Train Like An Olympic Athlete!
Experts show you how to reach your personal best.
Among the thousands of athletes competing in the Olympic Games, Noelle Pikus-Pace has one of the most amazing stories. First of all, her sport, known simply as skeleton, is extreme: Lying face down, she rides on a metal sled through a narrow contoured ice chute at speeds of up to 85 mph. The sled has no brakes or controls; she directs it by either shifting her body or dragging her feet.
But what’s even more astounding is that the 28-year-old mom is making her Olympic debut in Vancouver following an ordeal beginning with a 2005 accident that left her with a badly broken leg. After undergoing grueling physical therapy for up to eight hours a day, Pikus-Pace went on not only to compete again, but to win the 2006 World Championship in skeleton. She’s the first woman ever to do so. Now, to prepare for the Winter Games, Pikus-Pace, who lives in Utah, has been training for up to four hours a day–sprinting, lifting weights, doing circuit training and intense cardio work. “Never give up on your dreams,” she says. “Go after it…you can do anything.”
Most of us (okay, probably none of us!) will ever reach those athletic heights. But by using big achievers like Pikus-Pace for inspiration, we can learn to reach our own personal- best goals. Amy Goldwater, M.S., a physical-fitness expert for the weight-loss organization TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly), says the key to doing that is to set a reasonable challenge for yourself, and to keep at it. “Have a goal that’s a little ahead of where you are,” she says.
The key word there is little. Whether you want to improve your strength, your speed or your endurance, do it gradually, Goldwater says. “When weight training,” she explains, “hold a position for a set amount of time, and then hold it longer the next time.” If you work out on the treadmill at three miles an hour, make it four; instead of doing a straightforward 30-minute walk, include 5 minutes of easy jogging. But, Goldwater cautions, “stop immediately” if you feel any strain or discomfort.
Goldwater also advises trying different exercise routines, and practicing until you do them well enough to benefit. Some possibilities: an exercise ball for abdominal crunches, yoga and swimming. Because you’re learning something new, you won’t see results right away. But your persistence will pay off with a more efficient and zingier routine.
In addition, Pikus-Pace suggests positive visualization as part of your workout; imagine yourself doing your exercises well and feeling great. “Practice in your mind,” she says. “Your mental game is just as important as your physical one.”