Apolo Ohno’s Unique Workouts Train Him for Speed and Power

By Terry Zeigler, EdD, ATC 


Sport-specific training is crucial for elite athletes in order to prepare them to meet and exceed the demands of their sport. Creative thinking and an understanding of muscle physiology are key components to designing an effective workout program for an Olympic-caliber athlete.

In Ohno’s case, short track speed skating requires strength, agility, power and precision. His workout is custom designed to strengthen and develop power in the specific muscles used in short-track speed skating. Sean Gregory of Time.com Video was able to follow Ohno’s morning workout training session. His training included a warm-up on a stationary bike, sport-specific resistance training, ice training, weightlifting, stair workouts, and running.

The success to Ohno’s workout is in its unique design. Because most resistance equipment is not designed to meet the needs of a speed skater specifically in how the lower body and core are loaded, Ohno’s coach was able to design a resistance exercise specific to the sport of short track speed skating.

An understanding of kinesiology including how the muscles are used in sport-specific activities is important to custom-designing a workout program. The first step is to analyze the muscles most involved in the activity. The second is to analyze the speed of the involved muscle contractions during the activity.

Analyzing the muscles involved in short track speed skating, his coaches determined that current resistance training equipment would not meet his needs. Rather than stopping there, his coaches created their own resistance exercise.

A modified seat belt was designed to provide resistance for Ohno with the help of an assistant. The assistant has the belt wrapped around his waist and provides the heavy resistance using his own body weight as Ohno pulls sideways in a low crouched position imitating the centrifical pull on Ohno’s body around the turns when he is skating on the short track.

This unique strength exercise is performed slowly and at an even pace allowing maximum recruitment of muscle fibers from all of the muscles most involved in the activity.

Strengthening the muscles is only the first step in a good workout program. The second is to train the muscles in the speed that they will be used in sport.

Some sports require more of a slow and steady type of muscle contraction as seen in endurance sports (long distance running, cross country skiing). Others require high-speed contractions and are considered “explosive” moves or power moves as in the sports of short track speed skating.

Developing power in muscles is very different than developing strength. Power is developed through a combination of strength and speed. While strength training can be done at a slow and even pace, power training is done explosively.

One way Ohno develops power in his legs is through stair workouts. Many athletes run stairs as a part of conditioning. What are unique about Ohno’s stair workouts are the directional changes he uses along with the mix of individual hops and double leg jumps.

His program includes sets of sideways individual leg hops with graduated sequential height jumps of one step, three steps, and five steps. Once the individual leg hops are completed for both legs, he then completes double leg hops for a total of 14 sets.

The unique design in his stair workout is in the graduated height jumps and in the single leg sideways hops. Most athletes run up stairs alternating legs while facing the stairs. Ohno performs multiple single leg hops sideways. The purpose of these power jumps is to specifically target his outside hip muscles. With these unique jumps, Ohno can develop agility and power in his outer hip muscles that most exercises would not be able to target.

According to Gregory, S. (How They Train: Speed Skater Apolo Ohno) a complete morning workout for Ohno might include the following:

• Stationary bike for warm-up
• Turn-belt resistance training
• Ice training (40 minutes)
• Stair workouts (45 minutes)
• One-mile running cool down

These training sessions are repeated up to three times a day. However, a physical workout is only effective if the athlete is putting all of his/her effort into every component.

According to Ohno, he prepares as if each workout were his last workout prior to an Olympic event. This allows him to prepare himself mentally for each workout and to be able to put all of his effort into each exercise.

It is the custom-designed workouts tailored specifically for short track speed skating plus his work ethic that have helped develop Ohno into the Olympic champion that he is today. The key for Ohno is to leave his workouts believing that he has prepared harder than any of his competitors. This is a great approach to workouts for every athlete.


Gregory, Sean. Video: How they train: Speed Skater Apolo Ohno. Time Video. Accessed on 2.23.10 at http://www.time.com/time/video.