How to train like an Olympian

(CNN) — After watching so many impressive Olympic performances, you may be inspired to increase your fitness routine or sports practice. You might even want to try an Olympic-caliber workout to see what it’s like.

Although there are several Olympic training centers in the United States reserved for elite athletes, this is not where most Olympic hopefuls train. Most simply train in the area where they live, sometimes going to a training camp or special location once or twice a year, said Todd Buckingham, world champion triathlete and exercise physiologist at the Michigan’s Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab.

“It’s usually about training with other elite athletes and creating an optimal training environment without any outside distractions,” he said.

These special camps and spots are often found in mountainous areas where athletes can train at altitude, or where a particular sport is particularly popular. Here are four places where Olympians often congregate and where you can train, too.

Important note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

Soldier Hollow, Midway, Utah

Soldier Hollow Nordic Center (pictured above) is nestled in the Wasatch Mountains and was the site of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics for biathlon and cross-country skiing. While many elites train there, its 16 miles of trail (26 kilometers) are open to all. Five-time Olympian Kikkan Randall said it was one of her favorite places to ski.

“Although Soldier Hollow has Olympic-caliber trails, they’ve done a good job of making them accessible for beginners all the way to elites,” she said.

Challenge you can try: Randall’s “one-third” workout. Select one of the easy trails, then warm up for 15 or 20 minutes. Then increase your pace for another 15 or 20 minutes before calming down for the same amount of time. “You should be breathing a little hard in the middle, but not feeling any heaviness in your muscles,” she said.

Manitou Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado

The Manitou Incline is a 2,744-step outdoor staircase that rises nearly 2,000 vertical feet (600 meters) in just under 1.6 kilometers (1 mile). Some sections feature a whopping 68% mark. Initially, a cable car track used to transport pipeline materials to Pikes Peak. It turned into a cable car tourist attraction and then, in 2013, into a unique hiking trail.

The Manitou Incline, in Manitou Springs, Colorado, gains almost 2,000 feet in elevation in less than 1 mile.

RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/Getty Images

Some 70,000 people tackle the Incline each year, including dozens of athletes from the US Olympic Training Center and the US Air Force Academy in nearby Colorado Springs. While it takes an hour or more for the average person to reach the summit, many elite athletes can reach the summit in less than 30 minutes. The current speed record is 17:45, set in 2015 by runner Joseph Gray just weeks after competing in the World Mountain Running Championships.

Challenge you can try: Hike to the top without stopping. If it’s too difficult, rest as often as necessary. You can also descend to the Bailout, a false summit located 1 km down the slope. The Bailout connects to the Barr Trail, an easy path back down the mountain. Stopping at the Bailout also avoids the steepest part of the trail.

Mount Lemmon Highway, Tucson, Arizona

Cyclists looking for a challenge love to ride the Mt. Lemmon Highway from its base in Tucson at some 2,550 feet (777 meters) to its summit in Summerhaven at 8,200 feet (2 500 meters). While the average grade is only 4.2%, this is a trek of nearly 30 miles (48 kilometers).
The scenic Mt. Lemmon Highway near Tucson, Arizona offers a challenging hike for cyclists.

The scenic Mt. Lemmon Highway near Tucson, Arizona offers a challenging hike for cyclists.


Professional road cyclists and the US Army’s West Point Triathlon team were spotted training on Mount Lemmon. It’s tradition among many runners who celebrate their achievement atop Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin, where the favorite indulgence is the Ice Cream Cookie: a dinner plate-sized cookie topped with four scoops of ice cream, a towering mound of whipped cream and as much toppings as you can handle.

Challenge you can try: Bike to the top. Start at the intersection of Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway and cycle slowly but steadily to Summerhaven. If that’s too much, there are rest areas at miles 5.5, 12, 14, and 21 where you can take a break or turn around.

Forest Park, Portland, Oregon

Forest Park in Portland, Oregon has more than 80 miles of trails that wind around the Tualatin Mountains.

Forest Park in Portland, Oregon has more than 80 miles of trails that wind around the Tualatin Mountains.


Many elite runners live and train in the Portland area, which is also home to Nike’s global headquarters. And one of their favorite places to run is Forest Park, said Andrew Schupp, owner of Schupp Chiropractic & Sports Injuries in Madison, Wisconsin. Schupp, a former Michigan State University collegiate runner, regularly spotted Olympians there while attending chiropractic school in Portland.

The 5,200-acre (2.1 square meter) park features more than 129 kilometers (80 miles) of trails that wind around the Tualatin Mountains. Its two main trails, Wildwood Trail and Leif Erikson Drive, feature distance markers every quarter mile. Forest Park’s trails are generally rolling, although there are plenty of strenuous climbs, Schupp said.

Challenge you can try: Intervals on a hilly section. After warming up, Schupp suggested running hard for a minute, then soft for a minute; then hard for two minutes and easy for one; then hard for three minutes and easy for two; then going down. If you want more of a challenge, he said to try a few hill reps on Firelane 1. “Firelane 1 is a massive hill,” Schupp said, “so it’s a tough workout.”

Once you’ve tried Olympic-caliber training, it’s important to do what Olympians do next: get enough rest. Getting adequate rest is something many regular athletes overlook, said Dr. Rand McClain, an osteopath and chief medical officer at LCR Health, a sports and regenerative medicine center in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Without rest (and good nutrition), not all the training in the world will result in fitness gains,” he said. “And, in fact, it could lead to overtraining and reduced fitness.”

Top photo: In Midway, Utah, runners prepare for the IBU Biathlon World Cup on February 13, 2019, at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, a site of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

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