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Backpacker Magazine – August 2004

The Body Olympic: Fitness and Conditioning Tips

Meet these 6 Olympic hopefuls who will help you perform like a champion outdoors.

by: Julie Cederborg

We interrupt your summer for this important message: It's almost time for you to come inside and watch a little TV. After all, we know you're going to be parked on the couch for 2 weeks, watching the world's top athletes compete in some of your favorite sports. But before you turn your eyes to Athens, turn your attention to these world-class Olympic hopefuls, who took some time out of training to teach us a thing or two about matters much closer to home--namely, the outdoors. We cornered six competitors with shining Olympic credentials--and surprising advice to help us hike, paddle, and scramble better.

Aerobic Fitness
Abby Wambach: soccer

They say a soccer player runs about 6 miles per game. "That's 6 miles at an all-out sprint," says Abby Wambach, a hyperkinetic forward for the U.S. National Team who's loath to sit still. "I need constant stimulation," she laughs. "Maybe I have ADD."

To stay on top of her game, Wambach, 24, covers a lot of ground in training. Six days a week, she spends hours on the soccer field practicing with her team. It's all tough, but what really gives her the foundation to outlast competitors in the second half are dreaded sprint drills called "120s." That's when the team races the 120-meter length of the field, jogs back, rests 1 minute, and sprints again. Only after 10 repetitions are they allowed to collapse.

A hiker's version of 120s would be to sprint up the trail for 30 seconds, slow back down to your normal hiking pace for a few minutes, and repeat four more times. Before long, you'll be fit enough to push hard up a series of switchbacks, and instead of doubling over at the top, just enjoy the view and effortlessly move on.

In fact, when Wambach needs a break from corner kicks and cardiac sprints, she likes to throw on her pack and take a hike in the woods. And once her competitive soccer career comes to a close, she aspires to hike the Appalachian Trail solo.

For now, she's focused on a more immediate goal--Athens. "What grander stage can you play on?" Wambach says. "Every athlete who has ever put on a jersey, cleat, or cap has aspired to be in the Olympics. I can't believe I'm going to be a part of it."

Brad Vering: wrestling

The key to Greco-Roman wrestling is the element of surprise. That means when you make a move--like outmaneuvering your opponent with a body-lock takedown or a gut wrench--it has to be done with explosive power.

"You have to trick your adversary," says Brad Vering, who finished fifth last year in the World Championships in the 84-kilo division and lives at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. "And you can't do it slowly."

Vering, 26, a native of Howells, NE, describes Greco-Roman wrestling as a fight, "just without punching, biting, or scratching." Each match usually lasts 6 minutes. "If you've ever run a 100-meter sprint, that's how you feel for the whole 6 minutes," he says.

To get ready for that 6-minute marathon, Vering's wide-ranging regimen includes 2-hour workouts on the mat, a weight room circuit, rope climbs, practicing gymnastic moves like handsprings and back flips, and running the railroad ties up Pikes Peak.

But Vering's secret weapon is core strength. To build it, he hangs from a pull-up bar, lifts his legs out 90 degrees, and holds them there for 30 seconds. Then his coach puts a 25-pound weight on his legs. His legs must remain in that position for 30 more seconds. Then the weight is lifted and he spends 30 more seconds doing knee raises.

The regimen is as tough as it sounds, but do a few reps--starting with less time and no weight, of course--and you'll build the strength you need to hurdle boulders, hop up steep slopes, and heft overloaded packs onto your shoulders.

It's brutal, yet Vering says that's what it'll take to medal this summer. "I've given up everything," he says. "I'm living in the dorms here at the training center, I don't have a girlfriend. This is the ultimate sacrifice."

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