An Olympic year is a magical time for any country. The idea of sending your best and brightest athletes to represent your country, maybe mixed with some hopes you may have had as a child of becoming an Olympian, not only inspires patriotism but it also may inspire you to train like the athletes you see on TV.
Whether they’re on the screen or at home, it’s safe to say Olympians are some of the most in-shape people in the world, but Paul Tetro, physical trainer at Texas Health Fort Worth Fitness Center, and Randy Turner, manager at Texas Health Fort Worth Fitness Center, want you to know you don’t have to be an Olympic contender to train like one. In fact, it’s pretty easy to incorporate these athletes’ exercise routines into your own.
“Start including squats in your routines,” Turner said. “Every athlete does them and they work the total lower body.”
Turner suggests beginners start off slow by performing body squats where you use just your body weight to lower into a deep squat then return to a standing position. More experienced exercisers can add weight to their squat with dumbbells to increase the difficulty.
Tetro adds that whether you’re a beginner or have been working out for some time, it’s important to always have great form when squatting.
“Make sure a trainer or someone is observing your form,” he says, adding that if you’re a beginner, start with a weight bar with no weights included. “A typical bar is 45 pounds just on its own, so it’s a good start.”
Tetro says proper form includes not letting your knees go past your toes, not letting the upper leg go any lower than parallel to the ground, and keeping your toes out slightly and your knees pushed out.
“Your average person can probably do a set of 12 to 15 reps with just the weight of the bar,” he says. “Once you master that, then you can start adding weight—about 10 pounds on each side or so at a time.”
Add to Your Routine
Now, if you’re normally active and just looking to put a little Olympic flavor on your winter workouts, we asked Tetro to help us modify these Winter Olympian workouts—which are quite demanding even for the everyday fitness enthusiast.
For instance, bobsledder Aja Evans is known for her box jumps (check out this 48-inch one she completed, for instance). Box jumps are frequently seen in HIT (High-Intensity Training) workouts, but Tetro preaches caution.
“It’s a great workout, but not for everyone,” he says. “There’s always the possibility of getting injured.”
Tetro stresses that those with ankle or knee issues will likely want to nix these altogether.
“Any person with even a minor knee issue, I don’t do box jumps with,” he explains. “As we age, our knee joints are just not what they used to be.”
If you have no history of joint injuries or pain, Tetro suggests starting with a very low box.
“If you wanted to do the jumps, start with a very low box, and work your way up,” he says. “Most gyms have all different sizes of boxes, and you can always work up to taller ones.”
If you have joint issues or don’t want to risk injury, Tetro suggests using the box for one-legged step ups for a safer workout, with the tallest box that feels comfortable.
And even though speed skating isn’t necessarily something that would be easy to pull off in Texas, Tetro says you can mimic some of the action with an exercise he frequently uses in fitness classes.
“I do these curtsy squats,” he says. “If you put a little jump into them, it’s kind of like a speed skater. I call them skaters. It’s a little hop in the middle, and it’s a great workout.”
A curtsy squat is similar to a regular squat, except you cross one leg behind the other while lowering down into a squat. The squat gets its name because of its likeness to a curtsy.
Staying Motivated Post-Olympics
If you head to the gym during or after the Olympics, it may seem like more people than just you have the Olympics fever, and you’re not wrong. Turner says he sees a slight increase in memberships or some inactive members getting back into the gym during the games, but the key is to keep that motivation up after the closing ceremonies.
“People get excited and motivated, but they lose the enthusiasm after a few days or weeks because of muscle soreness, kids, work, etc.,” Turner says. “We give everyone a complimentary personal training session and we try to introduce them to other members and encourage them to attend our aerobics classes. The more active we get them and [the more we] offer them support, then the more likely they are to continue.”
Sure, staying motivated is easier said than done, but Turner says even professional athletes get in a rut. The trick is to still work out even when you don’t feel like it, and to set realistic goals.
Keep in mind, the athletes you’re seeing on TV have been training several hours a day and dieting for years.
“You need to ease into exercise,” Turner said. “You are not trying to relive your glory days. You’re not going to see results overnight. But there are still important exercise principles you can learn from. Schedule a time and do it. The athletes you see on TV work out even when they do not feel like it. There are days you are going to feel the same way. Schedule a time and do it.”
Don’t let an injury derail you either. Anyone who exercises long enough will probably deal with common sports injuries like shin splints and sprained ankles, and that includes Olympians.
“Do not let this stop you. A lot of the time it is because you are doing the exercise wrong, wearing the wrong kind of shoe, not resting your body long enough in between workouts, etc.,” Turner says. “This is another good reason why it is important to get with a trainer and get set up for a workout specific to your needs and wants.”
George Lebus, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician on the medical staffs at Texas Health Fort Worth and Orthopedic Specialty Associates, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, says warming up appropriately can help prevent an injury to keep you going strong.
The Warm-up Matters
“Warming up really is essential. You need to warm up the muscles and increase the temperature of the muscles and increase blood flow to them,” he says. “That increases the flexibility of the muscles and decreases the chance of injury.”
Lebus adds that dynamic stretches and warm-ups like jumping jacks and lunges are better at preventing injury than static warm-ups like a hamstring stretch. He also cautions that if you’re new to working out or getting back into the swing of things, pacing yourself and recognizing your limits is crucial.
“I would never discourage anyone from exercising, but for some, it’s tempting to get out there and go as hard as you ever could because back in the day you could do it,” Lebus says. “It’s crucial for people who haven’t done something in a while that they really should warm up and try to ease back into activity. The best situation is to try to develop a pattern of activity so the body is more used to regular exercise, which is easier said than done.”
Even Olympic athletes need a recovery day, and most listen to what their body is saying in order to prevent injury and keep them on track to make it to the Olympics. Although you may not be headed to PyeongChang this year, the same holds true for weekend warriors and Olympians alike.
“There’s no better roadblock to getting back in shape or getting back into a great habit than an injury,” Lebus adds. “It seems like it would be a great idea to get right back to where you were right away, but if that does lead to an overuse injury or hamstring strain or Achilles injury, for example, that can really set you back and put you on the shelf for quite some time, and that makes the whole goal much harder to achieve. A little bit goes a long way; listen to your body, and warm up, cool down and start slow.”
This post was originally posted on AreYouaWellBeing.TexasHealth.org.