue skies most days. They're both fairly quiet on the roads for cycling and have decent pools and places to run.

Anna-Marie: La Santa in Lanzarote is a firm favourite where every sport imaginable is literally on your doorstep. The range of activities and quality of facilities means it caters for everyone; from professional athlete, fanatical amateur, keen novice and associated family or friends.

Ben: We love Sani in Greece. It’s an amazing family friendly resort, with sea all around and great trail runs. Club La Santa is great and now has a huge offering. We also do a lot of training in and around Alpe D’Huez.

Sarah: Lanzarote has great weather all year round. I've trained at Sands Beach Active (Costa Teguise, Lanzarote) more than at any other place outside of my home city. Club La Santa is also good, but Sands Beach is my favourite as it's closer to the climbs. The roads around there are also very smooth, there are more running options and the resort is very friendly. 

Terry: There are a few locations in the world that've got everything I’ve mentioned. Phuket in Thailand has got the gyms, the restaurants, the weather, it's affordable, and it's full of people with the same goal to better themselves.

Marbella in Spain is an up-and-coming location that has it all and is expanding to soon have an MMA fight camp like no other in Europe.

 

So, there you have it. Where to go, when to go and who/what to take with you on your next training camp. Let us know how you get on with your next training camp and don't forget to top up on PH electrolytes

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