I’m not an elite athlete. I’m just a guy on the precipice of middle age who enjoys running, biking, soccer, and tennis. If I can push myself to my physical limit a couple of times a week and still have the energy to crawl around with my daughter, then I’m satisfied.

That makes me a useful filter. The pros have unlimited budgets and few demands on their waking hours beyond making themselves fitter. If you want to spend thousands —or tens of thousands — to sleep in an oxygen pod wearing infrared pajamas, then knock yourself out. But chances are you care only about things that work, are safe, and fit your schedule and budget. So trust the guy with a day job, a bad back, and a new baby. Here’s what I learned in two years of reporting for my book Play On.

Periodize your regimen

The importance of periodizing and the risks of not doing so have been drilled into my head by the likes of soccer coach Raymond Verheijen and exercise scientist Trent Stellingwerff, Ph.D.

For an elite athlete, periodizing can mean creating a structured program of buildup and tapering that yields peak fitness at a precise time. For me, it’s more about the principles: ramping up training gradually, preparing my body for specific demands, and avoiding fatigue. If you invite me to play soccer and I haven’t been keeping in soccer shape, or if I’m nursing an injury I could play through, I say no. Benching yourself sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as missing an entire season because you got hurt.

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