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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Olympic exercise: Couch potatoes can benefit from it too

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

So you're thinking that maybe you want to work out like an Olympian.

Give it up, now, or you're going to get hurt.

There's no chance that us couch potatoes and weekend warriors can even come close to matching the level of fitness, strength, and endurance of the athletes we'll be watching for the next couple of weeks.

But we can dream, can't we?

Better yet, we can get up off of the recliner and taste just a little bit of what the Olympians do in terms of a workout and start getting in shape ourselves. Skating, skiing, pickup hockey, and even curling offer great opportunities to either kick your New Year's resolutions into second gear or get a head start on your own personal spring training.

Start by checking your level of fitness and then begin working on various core stretching exercises — the type that work on strengthening your stomach and back muscles, said Dale Arnold, a physical therapist and athletic trainer for Center for Health Promotion at Mercy St. Charles Hospital.

Because so many of these activities involve balance, having a strong core is essential.

"If you just go out and do it, you're going to hurt yourself," Mr. Arnold said. "The average person ... 60 to 70 percent of their time is spent with just general living, which is why they might be more vulnerable to getting hurt."

The advantages though are that most people who participate in these sports probably already have some basic skill level in them. And the physics of moving fast on ice and snow mean that when you fall you're bound to skid and slide rather than come to an immediate stop and slam your joints with a powerful impact.

The other thing to account for is the cold, but Mr. Arnold said it's not too big of a deal as long as you wear proper clothing and get warmed up.

"The stimulus of the cold is going to make you tighter and feel tighter but once you get the stimulation going, the muscles will respond to that."

Which means it's time to suit up and get busy. Here's a look at four basic Olympic sports that even us couch taters can give a try, focusing on flexibility, strength, and aerobics.

Downhill skiing

What it takes: Strong legs — stretch those hamstrings and quadriceps (that big thigh muscle on top of your leg) — and endurance. A great way to get ready is to squat against a wall for 20 seconds and then work up from there in terms of how long you do this exercise.

What it works: It is almost all lower-body, but downhill skiiers get the equivalent aerobic workout as a swimmer or basketball player, Mr. Arnold said. By comparison, cross-country skiing is more like long-distance running.

Be careful: Falling is the obvious issue here, and knee and ankle injuries are common. Having a strong core builds balance.

Curling

What it takes: "Control and balance are important," Mr. Arnold said. As with bowling, your lower body is heavily involved in a controlled motion, and you use your upper body to push the stone with the proper finesse.

What it works: Forget about aerobics, but "there's a huge quadriceps activity ... squatting down and sliding," Mr. Arnold said.

Be careful: Not much to worry about here, just don't slip and fall on the ice because it might injure your pride.

Pickup hockey

What it takes: Like pickup basketball, hockey requires being in relatively good shape, and there's tons of leg work involved. Your back and gluteal muscles will also get a strong workout. Lots of twisting is involved, so loosen up before you hit the ice.

What it works: Basically it's not much different from getting out and running up and down the basketball court for an hour, with lots of stops and starts and cutting.

Be careful: Mr. Arnold said that when he was a trainer at Bowling Green State University he didn't see many hockey players with pulled muscles or sprains. "It was mostly bruises, bumps, and cuts." So wear a helmet and don't get carried away with the rough stuff. It's just a game.

Skating

What it takes: It's all lower-body, obviously, but you need balance, and if you push yourself rather than just cruising along with the kids, you're going to need to be in pretty good shape.

What it works: You can make skating an aerobic activity if you want to tear around the ice. If so, you're going to give your legs a serious workout. "You're down, you're squatted, and your center of gravity is two feet off the ground," Mr. Arnold said.

Be careful: First, don't slam into the more leisurely skaters. From there, just watch out for pulled muscles and violent falls.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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