Welcome to our "Like An Olympian" series. As the 2012 London Olympics nears, HuffPost Healthy Living will take a look at lifestyle and fitness lessons from competitors, coaches and former Olympians alike.
Newsflash: Olympic training is hard. Even as a civilian of respectable fitness, I will probably never achieve a level of athletic acumen sufficient enough to understand how hard it is. But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth a try.
When a representative for Josh Holland -- one of Madonna's tour trainers who will be helping out at the Olympics -- contacted the Healthy Living team about working out on the equipment that will be installed at the main gyms in the Olympic village, I jumped at the chance.
Two weeks later I found myself in an elegant, polished showroom for TechnoGym in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. It wasn't exactly the setting I would most associate with a glycogen-blasting, muscle-trembling nuclear-grade Olympic workout, but I was happy to enjoy the blast of central air conditioning and faint scent of eucalyptus.
The walls of the showroom were lined with aesthetically pleasing wood planks and webs of black cables -- setups akin to those found in a Pilates or barre studio. Digital dials on the walls (what I later learned controlled resistance levels) were the only indication that these machines were different.
Holland, a gregarious and knowledgeable trainer, is an accomplished athlete himself: he had a black belt in Karate by age 11 and won state championships as a track and basketball star in high school and college. He began by demonstrating the Kinesis machine -- the system I'd be testing. Strapping his ankles and wrists into cords attached to the machine, he increased the resistance and began to demonstrate natural movements for a variety of sports: sprinting, swimming and basketball.
As he crouched down to mimic the marking position of a sprinter, he explained how crucial a full power start could be to the race. "How you move out of the blocks could cost you only .5 seconds, but that could be the difference between Gold and not medaling at all," Holland said. He proceeded to move out of the blocks, charging forward and sprinting in place over and over again.
Then he invited me to strap myself in and give it a try. "Why couldn't a sprinter just practice these moves on, you know, actual blocks at a track?" I wondered. As I crouched, lifted my hips into the air and tried to shoot forward in a sprinting motion, it became clear that the resistance bands were going to do everything in their power to hold me back. Even though I was charging forward fewer than three feet and sprinting in place for the equivalent of a 100 yards, I felt as though I were trying to break through a forcefield. After several reps, I was sweating and already beginning to feel tell-tale tightness in my shoulders and biceps.
(In the serene environment of a luxury store, that could be a bit awkward; as I exerted myself, several well-dressed customers sauntered in, dressed in crisp button-down shirts, to order new parts. In my slightly damp, head-to-toe spandex and humidity-enhanced hair, I more resembled something out of a sideshow than a showroom.)
In fact, as Holland explained, the resistance bands act as an impediment, in part to simulate setbacks that Olympic athletes may face, like exhaustion or stress. While practicing the sequence of movements required to shoot out ahead in the 100 meter dash, an athlete can actually improve their abilities by making things harder during the practice.
Once I got the concept down, Holland took me through a series of defense and dribbling basketball drills and -- somewhat hilariously -- several swimming laps, that I performed while suspended over a yoga ball, attached at the wrists and ankles to as much resistance as a moderate sea current would probably provide.
By the end of our hour-long session, I certainly felt the effects of moving my whole body. Having that much resistance tugging me back to the wall meant that I had to engage my entire muscular system, and especially my core, to stay in correct alignment and to complete each task. And, as Holland explained, a strong, engaged core is -- excuse the pun -- at the center of any athletic performance. Stabilizing strength can be the difference between an inconsequential collision and a debilitating injury.
I left with a greater understanding for how precarious one's competitive standing can be. However briefly, I had entered into the mindset of a serious athlete: if you aren't practicing at a disadvantage, you'll enter the competition with one.
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