5 Ways to Train like an Olympic Athlete

After the last month watching our Aussie Olympians and Paralympians produce some awe-inspiring performances, everyone’s feeling motivated to get out and get fit or ramp their training up for the upcoming summer.  Here are some tips to help you train like an Olympian and get some professional results:

1. Intensity
The key to upping the ante with your training is lifting the intensity.  High intensity workouts push your body out of its comfort zone and will produce greater improvements in fitness more quickly than the ‘slow and steady’ approach (1).
You can increase the intensity of your workout by introducing intervals – short bursts of maximal or near maximal effort followed by a recovery period.  Whilst running (outside or on the treadmill) this may consist of 2mins at your maximum speed followed by 2mins jogging, repeated 5-10 times.  Or if you prefer being told what to do, try a spin class at your local gym; these are a great, high-intensity but low-impact training option.

2. Consistency
In order to fulfil their fitness potential, Olympic athletes have trained consistently for long periods of time.  For professional athletes, hitting the snooze button or choosing after work drinks over a training session is simply not an option.   In order to achieve this, make training a non-negotiable part of your week by reserving time in your schedule for each session.  Plan your weeks training in advance, this way you can plan your sessions and days off to suite your schedule and not miss out on the things you enjoy – like drinks on a Friday night or a Saturday morning sleep-in.

3. Progressive Overload
With all this consistency, it can be easy to fall into the habit of repeating the same sessions over and over.  However, the body becomes accustomed to doing the same thing and as a result performance improvements will plateau.  Olympic athletes know it is important to incorporate the concept of ‘progressive overload’ into your regime, this means challenging your body by gradually but continually increasing and changing the workload of your training sessions (2).  You can do this by increasing your top speed or distance when running, increasing the weight or number of reps you are lifting or simply by trying a different group fitness class.  Keeping your body guessing by changing your routine will ensure you continue to see results even after months of consistent training.

4. Recovery
In order to prevent injury, Olympians take recovery very seriously.  This includes day-to-day recovery measures including carefully cooling down and stretching following each session, applying ice to any muscles or joints that may be feeling sore, eating a high-protein meal or snack within 30 minutes of completing a workout and getting adequate sleep each night to ensure the body has time to recover.  Furthermore, active recovery sessions such as a low-impact swim or gentle exercise bike session following intense training blocks or competitions will help flush out muscles and reduce recovery times.
Most importantly, if you feel an injury developing, take a few days off to let it settle.  It is much better to lose a few days of training when an injury is minor than to let a serious injury develop that may take weeks or even months to recover from!

5. Set Goals
Every Olympic athlete would have entered the 2012 London Olympics with a goal; be it to win gold or simply to achieve a personal best performance.  Setting goals can be an extremely powerful motivator but it is important to set goals that are specific and achievable so you don’t become disheartened.  For example, a novice runner’s goal may be to run a marathon.  Break this down into smaller, more achievable, intermediate goals such as running a 10km race then once this is achieved, set another intermediate goal such as running a half marathon.  Before you know it, your ultimate goal will be well within your reach!

In conclusion, although most of us won’t get the opportunity to wear the green and gold at an Olympic Games, every single one of us can train like an Olympian.  By tweaking your training routine to include intensity, progressive overload, plenty of consistency and effective recovery sessions you will be achieving your fitness goals and producing gold-medal performances in no time!

References
1. Wang TY, Ho CF, Chan KH, Lee WC, Hsu MC. Effects of consecutive 7-day high- versus moderate-intensity training on endurance determinants and muscle damage in basketball players. International SportMed Journal. 2012;13(1):18-28.
2. Alderman BL, Rhea MR. A meta-analysis of periodized versus nonperiodized strength and power training programs. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2004;75(4):413+.