By Robyn Knutson Bueling, M.D.
When he steps onto the ice for the first moments of his seven-minute Olympic experience, United States Figure Skating National Champion Jeremy Abbot will put his 20 years of training to the test. Few people have ever reached the pinnacle of sport and attended the Olympics, and few of us understand the perfectly coordinated training that goes into reaching that height.
The average elite figure skater first donned skates in preschool. He likely began in a group lesson, once or twice a week, but once his talent or love for the sport was identified, his training became much more complicated. By the end of elementary school, most promising young figure skaters have made the decision to specialize in their sport, and many will eventually move away from home to train. Once they reach their Olympic dream, most have put in 10, or even 15 years of serious training. Jeremy began in
In an average week, the typical elite figure skater trains six days. He spends the majority of each of those days focused on his craft. A typical day includes two or three training sessions on ice, one or two off-ice sessions, warm-ups, cool-downs, calculated nutrition, visualization and mental training, in addition to the media demands of a national champion.
In a typical skating session, Jeremy will skate 45 or 60 minutes. During that time, he will spend some or all of it with a coach. He has a primary coach, technique coaches for jumps and spins, choreographers and off-ice coaches, each responsible for just a piece of his day. An on-ice session often features 10 or 20 minutes of aerobic skating, including edge-work, speed-work and agility training. He typically performs five or 10 repetitions of each of the seven triple jumps in his repertoire, to total at least 50 total jumps at a force of up to seven times his body weight on each landing. He also includes a quadruple jump in his competitive repertoire and will practice it another five or 10 times. This amounts to upwards of 125-175 jumps daily. He will also perfect his 2-½ minute short program or his 4 ½ minute long program during each on-ice training session. Often, he will run programs back-to-back, to improve endurance, or will run short segments of each program repetitively in interval style. Finally, a session often ends with perfection of short segments of footwork, again in interval fashion, or with spinning practice that focuses on speed and flexibility.
Before and after each on-ice session, Jeremy spends another 20 minutes on his warm-up and 10 minutes on his cool-down. Warm-ups include jogging and jumping rope, dynamic stretching, and dry-land run-throughs of jumps and competitive programs. While cooling down, he focuses again on flexibility, along with monitoring his heart rate and fluid status.
In addition to the portion of his day that focuses on training on the ice, a top figure skater will also spend significant time doing off-ice training. He will alternate training days, with three days per week dedicated to the weight room and three days in the ballet room. While in the gym, he will spend an hour, split between additional cardio training, proprioception, core strength, sport-specific strength training, and, depending on his location in the year’s periodized training table, plyometrics. In the ballet studio, he often performs 30 minutes of yoga or Pilates, followed by 30 minutes of dry-land choreography and musical movement training.
The end result is a minimum of five hours and occasionally as much as seven hours of each day dedicated to training for his sport. Additionally, he prepares meals carefully, concentrates on consistent sleep patterns, and trains his mind using visualization techniques from his sport psychologist. He visits his physical therapist in between media activities, and never knows when USADA might knock on his door for a random drug test. It is a life that he loves, but one that would tire even the reader, let alone the athlete himself.
How do athletes in other sports arrange their training day, year, or preparations for competition at their highest levels?
Why do you think sports differ so significantly in their training patterns?
What training issues should clinicians consider when setting treatment plans for athletes, both to speed up their return to competition and to prevent re-injury through overtraining?