If you watched any of the coverage of The Olympics—and especially if you paid attention to American swimming legend Michael Phelps as he proved himself to be one of the finest athletes of all time in his fifth, and last, Olympic Games, you probably noticed the red and purple circles covering his and many of the other athletes’ skin. This is the result of a minimally invasive treatment rooted in ancient Chinese holistic therapy, called “cupping” that uses heated glass cups attached to the skin to create suction. Cupping is said to increase blood flow, ease pain and inflammation, and promote faster recovery from back injuries and other ailments.
Whether or not it’s effective is a matter of some debate, but one thing is for sure: the techniques these elite athletes use to achieve and maintain their fitness and well-being and keep their back and other parts of their body healthy are impressive. You can steal a few to do the same.
Warming up/staying warmed up
Did you notice that the Olympic swimmers and divers tend to get into a hot tub immediately after getting out of the pool? It’s a method for keeping their muscles loose and staying warmed up. While gym goers aren’t typically going to jump in the hot tub before or in the middle of a workout, you can apply the same principle to getting and keeping your back and other muscle areas loose.
“The warm-up should gently prepare the body for exercises by gradually increasing the heart rate and circulation; this will loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles,” said the National Sports Medicine Institute (NSMI). “The most important reason for doing a warm up is to prevent injury during exercise; keeping the muscles warm will prevent acute injuries.”
Stretching is an important part of that warmup. But a more intensive type of stretching is a favorite of 2012 Olympic swimmer and former world record holder Dara Torres, among others, and could be a good addition to your workout if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your back. Resistance stretching has been called the “the secret weapon of Olympic athletes” because it combines flexibility, strength training and core development.
“Resistance stretching uses tension on the muscle while it’s in an elongated position, not just when it’s being contracted like in typical weight lifting,” said Shape. “Enthusiasts say the results are worth it, with gains not only in increased flexibility but also in strength and functional mobility.”
Getting proper rest
When it comes to becoming the best athlete you can be, or simply maximizing your strength and fitness, it’s not all about how many reps you can do or how far you can run. It’s also about taking care of your body in other ways—namely, learning to rest well so it can properly repair and protect itself from injury.
“Becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete takes a calculated approach to training and recovery,” said Van Winkles. “And sleep is one of the most important parts of that equation.”
The website spoke to six current and former Olympians about rest, all of whom emphasized trying to get a good night’s sleep—and adding in power naps, too.
“When I sleep well, my mind is sharp and it’s easy to focus,” U.S. beach volleyball Olympian Phil Dalhausser told them. “On a bad night’s sleep my brain feels foggy and I have a tough time focusing. Sleep is very important for muscle recovery. I find that if I’m not sleeping well I tend to be a little more sore the next day.”
Poor eating habits can make you feel lazy and lethargic. This can lead to a lack of physical activity, which can then lead to extra weight, put extra stress on your back, and impact everything from your posture to your heart health.
But, eating like an Olympian has a few different meanings. Many of us remember “the buzz about U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps’ diet during the 2008 Summer Olympics,” said University of Utah Health Care. At that point, he was consuming as many as 12,000 calories on training days, which included “a breakfast of “three fried-egg sandwiches, three chocolate chip pancakes, a five-egg omelet, three sugar-coated slices of French toast, and a bowl of grits.”
Most elite athletes consume slightly less, concentrating on healthy portions of recommended foods like lean protein and complex carbs and eating several times a day to keep their metabolism up.
Doing pull ups
According to American Council on Exercise spokesperson Todd Durkin in Men’s Fitness, pull ups are one of the best exercises to strengthen your back, but that’s only the beginning of what they offer. “Pull ups work your large back muscles to help with running speed, improved posture and increased metabolism because the back is made up of large muscles,” he said.
Seeing a doctor
U.S. Olympic beach volleyball star and multiple gold medal-winner Kerri Walsh-Jennings has famously had several shoulder surgeries throughout her career, including one in September 2015, making her success in the Olympics even more remarkable.
Recovering from back surgery is easier than ever today thanks to advancements in minimally invasive surgical procedures. Chronic back pain can be a thing of the past with minimally invasive treatments for back pain, as well as minimally invasive surgical procedures that vastly improve upon traditional back surgery. These procedures offer shorter operations, smaller incisions, and quicker recoveries. Many minimally invasive surgical procedures can also be done on an outpatient basis with complete recovery in a few weeks.