How to

28 April 2016

How Athletes Prepare for the Winter Olympics

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Winter sports kind of live in their own world. With other, less climate-dependent sports, there are certain rules of thumb you can draw as far as training techniques are concerned. Running, calisthenics, stretches, basic weight training, that kind of thing. Winter sports carry unique challenges though, and training for them takes on many different forms, some familiar, others not.

In this article you’ll find a breakdown of how Olympic athletes prepare for their respective sports, so if you’ve ever wondered about how you can better suit your exercises to the possibility of learning how to ski or bobsled in the future, pay close attention.

Cross Country Skiing

Arguably the most demanding sport on the Winter Olympics roster, cross country skiing has athletes going around courses as long as 50km, reaching speeds in excess of 25km/h. They have to have incredible lung capacity and endurance, and as such they tend to train twice a day, six days a week, year round. Particular attention is paid to proper breathing techniques, rest and recovery, and nutrition. On a training day, a male cross country skier is expect to expend 6,000 – 7,000 kcal. Cycling, rowing and even roller blading are involved in the training during the off-season.


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The strength and accuracy needed for curling is kind of startling. You have to slide a 20kg stone across a 42km length of ice with millimetre accuracy. The training splits itself pretty evenly between stretching, weight training and resistance training, particularly for the sweeping. Lunges, sweeps and leg stands play a big role, weighted or otherwise, as you have to be able to move around on the ice flawlessly. Even things like wall sits can be useful, but in most cases athletes are working with 20kg weights at least, for obvious reasons. Training tends to be year round, 5 days a week at an Olympic level.


As you might expect, there’s a fair amount of crossover between biathlon training and cross country training, with the difference being that at the end of the course, biathletes need to have enough focus to fire a rifle. This comes down, primarily, to working on mental focus and breathing control. Many biathletes practice various forms of meditation, and they also swim and spend hours on the range to permanently etch the right shooting form into their muscle memory.

Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton

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While there are significant differences between these three sports, they all exist under the same umbrella, completely cut off from any other kind of sports training. The accuracy, balance, strength and resistance to G-force required are astounding. Some sledders actually start to get shorter after enough years doing it. Bobsledders lift weights around 3 to 4 times a week, sprint twice a week and actually practice pushing the sled out twice a week. Skeleton also focuses on the push, with bicycle sprints, no arm and a few other different techniques. In all cases, sled maintenance is absolutely essential, with lugers in particular spending hours sanding their steels to provide the perfect counterbalance. Keeping perfect track of their weight is also vitally important.

Speed Skating

Speed skating is exhausting to watch, let alone compete in. The athletes involved fly around the track going up to 50 km/h in a tight group. It’s a very strategic sport, with a particular emphasis on balance, slipstreaming and velocity control. Speed skaters cycle a lot, do a great deal of plyometric training and engage in gruelling endurance work with weights. Like skiers, they will rollerblade in the offseason as an alternative to actual track practise. They need to move laterally as well though, which on roller-skates would result in a pretty epic spill, for this they’ll often train on what’s known as a slide board. A turn cable can also help them learn to deal with resistance, and the painful onset of lactic acid it brings.