I Trained Like a Winter Olympian—and Lived to Share 3 Tips for Your Workout

Posted February 6, 2018
I Trained Like a Winter Olympian—and Lived to Share 3 Tips for Your Workout
Pictured: not me. From left, Devon Jones, Explosive Performance Site Director, Ashley Spoto, Explosive Performance Coach, Batchka Zulkhuu, Explosive Performance Coach, and Estelle Johnson, Washington Spirit demonstrate The World’s Greatest Stretch. Photo courtesy of Explosive Performance/Onelife Fitness Brambleton.

Train like an Olympian at Onelife Brambleton
Johnson executes a one-legged box jump. Photo courtesy of Explosive Performance/Onelife Fitness Brambleton.

Olympic sports require extreme specialization—you may hyper-focus on nailing triple lutzes or try to perfect that half-pipe alley-oop over thousands of attempts—which in turn leads to injuries, explains Kevin Boyle, the director of Explosive Performance, when I arrive. Figure skating for six hours a day can cause ankle sprains and stress fractures; snowboarders often suffer back injuries from all that twisting mid-air. Boyle’s techniques try to avoid these injuries by “filling the gaps”: focusing on areas like flexibility and balance in order to prevent overuse injuries. “You might be an Olympian at speed skating, but can’t do a plank,” says Boyle.

Rhys Gully, who recently trained the Australian rugby team, joined Boyle and me, and we trotted over to a corner of the room where I started my Olympian workout. It began with “movement prep,” which meant getting on the turfed floor and rolling out my quads, glutes, and hamstrings using the Hyperice Vyper 2.0, a short vibrating roller that targets soft tissue and cuts foam rolling from around 20 minutes to 30 seconds per muscle group. This was followed by a stretch literally called “The World’s Greatest Stretch,” along with a series of Bunkie exercises for core stability and bird dog progressions for balance.

Then the power portion of the workout kicked offusing the Keiser Functional Trainer machine to do a half-kneeling cable chop. Even though this targets the upper body and core, the fact that I was kneeling on a thin foam tube forced me to use my hips and glutes for stability, creating a decent burn.

Explosive Performance at Onelife Fitness Brambleton
Gully demonstrates the half-kneeling cable chop. Photo courtesy of Nick Eghtessad/Live Wire Media Relations.

Next in the power segment came a series of box jumps, followed by squat-bursts on the Keiser Squat Machine (see below). Then, with very shaky thighs, I hit the strength part of the workout. This was deadlift-focused, and included back-to-back reps using a racked barbell as well as the Olympic Hex Bar. For both, weight is increased until form suffers. For some upper body action, I did one-arm dumbbell bench presses, with the fun aspect of having just half my torso on the bench, forcing me to engage my core and thighs for balance so I didn’t fall off. Which was very much in the realm of possibility at this point.

Finally, to really max out my legs, I did what is known in the fitness world as Energy Systems Development, a short cardio workout that dually aims to increase anaerobic (high-intensity) performance and aerobic (low-intensity) recovery in the span of just a few minutes, rather than repeating numerous intervals or coasting through a relatively easy bout of cardio for an hour. On a glorified elliptical machine called the Cybex Arc, I glided along for 45 seconds, then pounded out 15 seconds hard and fast. After repeating this four times, my vision was a tad spotty.

The whole thing took about an hour and 20 minutes and involved nearly 20 exercises. The good news? For the first time in my life, I was told I was coordinated. And I only fell once.

I came away from the experience with three moves that improve particular winter Olympic sports and that you can also incorporate into your regular routine. Never done box jumps? If you’re not into figure skating, these can help you dart up hills faster in your next half-marathon as they’re great for building leg strength. Keiser squats can not only make you sprint faster in your next pick-up basketball game, but help you jump higher, too. And while you may never get your shot at speed skating for gold, a slide board offers an unparalleled thigh workout that also protects your knees, which will obviously make you better at Rollerblading.

Figure Skating: Box Jumps for Balance and Power

Box jumps improve power and balance, the latter of which, thanks to weak ankles, I mostly lack. I did a series of jumps, ranging from starting on the ground and hopping onto one of those boxes with a single leg, to jumping from a higher box down to the turf and springing automatically to a lower box, landing on one leg. I then held this for as long as I could (about three seconds, which is actually good). This simulates the kind of balance necessary for figure skater to gracefully land on one foot on the ice.

Bobsledding: Keiser Squats for Power

This is where power, or explosiveness, comes in. Using the Keiser Squat Machine, I slowly dropped to a count of five before immediately springing up on my toes to determine, well, explosiveness. This move is huge for bobsledders when they launch. (It also helped Ledecky get faster on flip-turns in the pool.) With a resistance of 100, my best launch upward registered a 505 (elite athletes hit around 800). Once I stopped meeting that number—around five attempts—I was done. Boyle explained that I’d maxed my power and should move on before I got hurt.

Speedskating: Slide Board for Embarrassment
After slipping little black booties over my sneakers, I gingerly stepped on a white slide board and practiced gliding back and forth, using bumpers on each end to push off and build momentum. Things were going smoothly as I managed to pick up speed. I am Karlie Kloss. Then Gully strapped a belt around my waist, which happened to be connected to the cable of the Keiser Functional Trainer, creating added resistance to make gliding more challenging. Thanks to the surprise of the weight (24 pounds) swiftly pulling me back toward the machine, I took a slow-motion side-fall down to earth, which ended that portion of the workout.

Videos courtesy of Nick Eghtessad/Live Wire Media Relations.

This article has been updated to reflect that the Olympic athletes mentioned have trained at various locations where the Explosive Performance program can be found, not just at Onelife Fitness Brambleton.