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Train like an Olympian

Date
Sally Pearson wins gold at the London's 2012 Olympic Games Athletics Women's 100m Hurdles Final.

Sally Pearson wins gold at the London's 2012 Olympic Games Athletics Women's 100m Hurdles Final. Photo: Alex Coppel

We've seen athletes from all over the world overcome all manner of obstacles for the opportunity to claim gold at the 2012 Olympic games.

None of them had an easy ride to the top - and neither do the rest of us when we decide to take our own fitness to new levels.

So how can we integrate a bit of Usain Bolt or Sally Pearson into our own workouts to help us achieve some golden moments of our own? Here are three ways to add intensity and attitude, and even some altitude into your workout mix:

Embrace intensity
If you're at the beginning of your fitness journey and walking is your starting point, that's great – but try to increase the intensity with some hill walking or stair walking.

Activate your glutes on the hills and stairs, and you will notice tone developing in your calves and thighs along with an increased heart rate for cardiovascular health. If you do your hill walking on the treadmill, please avoid the most common mistake for beginners - holding onto the hand rails. If you negate the angle and lean back, you're negating the intensity that hill walking brings.

For your workout: An outdoor walk at 5 to 6km/hr pace with numerous hills or use the same pace with a 10 degree incline on the treadmill.

Head for the hills
While running, many individuals avoid hills in their daily routine for one simple reason – they are damn hard. But if it's hard, it will make you a stronger runner because you are using your muscles more than usual to combat gravity. You can't become a good runner unless you hit the hills, and anybody that ran Sydney's City to Surf understands this after facing Heartbreak Hill.

Proper uphill running form depends on smaller strides, staying upright, and moving up and into the hill. During hill running, be careful of a heel strike, which is wasted movement and puts undue stress on your lower limbs.

For your workout: Interval training - 10 x 100m sprints up a hill, with a vigorous walk to rest on the way down.

Take on some altitude
If hills don't cut it, you can always hit the mountains via altitude training. For years now, many athletes have been training and/or sleeping at higher altitudes to improve performance. According to Altitude.org, 'Exposing the body to high altitude causes it to acclimatise to the lower level of oxygen available in the atmosphere. Many of the changes that occur with acclimatisation improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles -the theory being that more oxygen will lead to better performance.'

Athletes at the AIS utilise this method of training, but it's now available for every day pavement pounders in Mosman at Sydney Altitude Training. From bikes to rowers, treadmills, and more, you can train at 3,200m (and higher) to increase your aerobic fitness for weight loss, a marathon, or to ready yourself for a hike to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I found my introductory session of a 2.5km treadmill run at a top speed of 13.5km/hr much more taxing than at sea level.

"The body's cardio system has to work harder in the altitude environment as it tries to provide muscles with enough oxygen. The result is you burn around 25-30 per cent more calories for the same exercise done at sea level, so altitude training is very time efficient," said centre managing director Allan Bolton.

With any exercise, I've learned that if you 'change the angle, you change the exercise,' and it's never truer than when adding uphill training and altitude into your exercise regime. Combined with a bit of inspiration and attitude, workout results can be increased significantly.

So now that the Olympics are over, don't angle your feet up on the ottoman for reality TV - get them moving uphill to maximise the inspiration so many of us gained over the past two weeks.

31 comments so far

  • If you want to train like an Olympian try waking up at 4am, training for 2 hours before work, and then at the end of the day when you are completly buggered squeeze in another 2 hour session.

    Commenter
    Bruce
    Date and time
    August 15, 2012, 1:39PM
    • Their choice and generally I doubt the elites work normal work hours, and generally from secure income families
      Except for those not funded aka Judo etc...
      Anyway, why would you?

      Commenter
      slobyobb
      Date and time
      August 15, 2012, 11:26PM
  • Some good tips and this must be the first time you've written a piece that has been non-judgemental and actually helpful. A refreshing change.

    Commenter
    CeePee
    Date and time
    August 15, 2012, 1:41PM
    • Can you explain how this altitude training in Sydney works? Is it simply an air-conditioned room with a controlled amount of oxygen in the air?

      By the way, it's nice to finally read something that touches on the negativity of heel strikes! As long as people are aware that, impact-wise, it's worse at all times, not just up hills (down hills are the big killers!).

      Commenter
      42.2
      Date and time
      August 15, 2012, 1:43PM
      • http://sydneyaltitudetraining.com/

        Commenter
        kepler-22b
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 2:12PM
      • Heel strikes?

        Can somebody enlighten me. What is a heel strike? Does it mean running, and coming down on the heel first, then flattening the foot, then into a heel lift and push off?

        Cos, thats how I thought you were meant to run?

        Maybe an artical on how to run, or become a runner.

        i.e. Start with walking, 3 weeks later, walk some hills and stairs, then slow jog and walk, then slow jog, the a bit more pace, etc, etc,

        Because I have no idea about how to start? (I know how to start, put some shoes on and open the front door, but I dont want to get hurt, see what I mean??)

        Commenter
        Kam i Am
        Location
        Work
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 3:46PM
      • Kam, unfortunately it's very hard to give good advice on an online forum, as most things are very hard to demonstrate in text format.

        Really, if you want to start running, grab a pair of shoes and put one foot in front of the other. And I'm not trying to sound smart; you have to start somewhere (and that's certainly how I started).

        The problem with landing on your heels is that it causes the most (or harshest) impacts on your joints (in particular your knees) and muscles (such as your ITB), as opposed to mid-foot striking (where you land on the fleshy mid-section of your foot, pronate slightly, then push off with the front of your foot). I used to heel-strike, and it started causing numerous injuries that were expensive (physio-wise and time-wise) to fix. This will be exacerbated on downhills, where you come down harder on your feet. You'll find that, in general, by mid-foot striking and increasing your cadence (shorter, quicker steps) you'll have lighter footfalls and be less prone to injury.

        BUT (and it's a big but!) I'm not a physio, podiatrist or running coach. Everyone is different. If you want to start running seriously (say, aiming for C2S next year or something longer?) then go to a good sports podiatrist and get a running gait assessment. He (or she) will then be able to fit you with a good pair of shoes for your feet, and usually will explain mid-foot striking a bit better.

        Check out the Cool Running forum (google it) for better (and more detailed) advice. If you want a starter program, check out the Couch to 5k. It's pretty much the "how to become a runner" article you're requesting ;)

        Commenter
        42.2
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 4:21PM
    • You have to really want it, even when every muscle in your body is crying for you to stop, you have to push through it. That is the intensity of a champion, and you don't need to be an olympian to reach it.

      Commenter
      The mind of an Olympian
      Date and time
      August 15, 2012, 1:46PM
      • yes, good advice , 10 X 100m sprints up a hill to the general populace, and then wonder why the general public reading this will get shin splints, calf strains, hamstring strains... good advice not. After that they will spend even more time on the couch.

        Commenter
        pete
        Location
        Jakarta
        Date and time
        August 15, 2012, 1:47PM
        • A bit critical I think Pete. He makes it clear that you start by walking and then build up to running. Anybody who reads this article and goes for 10 x 100 sprints needs to improve their reading comprehension first.

          I believe this article is primarily aimed at the athlete looking to improve not the couch potato.

          Commenter
          kepler-22b
          Date and time
          August 15, 2012, 2:15PM

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