How To Train Like An Olympic Athlete

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Olympic athletes aren’t bred winners. They aren’t born with gold medals around their necks, and they don’t just show up to the games hoping to win. They go through a series of intense training sessions throughout the year to prepare them for competition.

For every athlete who walks onto a field, or dives into the pools, there were at least 10 other just like him who quit. Being an Olympian requires a high level of determination and perseverance. It is very common for athletes to invest at least 4, if not 8 years of training in a specified sport before they make an Olympic team. 

Sports requiring higher levels of aerobic endurance, such as sprinting, may take even longer.  These athletes need to maximize lung capacity, strengthen their heart muscle, and build a high lactate tolerance (the body’s ability to push through after lactic acid floods the muscles, cause you to hit a wall).

Many Olympic athletes plan their training schedule months, and even years in advance. This requires alternate levels of periodization to help reach peak performance levels during competition. These plans may not include exact details at first, but they alternate periods of intense training and rest leading up to the games.

They also train to condition their bodies for various types of weather, altitudes, and air quality changes.  Athletes don’t always compete in climates similar to where the resided. Things such as air quality also effect athletic performance. When endurance athletes traveled to Beijing, China, they experience a poorer quality of air due to less stringent emissions policies in the country.

Athletes who train for the Olympic frequently meet with their training team. Members include strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and sports medicine specialists. These specialists assess strengths and weakness, and adjust diet and training accordingly.

Mental focus
Athletes are frequently separated from family and friends. They need a certain mount of mental strength to deal with intense training and tight schedules. It is important for them to juggle a strict training schedule, frequent travel to national and international events, all while trying to maintain a personal life.

The quality of life of an Olympian may not be as great as what it would be in a professional career. Many athletes put off careers in order to train for their sport. They also face the challenge of competing against close friends during games. A person they train with year round may soon be their greatest opponent for the gold medal.


If you want to train like an Olympic athlete, be prepared to get plenty of rest. Most Olympians have lights out earlier than grade school students. Athletes need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night, and a good 90-minute rest during the day to give their bodies a chance to rebuild and repair muscle tissue broken down during training.


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