The Winter Olympics will make its long awaited return soon, which means you’re about to see a lot of ultra-fit dudes in spandex who are sure to make you feel bad about the state of your muscles. So, at least for now, don’t get distracted by the female athletes (also dressed in spandex) – let’s focus on the specialized skill sets required by these unfamiliar sports. If you’ve ever wondered what got these guys in absolute peak physical condition to be at the pinnacle of their respective sports, here’s a guide with some exercise pointers.
It’s always fun to watch these guys point their skis straight down the slope and just careen down the hill as fast as gravity will take them. Many amateur skiers have done this as well over the years – the tough part is not suffering through an epic wipeout before you get a quarter of the way down the mountain. The Olympians make it look easy though, plus they’re weaving in and out of gates and doing it on a steeper mountain than the casual skier is used to. According to Scott Riewald, a High Performance Director of winter sports at the United States Olympic Committee, alpine skiing is all about the athletes’ ability to develop their leg muscles enough to withstand massive forces as they execute hairpin turns at harrowing speeds while carving up the slopes.
Alpine skiing has a range of events, from the speed-based Super G to the more technical, skill-heavy slalom races. In a nutshell, training involves getting out on the slopes as much as possible (going to the Southern Hemisphere during our summer months) all year, several weight room and conditioning sessions and a meticulous approach to getting the ideal nutrition during training and recovery. “While some may say ‘gravity does all the work’ for a skier of the elite level, they need to be special and have really developed a range of physical, physiological, and mental skills,” Riewald says. Here are some example exercises he provided:
** Focus a lot on leg strength:
· Squats and lunges to build a base of leg strength
· Plyometics like box jumps or depth jumps to train the muscles eccentrically
· Hang cleans – for the athlete who is ready to take it to a new level – as this exercise incorporates the need to coordinate the entire body to develop power while maintaining balance.
If you’ve only casually watched some Olympic bobsledding, and maybe Cool Runnings back in the day, you’re probably still wondering what the trick is to the event. At the highest level, the differences between winning and losing are crazily subtle, often coming down to hundredths of a second. According to Ambrose J. Serrano, head strength and conditioning coach of the US bobsled team, it's absolutely imperative for bobsled teams to react just as the starting gun goes off, since that’s where the most time can be lost. “The initial push of the sled can be critical in a sport that can be won or lost by hundredths of a second difference.”
Aside from the several skills involved on the part of the brakeman and driver of each team, along with their perfected ability to file into the sled before the first turn, there’s plenty of tough training that has to take place to get on an elite level. The sled weighs about 400 pounds and athletes have to burst out of the gate from a dead stop, so workouts focus a lot on power and explosiveness. So, plenty of jumping and sprinting exercises are common, and the same goes for multiple-hour weight room sessions, with a huge emphasis on leg strength. Most bobsledders are huge, fit guys – about 230 pounds and under 10 percent body fat, says Serrano.
He adds that the three most important exercises are different variations and progressions of sprinting, squatting and Olympic weightlifting derivatives. The sprints and squats are obviously important for the explosive start – running as fast as possible with a huge amount of weight in the way. The weightlifting is imperative for tapping into the body’s power reserves.
Short Track Speed Skating
In case you were wondering, this is the sport that most Americans associate with Apolo Anton Ohno, which is true, but there are many other athletes, and he won’t be competing anymore. Short track is always fun to watch because it’s your chance to see a head-to-head race, with several skaters on the ice at once, dangerously jostling for position, trying to get ahead without risking a wipeout. With athletes training an average of six days a week, US speed skating head strength and conditioning Coach Shane Domer says an average day might look something like this:
8:00am-9:00am Warm Up/Speed Work/Ice Preparation
9:00am-11:00am Ice Practice
11:00am-12:00pm Off-Ice Technique & Conditioning
12:00pm-1:00pm Recovery Modalities & Treatments
3:00pm-5:00pm Strength Training or Off-Ice Conditioning
5:00pm-6:00pm Recovery Modalities & Treatments
He also says that anaerobic power relative to body weight is the most coveted fitness quality for a short track athlete. “In other words, the less an athlete weighs and the more power he can produce, the better.” The biggest goals are producing huge amounts of power for 20 seconds to a minute, while also training to withstand the huge force that bears down on skaters going through hairy turns at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour, according to Domer.
“Three basic exercises that are essential to any speedskater's training regimen include bike sprint intervals (20-60 seconds per interval), single leg squats, and lateral lunges,” says Domer. It’s all about leg power, explosiveness and speed.
In a sport driven by its own athletes’ rebellious nature and a massive level of risk, training is often very hands-on – just getting out onto the course to keep perfecting your best stuff, and test your body’s limits when it comes to trying new tricks. Still, although the sport will always be dominated by the most coordinated, fearless, creative athletes, those same guys are starting to realize that being dedicated to cross-training and a clean diet can be invaluable.
For example, on top of training in New Zealand this summer with tons of other snowboarding Olympic hopefuls, US snowboarder Louie Vito told Men’s Fitness earlier this year that he’s pulling out all the stops to try to grab the gold in Sochi (he was fifth in Vancouver). “[Off the slopes], I focus mostly on lifting, intervals on the treadmill and running steps with weights (of up to 60 pounds in each hand),” he said. “As a snowboarder, you do a lot of jumping, landings and snapping through your core and lower body, so we do a lot of work on those areas.”
Ski jumping is one of those sports that the general population is simply never going to experience, but for most, the lack of exposure is just fine. It’s beautiful to watch a pro hurtle down the ramp, vault off and make a smooth landing – falling dozens of stories in a matter of seconds.
Ski jumpers train on courses year-round, either in the snow or on adapted courses during the warmer months, in which the ramps are plastic and made slick with water, and appropriate materials for landing at the bottom of the hill are also in place. Aside from working on timing for takeoffs and landings, ski jumpers make sure to stay limber with plenty of legwork, like squats, lunges, stair workouts and plyometrics.
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