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When it comes to pure athleticism and sheer physical ability, Olympians are at the top of the list. Granted, most are born with genetic greatness –but it’s the work, dedication and the right mix of training and coaching that gets them to the top. While you (probably) won’t be challenging Cameron van den Burgh in the water or nudging past Akani Simbine on the track, you can use their training secrets to become stronger, fitter and faster.
I was invited to the exclusive Powerade Train Like An Olympian Academy, which was held at the High Performance Centre of the Sports Science Institute. I was treated to a presentation by one of South Africa’s greatest Olympians, Penny Heyns, and was run through a gamut of tests that focused on my fitness, flexibility, eating plan, mental preparation, and my goals – all to help me perform better. The best news: you can do the same tests. Discovery Vitality offers Vitality Elite Fitness Assessments at high-performance centres around South Africa.
These include SSISA (Cape Town), University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg, North West University (Potchefstroom), Prime High Performance Institute (Durban), University of Stellenbosch and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (PE).
Here are the steps you need to take to upgrade your training:
1. CHECK YOUR BODY FAT: Body Composition
The Expert: Warwick Cross
When it comes to keeping tabs on your weight gain and lean muscle mass, don’t look at the scale. Head to one of these High Performance Centres and get your height, weight, and body fat measured properly, and then use these stats as a baseline. Train for 3 months, then get the same tests done again.
What I Learnt: Forget BMI (Body Mass Index) and scale readings, rather get an expert to test your body fat with callipers and skinfold measurement.
2. TEST YOUR FITNESS: V02 Max Test
The Expert: Ayden Smith and Rodet Yila
This a test where you strap on a mask and a heart rate monitoring strap and then either jump on a treadmill or get onto a stationary bike. Then you are told to run or cycle, and the machine measures the amount of oxygen your body takes in, and looks at the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide you are producing. The speed increases, and the test gets tougher, and you try last as long as you can. This is great for revealing your endurance capacity.
What I Learnt: It showed that my body is efficient at using fat for fuel (which is good) and that I have a high lactate threshold. The results that this test provides aren’t just for podium athletes, it can help anyone define their fitness, and help to tailor their training plan.
3. IMPROVE YOUR FLEXIBILITY: Movement Screen
The Expert: Warwick Cross
Unfortunately, men are terrible when it comes to flexibility. This movement screen is crucial for all men as it identifies weaknesses and bad movement patterns, and helps you to sidestep future injuries.
What I Learnt: I have tight hamstrings and lower back. A short range of motion in one area of your body can affect another area, causing a ripple effect that hinders your overall mobility.
4. EAT CLEANER: Dietary Health
The Expert: Sarah Chantler (Shelly Meltzer Dieticians)
These dieticians will study your current eating plan and use that information to identify your danger areas and bad habits. To get the most out of these tests, you need to provide a meal diary, and you need to have realistic goals.
What I Learnt: Don’t try wholesale changes from the start – aim for incremental changes that you can sustain. Make 10% changes to your weekly eating plan, and within 3 months, your diet will be better than ever. Keep trying new flavour combinations for variety – and make sure your food choices are as unprocessed as possible.
5. GET YOUR MIND RIGHT: Mental Preparation
The Expert: Clinton Gawhiler
Performance isn’t just physical, there’s a huge component that requires mental strength and fortitude. A sports psychologist will be able to help you build mental toughness, which Clinton defines as the ability to maintain a stable internal state, regardless of external circumstances. It’s a skill which responds to practice just like any other (physical) skill.
What I Learnt: One of Clinton’s biggest lessons: in competition you need to distinguish between behaviour and emotion. The former can be controlled, which should be maintained in line with one’s preparations, regardless of one’s emotions in that moment. Emotions can certainly function as powerful enablers, but if you’re serious about your sport, you can’t afford to rely on them as they are not totally controllable.
6. CREATE THE RIGHT PLAN: Training Goals
The Expert: Lezandre Wolmarans
After taking all the other tests and your results into account, a biokineticist will be able to structure a training plan that is custom fit for your goals.
What I Learnt: The right training plan focuses on improving weaknesses as much as it does on making you stronger and fitter. Lezandre provided a plan that works on my mobility issues first, then I can progress onto more explosive movements.