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Kenneth is the founder and head coach of One with the Water, a nonprofit swim school that offers need-based scholarships to children with special needs, adults, low-income families, and service-disabled Veterans. He is a certified US Paralympic Disabilities Swim Coach and a strength and conditioning coach.
The Winter Olympics are here! … it’s time to park ourselves in front of the TV and marvel at the gravity-defying, record-breaking, hair-raising feats performed on a regular basis by elite athletes from all over the world. (Sometimes off the foeld too!) It’s easy to think that we could never do something like that (And truth be told, most of us will never achieve a perfect score in the halfpipe like Shaun White just did. Many of us will never even attempt the halfpipe.) But that’s no reason to give up. You may not be able to duplicate their skill, but you can train to achieve their strength.
The secret for elite athletes is this: Practice and training. I know you are thinking that sounds like the exact same thing, but it isn’t. First, practice is just the repetitive, accurate, and precise movement needed for your sport … a triple axle, a Double McTwist 1260 if you are Shaun White, or a gravity defying multiple spin through the air off a ski ramp . Practice uses specific muscle memory over a long period time to increase both the precision and the accuracy of the movement.
Training, on the other hand, creates whole body physiological changes based on certain training goals. (Endurance, strength, flexibility). These changes aren’t dependent on any specific movement patterns the way practice is. And most important, they are most efficient with effective training programs. Every training program should include workouts that apply the most efficient amount of stress to create change. Long story short - all athletes need non-sport specific training
I’ll tell you what they are all doing … the snowboarders, the skaters, the skiers, the bobsledders. Regardless of sport, I guarantee every one of these athletes is utilizing strength training. Simply put, strength is our muscles’ ability to produce force against resistance. Whether it be gravity, the ground, an object, or another individual. Every sport requires an interaction between the athlete and an opposing force. Lindsay Jacobellis can’t generate the height and speed needed to flip through the air without producing a tremendous amount of force through her legs. She doesn’t get that force from practicing tricks. She gets it from getting stronger. She trains her butt off, not just in the gym, but with her rescue dogs, on the water surfing, and other things she keeps to herself, for the obvious advantage.
Here’s where the barbell comes in. Doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to be an Olympic Athlete to do it. “Barbell training makes use of the body’s most basic movement patterns – barbell exercises that involve all of the body’s muscle mass – utilized over the longest effective range of motion and loaded progressively, to force the adaptations necessary for increased strength.” - Founder of Starting Strength
Bottom line: if you are the most accurate and the most precise, you are the most skilled. That’s why you practice. Combine it with effective training, and a dose of talent and you see the best in the world we are gathering to watch in February. The reality is that while we may not have the natural talent of some of these elite athletes, we all have the ability to practice more and train harder to produce better results in our chosen lane, be it recreational, or professional.
*information gathered from Starting Strength program and https://startingstrength.com/