After viewing the incredible performances by Olympian athletes, you might be wondering how you can spice up your fitness or sports routine. Maybe you’ve even been wondering if you have what it takes for an Olympic-caliber workout.
Several Olympic training centers exist in the United States, reserved for the top athletes. Surprisingly, that’s not where you’ll find most Olympic hopefuls training. Most simply work out in the region where they live, sometimes traveling to a training camp or special locale once or twice a year, said Todd Buckingham, a world champion triathlete and exercise physiologist at Michigan’s Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab.
“This is usually to train with other elite athletes and create the optimal training environment without any outside distractions,” he said.
The camps and spots mentioned typically include elevation for training, found in mountainous areas. Other times, they’re found where a sport is particularly popular. Want to try out these places? Here are four spots Olympians tend to train at—and where you can train too.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Soldier Hollow Nordic Center is found in the Wasatch Mountains. Once the site of the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics for biathlon and cross-country skiing, its 16 miles of trail (26 kilometers) are now open to anyone who wants to try it. Five-time Olympian Kikkan Randall said it’s one of her favorite places to ski.
“While Soldier Hollow has Olympic-caliber trails, they’ve done a good job making them accessible for beginners all the way up to elites,” she said.
Challenge you can try: Randall’s “one-third” workout. Pick an easy trail to warm up on for 15 to 20 minutes. After, increase your pace for another 15 to 20 minutes. Finally, cool down for that same amount of time. “You should be breathing a little hard in the middle, but not feeling any heaviness in your muscles,” she said.
Next up is the Manitou Incline. Here you’ll find a 2,744-step outdoor staircase that pitches nearly 2,000 vertical feet (600 meters) in just under 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). Additionally, some areas feature a whopping 68% grade. Originally, the incline housed a cable car track that was used to ferry pipeline materials up to Pikes Peak. After that, it was transformed into a cable car tourist attraction before finally, in 2013, it became a unique hiking trail.
Nearly 70,000 people take on the Incline yearly. This includes scores of athletes from the US Olympic Training Center and US Air Force Academy in nearby Colorado Springs. For the average person, the Incline can take an hour or more to reach the peak, while many elite athletes champion it in less than 30 minutes. The current speed record is a blistering 17:45, set in 2015 by runner Joseph Gray just a few weeks after he competed in the World Mountain Running Championships.
Challenge you can try: Attempt to hike to the top of the Incline without stopping. Though, if that’s too challenging, rest as often as needed. If need be, try getting off at the Bailout, which is a false summit 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) up the incline. This can help you avoid the steepest section of the trail. The Bailout leads you to the Barr Trail, which is an easy exit path back down the mountain.
If cycling is more your style, try biking up the Mt. Lemmon Highway, from its base in Tucson at some 2,550 feet (777 meters) of elevation to its peak in Summerhaven at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). While the average grade is only 4.2%, it’s a nearly 30-mile (48-kilometer) trek.
Among those who have been spotted training on Mt. Lemmon are pro road-racing cyclists and the US Army West Point Triathlon Team. Many riders have made a tradition of celebrating the completion of their trek at the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin. The favorite of many riders is the Ice Cream Cookie. This treat is a plate-size cookie topped with four scoops of ice cream, a tower of whipped cream, and as many toppings as you choose.
Challenge you can try: Make your way to the summit via cycling. Start at the intersection of Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway and bike slowly but steadily to Summerhaven. If that proves to be too much of a challenge, there are rest stops at miles 5.5, 12, 14 and 21 where you can take a break or head back.
Home to Nike World Headquarters, the Portland area is full of elite runners. A favorite training spot of theirs is Forest Park, said Andrew Schupp, owner of Schupp Chiropractic & Sports Injuries in Madison, Wisconsin. Schupp, a former collegiate runner at Michigan State University, regularly noticed Olympian athletes there while attending chiropractic school in Portland.
The 5,200-acre (2.1-squre-meter) park features more than 80 miles (129 kilometers) of trail that wind around the Tualatin Mountains. Its two main paths, Wildwood Trail and Leif Erikson Drive, includes distance markers every quarter mile. The trails at Forest Park are generally rolling, although there are plenty of taxing climbs, Schupp said.
Challenge you can try: Intervals on a hilly stretch. After warming up, Schupp suggested running hard for one minute, then easy for one minute; then hard for two minutes and easy for one; then hard for three minutes and easy for two; then reversing back down. If you want more of a challenge, he said to try some hill repeats on Firelane 1. “Firelane 1 is a massive hill,” Schupp said, “so it’s a tough workout.”
If you’re going to train like an Olympian, you have to rest like an Olympian. Obtaining adequate rest is something many regular athletes ignore, said Dr. Rand McClain, a chief medical officer at LCR Health and an osteopath at Regenerative & Sports Medicine, a regenerative and sports medicine facility in Santa Monica, California.
“Without rest (and good nutrition), all the training in the world will not result in gains in fitness,” he said. “And, in fact, it could result in overtraining and reduced fitness.”