Photo via @ajalevans
The 2018 Winter Olympics have officially begun, and the world’s focus is now on some of the fittest people on earth.
While Olympians’ training plans might seem inaccessible to those who exercise simply to stay healthy, there’s a lot the average person can learn from their evidence-based training methods.
If you’re interested in getting an Olympic-style workout, try incorporating these ideas into your gym routine.
Try shorter, more intense workouts
Though Olympic athletes spend quite a bit of time training, not every single workout has to take up hours in order to achieve results.
“High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a conditioning technique that can be used by both elite and novice athletes, and recently the benefits have been scientifically proven,” said Dr. Timothy Miller, assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
This technique involves alternating between giving your maximum effort and having rest periods.
The idea is that by working harder for a shorter amount of time, you can get optimal benefits with less of a time investment.
“Only 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training can produce similar physiologic benefits to an hour of low-intensity conditioning,” Miller told Healthline.
What’s more, research suggests that incorporating just one HIIT session per week in addition to a moderate-intensity cardio routine can result in greater cardiovascular fitness gains than moderate-intensity exercise alone.
A relatively new sport, competitors need to build up their power and speed in order to launch themselves onto an individual sled that barrels down the track at nearly 90 miles per hour.
This interval method can be applied to cardio like sprints or squat jumps, or machines like a bike, StairMaster, or rower.
While HIIT can dramatically increase fitness for those who are already in good shape, Miller says it’s important to note that HIIT training isn’t always the best choice for those who have never worked out before.
Still, it’s definitely not unsafe for the majority of the population. One study that analyzed over 50,000 hours of HIIT workout data from almost 5,000 people with cardiovascular disease found only two incidents of cardiac arrest.
Before starting a HIIT regimen, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor about your heart health and fitness level if you’re not already an athlete.
Incorporate resistance training
Most of Team Great Britain snowboarder and Roxy athlete Katie Ormerod’s training happens on the mountain, but she said strength training is also a key part of her regimen.
“I go to the gym a few times a week to keep up my strength and to help prevent injuries,” she told Healthline.
“Strength training keeps your legs and core strong and helps to prevent knee injuries by building strong glutes and better knee control,” she explained.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance training can help reduce the risk and severity of musculoskeletal injuries in elite and hobby athletes alike.
Ormerod’s go-to exercises include single leg dead lifts and hamstring curls for the legs, and Dead Bugs and leg lifts for the core.
Challenge yourself to adapt
Olympic athletes never know what curveballs might get thrown their way during the actual competition. This means they need to be ready for anything both mentally and physically.
American slalom skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s Instagram is proof she does a variety of workouts, such as Olympic-style weight lifting, sprints, medicine ball workouts, and balancing exercises on a slackline.
“Cutting-edge coaches for Olympic and other elite athletes like to vary an athlete’s training and keep them (and their bodies) guessing as to what their next workout will include,” Miller pointed out.
In order to keep seeing improvement, the body needs to be challenged a bit every few workouts, he added.
Often, these athletes will get a “surprise” finishing exercise from their coach or trainer at the end of a workout — right when they think their training has been completed.
“This ‘shocks’ the body and its systems to perform at a higher level when it is not expecting to be challenged,” Miller said.
Even if you don’t have a coach or trainer of your own, you can still get this effect.
“A simple way to do this is to write out 10 to 20 ‘bonus challenges’ onto pieces of paper, along with a few pieces of paper saying, ‘End your workout now,’” he suggested.
Place them into a bag. When the main portion of your workout is finished and you’re feeling fatigued, draw a piece of paper out of the bag and complete whatever it says.
“This keeps your body focused and ready to hit a higher gear when needed,” said Miller.
Recover and train at the same time
When you’re an Olympic athlete, every second counts. This means taking a complete rest day when you need to recover might not be an option.
Most athletes do some form of cardio, often on their feet. “For many athletes that require extensive time on their feet or lots of miles spent running, they incorporate low-impact alternatives into their running training,” Miller told Healthline.
Often, this is performed on an underwater treadmill, which reduces the load on the feet and legs while still allowing for a cardiovascular workout.
“This keeps the legs fresher and decreases the risk of stress fractures of the bones,” he added.
It can also be especially helpful for athletes already combatting injuries, like American long-distance runner Emily Infeld, who used aqua jogging to train for the 2016 Olympic trials while she was healing from a stress fracture.
Plus, research shows that low-intensity activity after a harder workout can increase muscle relaxation, which ultimately benefits recovery.
You don’t have to be elite level to add this into your routine.
“For the non-elite athlete who does not have access to this type of equipment, aqua jogging done with a life vest or buoyancy belt in deep water (instead of a treadmill) can be a practical alternative,” Miller recommended. Many athletic centers with pools offer this option.
Have a goal in mind
One last thing elite athletes know is that progress takes time. “Though they make it look easy, Olympic athletes spend years (if not decades) training for their moment to compete for an Olympic medal,” Miller explained.
Ormerod, for her part, started training for her Olympic career at the ripe age of 4. “I grew up as a gymnast and balanced both gymnastics and snowboarding competitively until I was 16, when I became a professional snowboarder,” she shared.
The muscular strength and spatial awareness she learned in gymnastics is something she still uses to this day when mastering new tricks on the mountain, she said.
Similarly, other athletes continue to work toward learning new skills and techniques over the years. This helps them stay at the top of their game, Miller said. “Like them, your own fitness should be a lifetime goal with your workouts serving to continually develop your body, maintain your health, and optimize your performance.”
Athletes will also break up their goals into short-term and long-term ones to stay focused daily.
“My long-term goals are what I would consider to be my ‘dreams,’ and my short-term goals are obtainable on a daily or monthly basis,” Jessica Hardy, a Team USA swimmer and bronze medalist in the 2012 Olympics told The Muse. “I like to make my short-term goals something that makes me feel better and sets me up to better prepare for the long-term goals,” she added.
A specific objective can also help you stay motivated to keep up your routine.
“Without a goal, there is no training program that can help you get to the level of fitness you want to achieve, and your workouts will become a grind,” Miller explained.
Whether it’s to run a 5K or make it to the gym three times per week for a month, focusing on something you want to accomplish is a key part of a training plan that will set you up for success.