How Training Like A Track And Field Olympian Can Change Your Life

Get strong

In the last week and a half, Olympic fever has firmly taken root in our collective consciousness. It feels like, as one, we've been watching the jaw-dropping, breathtaking, gravity-defying, speed-of-light-challenging performances of Olympians like Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas, Simone Manuel, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Katie Ledecky, Allyson Felix, and so many more.

But while these athletes seem almost super-human, in possession of abilities that most of us couldn't possibly dream of having, the reality is that their path to the Olympics started somewhere, and their road to glory is paved with hours and hours of training—the kind of training that even us normal people can try for ourselves.

And so while most of us might never quite make it to the Olympics as anything more than spectators, I jumped at the chance to train like an Olympian when Nike offered the opportunity to participate in their Unlimited You program, in which non-Olympians can spend eight weeks training in one of three concentrations offered: basketball, soccer, or track and field. Having something of a background in track (I competed in high school), that was the field I focused in (with a small, fun detour into basketball one day). The program started out with a two-day intensive session at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in Dallas with gold medal-winning Olympian Michael Johnson himself; I then continued to be guided along the way by a combination of inspirational messages (including weekly check-in videos with advice from Johnson), a dedicated team of trainers, and a close analysis of my body's needs and development.

It's hard to deny that intense workouts have now become mainstream; lifting weights isn't an activity that's marginalized anymore; athleisure clothes are now ubiquitous on New York's streets; protein shakes and juices are a huge part of many people's diets. But there's still some things that the average exercise enthusiast isn't aware of, and Nike's Limitless You program helped me redefine my sense of training and what it was I wanted to get out of it. After being invested in the program for two months, I started to focus more on the self-care aspect of exercise and came to realize that what I was doing was working toward building a better me. The focus of my fitness routine wasn't about skinniness but was instead about strength. 

If you're interested in training like an Olympian, like I did via Nike's Unlimited You program, read on for tips from Nike's trainers and a guide to all the gear that really got me going.

Top Tips from Trainer Julia Lucas
1) Always eat at least a little bit before your workout, even a bite. Teaching your body to embrace fuel on the go will rev up your metabolism and help keep your energy up post-workout

2) After working out, you have two windows for optimal refueling:
a) Within 20 minutes get in some quick fuel, preferably a recovery drink with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio. If you don't have any on hand, grab a juice. Ninety percent of the good will be done as long as you get some quick sugars in you when your glycogen is hungry.

b) Within two hours get in a well-rounded meal with a hearty helping of protein. This is for extended rebuilding, helping to heal and strengthen the muscles you just taxed.

3) Vary your shoes: Different shoes do different things for your body, just like different workouts create different stimuli. A bulkier shoe, like a Nike Pegasus, will protect you on a longer run, a run on a hard surface, or when you're tired and landing heavy. A lighter shoe, like a Nike Free, will demand that your feet work harder, and, in the process, strengthen them. Both are important.

4) Take electrolytes! When you sweat, you lose more than water. Replace the minerals lost in sweat with an electrolyte drink or supplement.

5) Your first line of defense against any soreness is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
Rest: Be willing to take a day off, even if it's not on the schedule. Fatigue and pain are your body talking to you. Listen to it!
Ice: When in doubt, ice it. A lot of pain comes from swelling, even if you can't see it. Ice will help eliminate excess fluid and stimulate a new rush of fresh, healing blood as the area warms. Typical time with an ice compress is 10 to 15 minutes.
Compression: Wearing compression socks is the latest craze in running, and for good reason. Compression socks and sleeves can help get the swelling out of a tendinitis and, generally, help accelerate your circulatory system's healing process.
Elevate: Lie on your back and prop your legs up on a wall or stacked pillows. After just 5 to 10 minutes, you'll notice a freshness. Elevation helps drain swelling and will leave you feeling less fatigued, especially if you have a job that has you on your feet for much of the day.

6) Yoga is an excellent accompaniment to running, and vice versa. Yoga helps lengthen muscles that have strengthened through miles and breaks up the repetitive nature of a running stride, creating a more well-rounded and thus injury-resistant athlete. 

Key Advice from Trainer Joseph Holder
1) Recovery is key for consistent athletic development and a major part of that is diet and sleep. Utilizing nutrient-dense smoothies that included anti-inflammatory ingredients (ginger, turmeric, etc.), dark leafy greens, and plant-based protein are essential. 

2) Hydration. One of the things we tested during testing were hydration levels. Lack of hydration is linked to a decrease in athletic performance. If you struggle with remembering to drink water, set an alarm on your phone. 
 
3) Know the difference between fitness and performance. When you train for performance, the overall plan is key. You have to train smarter, not harder. As counterintuitive as it sounds, every workout does not need to crush you. Varying intensities and working on your weak points to make your strong points even better is vital. 
 
4) Set up your environment for success. Make it as easy as possible for you to do well and take the hard thinking and decisions out of your everyday actions. 
 
5) If you want to train like an athlete, check out the Nike+ Training app. The Allyson Felix- and Ashton Eaton-inspired workouts (both gold medal-winning Olympians) will give you a glimpse into the training necessary when you're seeking to become "Unlimited." The Nike+ app also gives you pre-access to events, and allows you to pre-order kicks. 
 

What to Wear When You're Getting Fit
I'm an avowed sneakerhead, but my sneaker-loving world expanded once I started viewing my athletic footwear as another piece of essential equipment. Check out the gallery below for some of my favorite sneakers and other Nike gear that helped me with my training.