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Train like the Olympians: Why are you training?

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics wrapping up this month, the games are a great reminder of reasons to train and take care of your body.  These athletes spend four years focused on a single event or series of similar events to perform at their best. That requires patience and commitment to the bigger goal. The key difference between the Olympic athletes and everyday people like you and me is how we structure our training cycles: 4-year cycles with a single focus versus training to enhance the rest of our lives.

Olympians start training at an early age and dedicate their whole life to performing once every four years. They have specific cycles that lead them to eventually peaking in their performance at the exact moment.

A few common themes you’ll see during the games are examples of overall fitness, power, endurance, accuracy, strength. Between various events, there will be some common physical themes. What makes each event different is the sport-specific skills needed to express those common physical themes.

We can also apply these common physical themes to our own training in the gym. Let’s go through the different ways to develop overall fitness, power, endurance, and strength.

  • Overall fitness is the ability to do most kinds of exercise with good technique, a moderate level of strength, and the aerobic capacity to recover quickly. Combining steady-state training with short bursts of high-intensity work will create the capacity demands. Training different rep ranges (3-6, 6-12, 12+) will help develop overall strength.
  • Power is developed using fast, explosive movements with a solid base of strength. We all need to use power at some time in our everyday lives, from catching ourselves from falling to propelling a skateboard to shooting baskets with our friends. Power exercises prepare us to do all those things quickly and efficiently. Jumping, skipping, medicine ball throws, and kettlebell swings are just a few of the variety of ways to train for power. Ideally, the reps are kept low (under 5) and focused on moving the weight as fast as possible under control.
  • Endurance is one of the most common themes in physical activity. How far or long can you go before needing a break and how quickly can you recover to repeat is the goal of this type of training. You can train endurance by using cardio equipment like treadmills and bikes or with longer sets of strength training (more than 15 reps per set) with shorter rest periods.
  • Strength training is the most popular type of training we see in our gyms. The ability to move weight smoothly with good technique is what drives the most positive physical changes. Strength training can be done in a variety of ways which can offset training boredom and help those who train this way have a better quality of life as they age.

Just like the Olympians, remember to keep the goal, the goal. Whether you’re training for your local 5k or just want to be stronger than you were yesterday, focus on one training type at a time, and you’ll start to see progress quickly.

Written by: Gini Grimsley, VASA Fitness’ Director of Fitness Product