Biathlon strategy can be useful in daily life

Multi-sport Olympic events have always been considered the most difficult. In fact, the reigning decathlon champion is typically considered “the world’s best athlete.”

Sports consisting of both extreme athletic effort and a technical skill require very different approaches to training. Among these, biathlon is considered to be the most challenging.

Biathlon first became an Olympic sport in 1960, but its origins date back to 2000BC. It is a combination of cross country skiing and marksmanship. The object is to complete a skiing course (20km or 12.4 miles for men and 15km or 9.3 miles) in the shortest amount of time while stopping to shoot at targets in the prone and standing positions. Missed targets add minutes to the final time.

Cross country skiing is an intense aerobic activity requiring both upper and lower body strength as well as cardiovascular stamina. Training sessions often last 21⁄2 hours and it is not uncommon to average 13 such sessions per week.

During the season, workouts typically consist of a combination of skiing and shooting. Off-season activities include roller skiing, rowing and elliptical work outs.

Physiologically, the challenge in biathlon is going from a state of high adrenergic stimulation with rapid breathing, elevated heart rate and sweating to a condition of calm and precise movements. All humans have a slight, often imperceptible tremor. When agitated, this tremor becomes coarser. Biathletes must condition themselves to make this transition quickly.

The key to making this dramatic transition is the ability to control breathing. In doing so, the heart rate slows and a rhythm is established to perform a necessary skill.

Cadenced breathing is an effective tool for athletes to create calm in the midst of agitation. It is also a skill that will serve non-athletes when dealing with stress.

Winter Olympic Training

Over the course of the next two weeks, new records will be posted in a variety of winter sports. These exciting feats of athletic prowess are often made possible by innovations in physical training.

Since the first recorded Olympics in 773 B.C., dedication to a physical regimen of diet, exercise and good health habits has been paramount. Like their ancestors, modern Olympic athletes train year-round for their events and begin at an early age. Even in ancient Greece, many had access to the services of a personal trainer who was generally a retired athlete. What have changed dramatically are the training techniques used today.

When reviewing the training regimens of winter Olympic athletes, three recurring patterns, in addition to their sport-specific workouts, are universal: cross training, resistance training and core training.

Cross training simply refers to training in different ways to improve overall performance. Skating, sledding and skiing participants cross train by cycling. They will do this on the road during the off-season and by using a stationary bike during winter months. A stationary bike is also a good way to warm up cold muscles immediately before an event.

Resistance training is primarily performed by lifting weights. Various workouts are based on a specific sport to determine which muscles need to be developed and whether they are being utilized for a distance or sprint event.

Core training involves building strength in muscles that stabilize the abdomen, pelvis and spine. Exercises can include the use of a medicine ball, a physio ball, dumbbells or something as simple as push-ups.

The winter Olympics will provide a lot of entertaining moments, but they should also serve as a lesson in good health practices and personal fitness.

Rapid weight loss is dangerous for athletes

Historically, wrestling is one of the first competitive sports. It dates back to the first Olympic Games in Greece. Millions of amateur athletes are drawn to wrestling because it matches competitors of similar weight and size. It requires strength, coordination and endurance.

There is a very dangerous side to wrestling and other weight-based sports like boxing. The danger is the tendency for competitors to “cut weight.” Cutting weight is the practice of losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time so that the athlete qualifies to compete in a lower weight class. Athletes generally weigh-in 24 hours before a match, then try to replenish fluids prior to their match. This results in large fluid shifts.

Common techniques for cutting weight include exercising in a sauna while wearing an impermeable plastic suit and sweats. This causes hyperthermia and, in three well-publicized cases, has lead to the death of athletes. Some will use laxatives and diuretics in addition to sweating off fluid.

Vigorous exercise at high temperatures will result in muscle breakdown called rhabdomyolysis. As muscle breaks down, the athlete becomes weaker.

In boxing, the pre-fight weigh-in includes a physical exam. It is often during the exam that the ringside physician can detect signs of cutting weight like a rapid heart rate and low blood pressure. This can lead to disqualification.

USA Boxing and the NCAA now require athletes to weigh-in shortly before the event so that there is no time to replenish fluid and anyone who has cut an extreme amount of weight will be physically unable to compete at peak performance.

This unfortunately has not discouraged these dangerous practices and there are internet websites advising young athletes how to rapidly lose weight.

Athletes often feel invincible and it becomes the job of coaches, athletic trainers and parents to monitor their weight.