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ACSM is fortunate to be the go-to source on sports medicine and exercise science for several national and international media outlets. You can find some of our most recent coverage below, or you can view archived articles.  

Pacing Strategy Tips for Exercisers Transitioning into Competition

by User Not Found | Aug 01, 2011
Expert provides insight into training methods for first competitive event

ATLANTA – Pacing in preparation for a competitive event, like a marathon, has implications for both the success and the safety of the beginner competitive athlete, according to an expert at American College of Sports Medicine’s  (ACSM) Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition.

Carl Foster, Ph.D., FACSM, describes his pacing strategy as a landscape. “Intensity can be thought of as the height of the mountains and the duration of races as the plains. There is a pretty consistent landscape, but beginners have to learn to orient themselves on the landscape.”

For the traditional exerciser making the transition to take part in a competitive event, Foster recommends finding a coach to help you effectively structure your training program. Start with very low ambitions and ease into competition, he says. With your coach, very carefully introduce shorter competitive intensity efforts into training, so that you can begin to get a feel for how competitive, intense exercise feels.

Getting over the initial stage of training is hard for beginners, says Foster. “Beginning competitors are often pretty unrealistic about how they will feel as they increase their training, and are often unprepared for how they will feel at competitive intensities. Exercising at training paces is normally a pretty good feeling. The first time you try to sustain a competitive intensity, it suddenly feels not as good.”

Some may tend to shy away from competitions because of a fear of injury. However, Foster says that with proper training, the risk of major complications during the actual event is relatively minor.

“The risk of injury is probably more related to the increase in training that one normally does as one prepares for competition,” he said.

Foster says fitness professionals and coaches working with these beginners must also understand the risks related to competitive events. Unfortunately, knowledge of how to advise transitional exercisers is not widely available and is not addressed in contemporary guidelines for exercise testing and training. Understanding the issues that may lead to safety issues or injury is necessary, he says. The training model used for established competitive athletes should not be used for beginning transitional athletes. Foster also stresses the importance of rest during training, even for beginners.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

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