30/07/2012 09:15 | By Tanya Fortune, contributor, MSN Her

How to train like an Olympian

What separates us casual gym-goers from athletes on their way to the London Games is more than just raw talent – they also go the extra mile in their training, and you should too.


Jessica Ennis (© PA)

They can run faster, jump higher and throw things further than we will ever be able to, but there is a lot we can learn from Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington and Paula Radcliffe.

Their training regime doesn't just involve working out a lot and eating well, they also follow a number of tried and tested fitness rules that help to improve performance, lessen the risk of injury and, hopefully, bring home the medals for Team GB.

Join MSN Her as we look at some of the top training tips which, while they won't quite get you to the starting line at the London Games, will help you get a body any Olympian would be proud of...

Always warm up and cool down
Forget pulling a few half-hearted stretches before and after you exercise; a proper warm-up and cool-down are essential if you want to keep training at the highest level. Personal trainer Gavin Walsh says: "For any athlete injury is a huge blow, but if you're an Olympian it's your worst nightmare. That's why warming up, stretching and sports massage play a pivotal role in any athlete's life. A warm-up should raise the heart rate, get the lungs working and even make you sweat a little. A proper cool-down will help flush out lactic acid, return the heart rate to its normal rate and speed recovery. Don't miss out on either."

Breakfast like a champion
Your body, like a car, can't go anywhere without any fuel. Walsh says: "If you're serious about your sport then you need to fuel your body with the correct food. The energy demands for athletes are much higher, and it will depend on their sport, but you can be sure that either scrambled eggs or porridge along with fruit and plenty of water feature highly on their menu - as they should on yours."

Have a clear goal
Just because you won't be running in the women's 400m final doesn't mean you shouldn't have your own target to aim for. "It doesn't matter whether your goal is a gold medal at the Olympics or to lose 10 pounds in weight," says Walsh. "You have to have a clear target with a deadline that you can work towards. A goal without a deadline is pretty useless in my opinion. There has to be a certain amount of pressure to achieve to help focus both the mind and the body."

Keep a training diary
Unfortunately, the ad-hoc approach to working out just doesn't cut it these days. If you want to progress, you need to do what all top athletes do and keep a detailed log of your training sessions. Walsh says: "If you're training you want to make sure you are improving, and if you're not making progress then you need to be able to ask why not. Keeping a training diary will help you assess if there are any issues with your programme so that you can tweak the plan. The last thing an Olympian would allow to happen is to follow a plan for weeks, only to discover it's not making any difference."

Take an ice bath
Yes, really! A method long-favoured by marathon legend Paula Radcliffe to soothe her aching muscles, plunging into an ice-bath sounds extreme but the benefits make it - sort of - worth it. Walsh explains why the misery has its benefits: "The ice bath is a killer, but it is a great recovery tool for those who train intensely. It enables your muscles, tendons, joints and bones to recover much quicker by reducing inflammation and flushing out lactic acid. If you don't like the idea of an ice bath, you could try a recovery shower by rotating hot and cold several times for three minutes each."

Training when you don't feel like it
The couch may seem like the easier option, but there aren't many - successful - Olympic athletes who will throw a tantrum and refuse to train, even when it's the last thing in the world they feel like doing. Walsh says: "Anyone can train when they feel like it, but those who train when they don't are the ones who get results. The weather might be atrocious, but this wouldn't stop an Olympian from training. If you really want to achieve your goals, it's time to start making sacrifices."

Get mentally prepared
The world's best athletes don't just train their bodies, they also train their minds. Mental preparation is key, says Walsh: "Many athletes use music before competing to psyche themselves up, while the technique of visualising success is really beneficial. This helps them, and you, to get in 'the zone' and has been proven to boost performance when carried out before any activity. Whether it's a gym session or a 10k run, it only takes a few minutes and can really give you confidence."

Find a training partner
Few top athletes train on their own, and there is a good reason for this. Walsh explains: "Sometimes no matter how hard you push yourself, you will always push harder with the help of a training partner. Knowing your partner is training with you also means you're less likely to give training a miss when you don't feel like it." But why stop at one training buddy? Working out in groups is a great way to keep each other motivated, regardless of your individual goals.

Get a coach
A coach is a great investment, regardless of your level. Walsh says: "It doesn't matter if you're an Olympic athlete or a complete amateur, having someone who can point you in the right direction, keep track of your progress and design a plan based on your fitness and time constraints is very beneficial. Adding someone to your team can save you a lot of time and lead to fast results."

Get proper diet advice
Paying for a nutritional assessment may sound extreme, but if you're not eating to suit your body type or training goals then you need to know what alterations to make so you can keep working towards that Olympic physique. Walsh says: "Putting the right food into your body will ensure you can train hard and perform when it matters. But someone who is training to lose weight will follow a very different diet to that of a marathon runner. Seeking expert advice will make sure you are on track to succeed, Olympian or not..."

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