3 Ways to Train like an Olympian

Between Lochte’s exciting face-off with Phelps and Ye’s astonishing, Lochte-beating lap, and Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, swimming at the Olympics has been both entertaining and inspiring. But what does that mean for you? Personal trainers and health fitness specialists can take a lesson from these Olympians to help everyday people train like elite athletes.

Understandably, the majority of Americans are not prepared for the rigorous training that Olympians and Olympic hopefuls endure. In fact, simply getting the majority of
Americans to give up fast food and walk 30 minutes a day would be a great start on the path toward better health. However, research demonstrates that certain elements of Olympic training can be incorporated into training sessions to benefit both Olympic athletes and non-Olympic clients.

I.  Speed + Strength = Power

When I was a strength and conditioning coach, I was told to never use Olympic lifting (a form of power training) with swimmers. The reason? Other strength and conditioning coaches said swimmers were too clumsy out of the water; that typically if kids were coordinated they played other sports. I thought that was both surprising and untrue.

When teaching anyone how to do Olympic lifts (clean & jerk and snatch), it is vital to break it down bit by bit and it is recommended that athletes begin by using PVC pipe; not a 45-lb Olympic bar. This is how USA Weightlifting instructs coaches to teach these lifts. Deconstruct the lifts and master all of the details. A lot can go wrong when clients or athletes start heaving weight over their heads. Properly executing each aspect of the
lift is vital to everyone’s success.

We took our time teaching the Olympic lifts and the swim team became proficient and even competitive with each other in terms of this power training. As a result of this proficiency, they felt faster off the blocks and more powerful on their turns. It turned out that the athletes with the strongest power cleans were the athletes who broke records and/or became All-Americans. Not bad for a bunch of clumsy swimmers, eh?

Now I understand that very few personal trainers work with Division I athletes. However, research on power training for boomer athletes and seniors is showing promising results. A 12-week study conducted in 2008 demonstrated that strength training and power training improved perceived quality of life in several areas (Katula, Rajeski & Marsh, 2008). Now that is reason enough for personal trainers to get boomer and senior clients to hit the weights!  But it gets better. The study also showed that “both groups significantly increased lower extremity muscle power. However, there was a significantly greater increase in lower extremity muscle power in the power training group compared to the
strength training group” (Katula, et al., 2008, para. 22).

If you are interested in learning more about Olympic lifting, please see USA Weightlifting for more information. It is worth it!

II. Psychological Preparation

Besides spending hours in the gym, on the track or in the pool, athletes are finding that psychological preparation is key to their success. Studies have shown that it is equally important to train athletes to maintain a positive attitude, develop coping strategies and confidently deal with distractions and influences (PR Newswire, 2012). How can you apply this to your personal training sessions? Perhaps adding an element of mind-body
training to your client’s repertoire would assist in creating focus, reducing anxiety or minimizing stress; all important elements for health and performance. Does your facility offer meditation, yoga, or qi gong classes? If so, great! Try to incorporate this important training into your client’s workout schedule. If not, search your fitness community for class offerings. You may also want to read Mental Training for Peak Performance by Steven Ungerleider, as it shares tips, tricks and mental exercises used by top-notch
athletes.

III. Dialing  it Back

Personal trainers are known for pushing clients beyond their limits. Author Dimity McDowell highlights this problem in her article Dangerous Personal Trainers. This kind of overtraining will hurt your client and your reputation. Instead, consider four-time Olympic marathoner Abdi Abdirahman. According to Wall Street Journal contributor Scott Ciaccola, “he earns enough money from sponsorships to live comfortably. And he refuses to endanger his love of running by shoving unappealing amounts of it down his throat. While many elite marathoners run more than 140 miles a week, Abdirahman peaks at about 105” (para. 7). Perhaps we can all take a lesson from his success!  Overdoing it and pushing clients beyond both their physical capabilities and enjoyment may actually lead to failure. The message? Keep the workouts attainable and enjoyable. Check out the book Body, Mind, Sport by Dr. John Douillard for more information on how to engage in quality training versus overtraining.

Best of luck to you, your clients and Team USA!

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