By Gwendolyn Purdom
3:41 PM CST, February 19, 2014
Jacob Ross always has high hopes for the Olympics. The Highland Park-based trainer has been working with Aja Evans, the 25-year-old Chicago native who made her Olympic debut on the U.S. bobsled team in the Sochi Games, for two and a half years.
Evans took bronze this week, so it's clear the work has paid dividends.
Getting to that point physically, however, was no easy feat. While the average gym-goer might hit the treadmill a few times a week, for the elite athletes who compete at an Olympic level, training is a full-time job.
So just how do these competitors get to the top of their game? We talked to Chicago trainers and athletes to find out how to build an Olympic body.
Glutes of a bobsledder
Evans didn't grow up bobsledding, but when Team USA started recruiting college sprinters, the former University of Illinois star and Ross started studying the sport.
"The thing that we always focused on was getting her as fast and as powerful as possible because if we could do that, then it's that much easier to learn the skill," said Ross, who works with Evans at EFT Sports Performance.
That power, in Evans' case, comes from her hamstrings, quads and glutes. As a brakeman, or "pusher," Evans is responsible for giving the sled the fastest start possible before hopping in herself.
A typical workout targets the lower body and might consist of track exercises and plyometric drills that incorporate "explosive" movements such as jumping, several hours a day, five to six days a week.
The hard work has paid off.
"To see my name as 'Aja, the Olympian' or 'the Olympian, Aja Evans,' that's what's exciting," she said. "It was 'future Olympian' or 'Olympic hopeful,' so now that it's 'Olympian,' it has a nice little ring to it."
Arms of a curler
Curling, Tate Tobkin said, is a lot harder than it looks.
"It's a total body workout," the Rogers Park resident said.
While balance on the ice, cardiovascular endurance and leg strength are important in the sport, Tobkin said arms and shoulders get a workout as well, particularly if you're "sweeping"—the position that's responsible for clearing a path and often steering the 44-pound stones to the right place on the ice.
Tobkin, a personal trainer in Winnetka when he's not playing at the Chicago Curling Club in Northbrook, said he prepares for matches with exercises that improve range of motion and balance, which might include using a balance pad, lunges and working on opposing muscle groups.
Core of a hockey player
Ten Blackhawks will compete in Sochi, but as the Olympics fall within NHL season, Hawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman said there's little difference in their approach.
To gear up for both Olympic competition and the regular season, players engage in training such as a barbell complex circuit, which takes them through six to eight movements with a barbell and other exercises to strengthen their cores, upper bodies and legs.
"It's playing at such a high level," Goodman said of Olympic preparations. "There's nothing greater for those guys than being able to do that for themselves and for their country."
Calves of a ski jumper
In Fox River Grove, the Norge Ski Club doesn't need snow to take to the slopes. When the weather dictates, former Olympic coach Scott Smith trains his team on a porcelain practice run where skiers land in a pit lined with soft, shredded plastic instead.
An ideal skier's body is thin but muscular in the legs and lower body, Smith said. He shapes up his team members—such as Mike Glasder of Cary, Ill., the first alternate for the U.S. in these Games—using weights, circuit and strength training and lower body-focused plyometric exercises.
Building those muscles allows skiers to enjoy the high points of the sport even more.
"The flying part is the biggest thrill of the whole thing," Smith said.
Quads of a speedskater
Top-level speedskaters, such as the 2014 Olympians Jeff Klaiber coaches, can reach speeds of up to 40 mph on the ice, so their training process is rigorous. Illinois natives and U.S. Olympians Jonathan Kuck and Emery Lehman spend four to six hours a day working with Klaiber at Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center with movements that primarily work the quads, glutes and hips.
Skating drills, weight training, resistance training and body weight exercises up the skaters' efficiency on the ice—a key component in speedskating. Since Klaiber competed in the 1988 and 1992 Games, the sport has moved indoors onto faster ice with more advanced skates, so the competition favors athletes who are more powerful relative to their size now instead of the bigger, stronger competitors who used to dominate.
What hasn't changed, though, is the Olympians' drive.
"Focusing on a goal and staying with it is the one thing that all these athletes share," Klaiber said. "They all started not knowing how to skate and they all ended up being experts at a very difficult sport, so that's a good lesson for life."
Gwendolyn Purdom is a RedEye special contributor.Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye Sports' Facebook page.
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