How to Train Like an Olympian (Part 1)

Whether you just want to shed a few pounds, run a marathon, or be the best you can be in your sport, these 5 strategies used by Olympians can help you reach your ultimate goal.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #100

How to Train Like an Olympian, Part 1

This is the 100th episode of the Get-Fit Guy podcast! And while that may be an impressive feat, I can think of something even more impressive: an Olympic athlete.>

Olympic athletes not only have natural talent, dedication, and drive, but they devote a great majority of their lives to their sports so that they can be the best in the world. An Olympic athlete must train hours each day to perfect their skill and maintain their amazing physical condition. As a matter of fact, the aspiring Olympic athlete spends an average of 8 hours a day, 7 days a week training their body and their mind.

To have that amount of dedication and drive, there are specific physical and mental strategies that Olympic athletes use. So with the XXX Olympiad just around the corner, today’s episode is the first in a two-part series that is going to teach you how to use 10 different Olympic athlete strategies in your own training, whether you just want to shed a few pounds, run a marathon, or be the best you can be in your sport.

Here are the first 5 strategies:

How to Train Like an Olympic Athlete

Strategy #1: Build a Foundation


Olympic athletes can train over a decade to reach their long term goal of winning a gold medal! While you can’t reverse the clock and start training as a toddler to reach your personal goal, you do need to build a solid fitness base. And depending upon your current fitness level, that can take as long as 6-12 months. This is a step that is often skipped by many who jump straight into a heavy weight training program, a hardcore Crossfit class, a bootcamp, or a marathon training program. This kind of shock to the system can leave you injured just a couple of weeks later! You must begin the journey toward your fitness goal with a period of time that involves slowly building endurance, strength, flexibility balance, and cardiovascular conditioning. A good place to start is by understanding common muscle imbalances and how to fix them.

Strategy #2: Eat Well

In an earlier episode, I mentioned the enormous and possibly unhealthy diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps (who, incidentally, gained significant weight after a training hiatus following his incredible 8-gold medal feat at the 2008 Olympics). Most Olympic athletes, however, know how to eat and drink for ideal sports performance and recovery. Though they don’t all consume the same percentages of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, each Olympian’s diet plan, no matter how complicated, follows two basic principles:

  1. being aware of what they’re eating, preferably through writing it down or at least by avoiding mindless eating

  2. eating nutrient-dense foods that supply significant nutrients, vitamins and minerals per calorie (for example, whole raw fruit versus concentrated fruit juice).

See also: Is Fruit Good for You?

Strategy #3: Focus on Technique

Olympians’ movement efficiency and economy result from the thousands of hours of practice that they put into their specific sports skills. By repeating movements over and over again, the human body can learn how to perform a skill with laser-like efficiency. So if you plan on doing something like running a 5K, completing a triathlon, or moving to the next level in tennis or golf, it pays to have at least one to two sessions per week when you focus not on fitness, but on drills and skills, such as running with proper form, practicing your tennis serve, or visiting the driving range.

Strategy #4: Periodize

Olympic athletes precisely time their training and recovery to coincide with a “peak” in their fitness when they reach the Olympics. “Periodization” is the term given to this method of varying workouts so that you can be in the absolute best physical, emotional, and mental condition when it really matters, such as for an event or a race.  For you, this may mean that you don’t do the same workout over and over again throughout the entire year. Instead, you should break your year into “periods,” in which each period has a specific goal or focus. For example, if you want to run a fall marathon, you would work on your strength and muscle balance during the winter, your basic endurance during the spring, your speed and intensity during the summer, and finally, a period of rest for the final 2-3 weeks before your event.

Strategy #5: Use a Coach

It is rare to find an Olympic athlete who doesn’t work with a coach or trainer. Not only does this remove the mental hassle and stress of handling details like schedules and training “to-do” lists, but it also provides accountability, motivation, and precise direction. You don’t necessarily need to hire a full-time coach to oversee every workout you do, but you certainly don't need to be an Olympian to reap the benefits of getting expert advice every once in a while. A good place to start would be with my episode on How to Choose a Personal Trainer.

Next week, I’ll bring you 5 more ways that you can learn from Olympic athletes, but in the meantime, if you have more questions about how to train like an Olympian, email me at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or visit Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

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About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.