5 Ways to Train like an Olympic Athlete

By Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD

I recently visited the Colorado Springs for work. It is a beautiful place with many things to see. As a health and fitness enthusiast, the Colorado Springs has a special significance for me. The city has sunshine 300 days a year, and with an altitude of 6000 feet, this is an ideal place for fitness workouts. The city has multiple parks and trails everywhere. The air is clean with greenery everywhere flanked by snow peaked mountains. With all these benefits in mind, the place was chosen to be Olympic training center for the US athletes.
The US Olympic committee runs three Olympic training centers which are located in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid and Chula Vista. The Colorado Springs center was the first training center built in 1978, and also has been the home of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The location provides great training potential because of the high elevation, and excellent weather. They have a visitor center, and offer regular tours to the public. The location is around 2 miles from the downtown. I reached there around 3Pm and took a tour. I saw the Olympic-size swimming pool, indoor shooting range, the Olympic Training Center Velodrome, two sports centers housing numerous gymnasiums, and the weight rooms. The center also hosts dining hall, several dormitories for athletes, the offices of both the USOC and U.S. Paralympics, and sports center laboratory.

The Colorado Springs Olympic training center accepts application from athletes nominated from the sporting bodies who are among the top ten percentile in their sports. The center will accept athletes over 18 years of age. The age criterion serves well for all sports except those where one peaks before 18 like female gymnastics. The athletes undergo a rigorous screening process, and once accepted, they stay and train at the location. Typically athletes stay from anywhere from a 4 to 8 year period. They train for 6 to 8 hours daily 5 to 6 days a week. The facility is open around from 6am to 8 pm at night. Athletes receive a stipend of around 30,000 years per month. I was surprised to learn that; the facility does not receive any government money. The entire facility and the athletes are supported through sponsors. The facility is autonomous and maintains in independence. This is in contrast with many other countries where government run the training facilities bear all the costs, and politicians get a say in the operations.
The saw many athletes train for the Tokyo Olympics. I saw Christina Cruz who is a five times national boxing champion in the 54 KG. I felt a sense of awe and inspiration seeing the dedication and hard work these athletes put on a daily basis. Only a few of them will win the medals, make the big money, get sponsorships, and attain a global fame. But for the rest, it a is a major risk, as they commit so many prime years of their life leaving out other carrier opportunities, and risking injuries.
In addition to training at the center, the athletes also train by hiking, running, and biking at the different mountain trails. One popular is the Incline at the Manitou Springs. Regular people take around 1 to 2 hours to climb up. Olympic athletes do that in less than 30 minutes. One of them was Apollo Uno, who I was told did in 17 minutes. Besides, there is the famous Pikes peak there which is at a 14,000 feet elevation. Many trails run to it, the most popular being the Barr trail which is a 13 miles steep hike. Many athletes, and tourists take the trail which takes around 6 to 8 hours to finish.

Five times US national boxing champion Christina Cruze with Panchajanya Paul

Here are the five training pearls that I learned at the Olympic Center:
1. Train throughout the day: Although high intensity training is popular now with CrossFit, there is no substitute for volume work. The Olympic athletes are training 6 to 8 hours regularly. They spend hours on their cardio, strength, flexibility. And on top of that they practice for hours to hone their skills for their sporting event. For regular folks, it might be a good idea, to break your exercise regiment in small 5 to 10-minute segment across the day, instead of doing all in a 1-hour chunk in the morning or evening.

2. Outdoor Exercise: Most of the athletes keep a balance of training indoors and outdoors. When one exercises outdoor there are additional health benefits. You get the endorphins and vitamin d from the sun. you breathe in the fresh pure oxygen in your lungs. You gain immunity as being outside you get exposed to nature, and build tolerance to allergies.

3. High Altitude Training: when you exercise at an elevation, you put additional stressors to the body. As the air is thin, and contain less oxygen, the body secretes Erythropoietin, which is a hormone which produces red blood cells. Thus, for the same exercise, you get a higher cardio benefit, and your body produces more red blood cells over time. The more blood cells you have the more oxygen and nutrient you can supply your body during physical exertion which is big advantage during sports competition.

4. Years of Practice: The athlete's practice for years to reach to their peak potential. There are no short cuts. There are no prodigies when it comes to health and fitness. One has to exercise for years to gain a high level of fitness and health capacity. And it is not the end. Once you achieve elite level of athleticism, you have to keep on exercising out to maintain that. Health and exercise are married for life.

5. No Drugs: There are no short cuts to forge elite fitness. The US athletes are randomly drug tested every week to month. Any illegal substance in urine or blood leads to expulsion. The athletes train hard with their coaches and co-players for years taking the long arduous path to excellence. So be patient, have faith; if you put the hard works, results will follow.

Sports is a great equalizer. Olympics is the toughest sporting event for which the best athletes around the world prepare for 4 years. It requires a monk like devotion, commitment and sacrifice in the prime years of one's life. Olympics started in Greece. The events brought participants from all walks of life who competed irrespective of their creed and status. The spirit still continues, but the modern games have become an expensive, long term, and labor-intensive enterprise. Unless on has access to world-class coaching and facility, it is difficult to complete at elite level with just skill & hard work. In this regard, the US training facility at the Colorado Springs is doing a great service to the budding athletes all over the country to reach their maximum potential.

Overall, it was a memorable experience for me. The dedication of US Olympic athletes is truly remarkable. Although they receive excellent support and coaching, they also have to a lot of hard work. It is no wonder, that US athletes tops the medals tally at the Olympics. It was clear to me that there is substitute for hard work -whether you are in a developed or a developing country. The area is brimming with health and fitness. You will see many fit people running, biking, hiking in any of the trails at any time of the day. You may encounter many professional athletes on your way to the trails. I came out with a lot of motivation and inspiration. As a psychiatrist, doing a sedentary desk job, it rekindled my passion for health and fitness again. The Olympic training center is must visit for any health and fitness enthusiast, and I plan to visit again with my family.

Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email georgiapsychiatry@gmail.com to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.