Internal Athletes: How Olympians Train
of the most fit individuals in the world. They exercise every day. They also eat healthy
meals and avoid harmful habits like smoking. This helps them stay in great shape.
Athletes must train to prepare for the Olympics. Athletes have to use their
muscles to help them run, skate and ski. They train their bodies to use their muscles
more efficiently. This builds endurance. Endurance is the ability or power to tolerate
long periods of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is low to high intensity exercise
over an long period of time. It requires a lot of oxygen and improves fitness because
the exercise is extended over a long period of time. Running, swimming and cycling
are types of aerobic exercise.
An athlete wants to build endurance so he or she can be physically active for a
long period of time. If an athlete can exercise longer, then he or she can perform
better than competitors. So, how does exercise actually build endurance?
You are always breathing. You breathe in oxygen into lungs. This oxygen enters
the blood in your lungs. Blood travels through the vessel throughout your body. The
heart pumps blood. The oxygen travels in the blood to your muscles. In your
muscles, the oxygen helps make energy called ATP. ATP is energy that helps your
muscles contract, or move. When you exercise, you train your body to be more
efficient to take in oxygen, pump blood and make ATP. If you are more efficient, your
muscles are better able to function.
Athletes exercise to build endurance and make their bodies better at making
ATP for their muscles. However, athletes can only make their bodies so efficient. At
some point, an athlete cannot breath any faster and cannot take in any more
oxygen. When a person maxes out their oxygen intake, they have reached their aerobic
capacity. Olympic athletes have high aerobic capacities. Cross-country skiers have
some of the highest aerobic capacities of all Olympic athletes. They compete in 30-
mile races. Can you think of other athletes that have high aerobic capacities?
Olympic Motion: Coordinated Muscle Movements
shape. Olympians have a fantastic ability to coordinate muscle movements. Olympic
athletes coordinate muscle movements using muscles, nerves and the brain. The
brain controls how muscle moves. It sends signals through nerves to muscles.
Nerves are fibers that transmit messages to and from the brain.
Signals from the brain cause protein filaments in muscle to move. These
proteins are called myosin and actin. Signals cause the filaments to move past each
other. When they move toward each other, the muscle contracts. In other words, the
muscle shortens. When a muscle relaxes, the proteins move away from each other.
Olympic athletes coordinate extreme muscle movements because of many
years of practice. Aerial skiers and figure skaters practice jumps, twists and turns
over and over again. Practice helps athletes better move their muscles for different
reasons. Practice strengthens muscles. Muscles become stronger through an
unusual process. Practice causes muscles to break down or tear. The body responds
by repairing the muscle. When the body repairs the muscle, it grows larger and
stronger muscle. This is why you feel sore after working out. You actually injured your
muscles! Stronger muscles make a person more powerful. A person can jump father
and higher with stronger muscles.
Practice also helps Olympic athletes memorize movements. This is called
muscle memory. The brain learns to remember certain movements with repetitive
exercises. Olympians practice muscle movements, such as twists and turns
frequently and repeatedly. The movements become second nature. In other words,
Olympic athletes barely have to think about how to move. This helps them be
extraordinary at their event.
Often athletes are looking for ways to go faster – to ski faster, skate faster or swim
faster. Athletes can go faster than opponents by wearing competition suits.
Competition suits are more than just colorful, sleek, tight-fitting apparel. They are
designed and engineered to enhance speed. Olympians train for years to go fast.
They wear competition suits to go even faster.
Competition suits reduce drag. Drag is resistance to movement in air or water.
In the Olympics, athletes want to reduce air or water resistance. Downhill skiers,
speed skaters and swimmers wear competition suits to make them aerodynamic. In
other words, the suits reduce air and water resistance so they can move faster.
Competitions suits are constructed with man-made polymers. Polymers are
long chains of many, small molecules. The small molecules are called monomers.
Polymers are designed to have air flow around them in a specific way. Spandex is a
polymer. It makes a great material for competition suits because it is strong and
flexible. A suit stretches over an athlete to be tight and sleek. Pieces of spandex are
joined together with a bonding substance. Spandex is not sown together because
seams can affect airflow. Kevlar is a polymer used to make helmets. It’s lightweight
but strong and durable.
You may think competition suits are smooth but they are actually rough. They
are rough like a golf ball. Golf balls have “dimples” to make it easier for air to move
around it. This actually decreases resistance and makes it easier for the ball to
move through air. Competition suits have “dimples” like golf balls. This helps them
move easier through air and water. Olympic athletes will also wear hoods and gloves
to cover skin and hair. Skin and hair can slow an athlete down.
Some competition suits are constructed to capture air. Ski jumpers wear suits
that act like a kite. They “catch” air with little drag. This allows the skier to float in
the air but not slow down by air resistance.
Safety Gear: Why do Olympians wear helmets?
mountains at 70 miles an hour. Lugers travel nearly 90 mph on an unprotected sled.
Cyclist travel nearly 40 mph on hard concrete. Olympians rely on protective gear to
keep them safe in case of a crash or collision. Why do Olympians wear protective
gear? How does safety gear actually protect the athletes?
Olympians wear protective gear to absorb energy from a collision. A moving
object has energy. This energy is called kinetic energy. When a moving object
collides with a nonmoving object, kinetic energy is transferred or absorbed. There
are two types of collisions. In an elastic collision, energy is transferred from the
moving object to the nonmoving object. This causes the nonmoving object to move.
However, if a moving object collides with a hard, unmovable object, something else
happens. This is an inelastic collision. In an inelastic collision, the objects absorb
energy. Inelastic collisions are common and dangerous to athletes. They occur when
an athlete is moving and collides with frozen ground, ice or concrete. The athlete
absorbs kinetic energy. The energy can cause skull fractures or other injuries.
Athletes wear protective equipment to safeguard themselves. They wear
padding, shin guards and gloves. The best protective item is the helmet. Nearly all
Olympians wear helmets. Helmets are well-padded and high tech. Helmets absorb
energy from impact. It distributes, or spreads, the energy around the skull. Helmets
have a hard outer casing. The inside is made of foam. The foam is the most
important part of the helmet. It is like bubble wrap. It absorbs energy instead of the
skull. This protects the athlete from breaking his or her skull.
Helmets have to be lightweight. If they are too heavy, they put excess stress on
the neck and back. They also have to withstand cold and hot temperatures. Most
importantly, helmets must have enough padding to protect the athlete. Engineers
assess helmets to make sure they can tolerate inelastic collisions. After thorough
testing, they are given to Olympic athletes.