One of the main questions I get from other trainers and fitness enthusiasts is, “What is it like to train Olympians?” There seems to be a big mystique behind how elite-level athletes prepare for competitions and the methods they use. The truth is, while their programs may have a few extra components or some more advanced materials, those types of athletes benefit from the same basics as anyone else. They may just be a little more adept at putting those principles to practice. In this article I’m going to cover a few of the key differences I see when training my Olympian clients compared to other clients, and how you may be able to implement them into your life and training, too.
Here are three facets of Olympic-caliber training I see as most profoundly different from others:
1. Time. For many of the Olympians I work with, training and competing is their job. It is what builds their brand. As such, they have schedules that are at times more flexible than other clients, but also, much more demanding. In either case their training is their number one priority and I’m with them every step of the way at any hour they need. With a few other clients however it’s the total opposite. Sometimes they come to me for their appointment exhausted or, worst case, hung over.
So how does this topic of time apply to you? Part of an Olympian’s success comes from how they prioritize their training. They often have to give up going to the movies or out to clubs or even dinners with friends. This isn’t to say you need to zero out your social life, but be cautiously aware: If you have a physique goal or a competition coming up, before you hit a night on the town, ask yourself if it’s going to help you accomplish what you’re working toward. Many times over the years I’ve had people come to me totally frustrated asking, “Why can’t I be as good as that guy/girl? I don’t get it.” And it usually takes some brutal honesty from me and a hard look in the mirror for them to realize that, more than likely, the time management and prioritization just hasn’t been there. Fortunately it’s something you can quickly rectify and benefit from.
2. Variety. Everyone has a point where they just get tired of training for one reason or another. The difference is what the training means to your performance. Some people can hit the gym or wherever they train on a regular basis, hit a plateau, but work through it and get back to having fun. The question is, was that a signal to change things up for your body? For professional athletes, a week of just going through the motions and not getting anything out of it is a week where their competitors are getting ahead. We change things up consistently to continue challenging the body and improving the level of conditioning, speed and strength. Make sure you don’t get into the habit of going long periods of time just doing the same thing because you could be losing quality time and effort and not making any progress.
3. Passion. One thing I’ve noticed particularly amongst Olympic athletes compared to other professional athletes is that their passion for their sport is incredible. Unless you’re at the absolute top in track, swimming or gymnastics, there isn’t enough money in Olympic sports to motivate you on its own. 99% of Olympic athletes do what they do because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Athletes who lose their passion just don’t perform at the level necessary to make it to the Olympics. In this same respect, you can’t expect to be your best at something if you don’t love it. Maybe right now you’re training for a 5k or a marathon, or for an Ironman or even a Tough Mudder. My advice to you is this: If you dread a type of training, you need to stop doing it. I have people telling me all the time telling me how much they hate weight training or hate running or hate [insert any sport here], yet they continue to do it because they think they have to. Well, you don’t. And you’re not doing yourself or anyone else a favor by going through the motions without passion. Find something you really enjoy; it’s out there, you may just have to try new things that are outside of your comfort level.
While there are many other nuances that separate Olympians from the rest of us, these are three principles you can share with them: Prioritize your goals. Keep changing to keep improving. And most importantly, love what you do.