by Su Reid-St. John, for Sharecare
With the 2012 Olympic Summer Games upon us, we've been wondering just what those athletes do in their training sessions to put them over the top. So we turned to Elite Trainer Joel Harper, who has worked with Olympians--gold medalists among them--in such high profile sports as swimming, rowing and track-and-field. (In fact, some of his clients are competing for Team USA in London.) Here are Harper's top tips on getting the most out of your exercise routine, even if the only thing you intend to compete for over the next couple weeks is a place in the shortest supermarket line.
- Always work out as if the cameras were rolling. "Give it your all every single time you train," Harper says. "People who do the best--celebrities, pro athletes, Olympic gold medalists--live in the moment and don't get sloppy or back off just because no one's watching."
- Focus on your breathing. "Without good breathing, you won't have enough energy to train properly," Harper says. So be aware of your inhales and exhales, and aim to do each for a count of two. "Don't force or hold your breath."
- Be consistent. "The best athletes exercise day in and day out, and you should, too," Harper says. "It's like brushing your teeth-you can't brush one day, then wait a couple of days to brush again." Making time each day to be active won't just give you terrific results, but it'll keep your metabolism running briskly, too--and you don't have to be a top athlete to benefit from that!
- Stretch immediately after each workout. "Stretching opens your muscles and gets your blood flowing, leaving you feeling energized and tension-free," Harper says. "Every single one of my clients comes in out of balance, whether it's from wearing high heels or sleeping on one side or whatever. Stretching gets them back in balance," he says. Try this trick as you stretch: Imagine there's an uninflated balloon right inside the tightest part of the muscles you're stretching. As you breathe, think about filling the balloon with your breath.
- Only reward yourself if you've put in the time and done all the work. "Otherwise, where's the inspiration to finish?" Harper says. So don't treat yourself to that pedicure or home improvement store splurge just because you've done a few workouts. Instead, wait until you've actually reached your goal. Or, consider a reverse-reward: "One of my Olympic clients writes a check each week to an organization he hates, puts it in an envelope, stamps and addresses it, then gives it to his best friend," Harper says. "At the end of the week, if he can't rate himself a perfect 10 on all of his workouts, he has to tell the friend to mail the check."
- Believe you deserve the gold. "Everyone I work with has a long list of goals they want to accomplish," Harper says. "The ones who end up achieving their goals are the ones who deeply believe that they deserve to achieve them. When you feel like you deserve something, you take daily action to turn it into a reality." Now that's a lesson we can all live by. Let the Games begin!
Su Reid-St. John is Sharecare's Senior Fitness Editor. She lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband, daughter, and cat, and can be found inline skating, Nordic walking, cycling, doing yoga, and strength training (TRX is her new obsession) whenever time allows.
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