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The Body Shape Of Every Athlete

Gracie Gold figure skatingBrian
Snyder / Reuters

  • The athletes in Pyeongchang rely on different
    muscle groups.
  • Curlers depend on strong upper body muscles.
  • Alpine skiers require strong hip muscles, hamstrings,
    quadriceps, and feet muscles.
  • Snowboarders use arm and shoulder strength.
  • Cross-country skiing requires leg strength as well as
    arm, shoulder, and core muscles.
  • Bobsledding is mostly legwork.
  • Luge requires a strong neck. 
  • Figure skaters need strong abdomen muscles.
  • Seed skaters are known for their bulging glutes and
  • Ice hockey is a full-body sport.

While everyone can see which muscles Olympic weightlifters and
sprinters are using, the winter sports are a bit more mysterious.

How exactly do luge athletes propel themselves forward? Which
muscle groups do curlers train to keep themselves in tip-top
shape during the off-season? And what are snowboarders flexing
when they spin themselves around mid-air?

Here’s a primer on which muscles all types of Pyeongchang
athletes are relying on in their quest for the gold.

Curling — Upper arms, back, and shoulders

US curling olympics
Becca Hamilton
of the United States delivers a stone against Olympic Athletes
from Russia in the Curling Mixed Doubles Round Robin Session 1
during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung
Curling Centre on February 8, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South

Ronald Martinez/Getty

To vigorously and repetitively sweep the ice, curlers depend on
strong upper body muscles.

“To move the brush side to side, rapidly and with high pressure,
you need arm, back, and other torso muscles,” Mark Shegelski, a
professor of physics at the University of Northern British
Columbia, told Business Insider. “Although sweeping looks easy,
it is demanding,” he said, “and a sweeper needs to be in good
condition to do a lot of sweeping.”

Alpine Skiing — Hips, legs, thighs, and feet

Alpine skiingGetty Images

The major muscles involved in skiing are those in the lower body,
including hip muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and feet muscles,
according to Troy Flanagan, the
director of sport science for the US
Ski and Snowboard Association.

Alpine, or downhill, skiers, “tend to have unusually well-built
legs and rear ends,” Sarah Lyall said in The New York
. Leg strength is needed to help steady skiers as they
plummet “down the slopes as quickly and forcefully as possible.”

Sturdy thigh muscles are also needed to “overcome the tremendous
force generated during a run and maintain balance throughout
turns,” according to the Sports Performance Division of the US
Olympic Committee.

For speed, US Olympic skier Julia Mancuso focuses on “exercising
her fast-twitch muscles,” according to an interview in the Wall Street
, which are “muscle fibers responsible for quick,
explosive movements.”

Snowboarding — Shoulders and core

Mark McMorris performs a jump during the men’s snowboard
slopestyle competition at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Rosa


Snowboarding, like skiing, requires short bursts of energy and
good balance, as well as cardiovascular strength. To explode out
of the start gate, snowboarders use arm and shoulder strength.
“For my sport, you can set yourself up for victory by your start,
so lat strength, arm strength and shoulder strength is huge,”
Olympic snowboarder Seth Wescott
told Today.com

Core muscles are important for performing tricks, like spins and
inverts, providing “stability for board grabs which will gain
higher scores for basic tricks,” according to research in Open Sports Medicine

Cross-country skiing — Arms, abdominal, and lower

norway cross country relayChristophe Pallot/Agence/Getty

Cross-country skiing seems less extreme compared to downhill, but
according to U.S Olympian Kris Freeman,
speaking to Men’s Fitness
, “It’s one of the most demanding
cardio sports in the world.”

In addition to leg strength, cross-country skiing requires
athletes to engage their arm, shoulder, and core muscles.

“Strong shoulders and triceps are essential for using the poles
to propel you forward,” according to Men’s Fitness, while “most
of the propulsion comes most of the propulsion comes from the abs
and lower back.”

Sports like road cycling, mountain biking, and running are good
for helping cross-country skiers train during the off-season,
while athletes practice on roller skis once the season gets
going, wrote Katie Thomas in The New York

Bobsled — Legs

Sochi Olympics BobsledGetty

Bobsledders must be very fast and powerful for the starting push,
taking the sled from zero to up to 90 miles per hour. “It’s
mostly legwork,” Army Capt. Chris Fogt, a member of
the US bobsled team competing in Sochi, told The New York
. “So we do a lot of squats, a lot of power cleans, jump
squats, box jumps, lunges – everything legs. The upper body stuff
is less important. “If you have huge massive shoulders and a big
chest, the wind is hitting you and the sled is slowing down,”
Fogt explains, which is why bobsledders “don’t do a whole lot of
curls, shoulder type work, biceps or chest.”

Bobsledders tend to be bigger than other athletes, using that
mass to push the sled. For instance, Lolo Jones, a brakeman on
the US bobsledding team, is nearly 30 pounds heavier than
when she competed as an Olympic hurdler.

American bobsledder Johnny Quinn, who weighs 220 pounds, used his pushing strength to bust
through a stuck bathroom door
in Sochi, later joking about
how he’s bigger than other guys.

Luge — Neck and upper body

olympic luge erin hamlin
Luger Erin
Hamlin of the United States trains ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018
Winter Olympic Games at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 6,
2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty

The luge is timed to the 1/1000 of a second, and the speed
depends primarily on how much forward momentum athletes can get
when they slingshot themselves down the track at the very
beginning. Unlikely bobsledders, luge athletes are already
seated, so they must rely only on their upper body strength.

“Specific emphasis is placed on the ‘pulling’ muscle groups as
the start is a pulling motion itself,” according to the
United States Luge Association

Training for lugers includes pull-downs (pulling down a
horizontal bar attached to weights), bench press, and dead lifts.

A strong neck is also crucial for luge. “Particularly while
zooming through the curves of the track, luge athletes must be
strong enough to keep their heads up while gravity is pulling
their heads down,” writes Juliet Macur in The New York Times. “To
strengthen their neck muscles, they often put a light weight on
their foreheads and bend their necks forward and backward.”

Figure skating — Abdomen and

Figure skating
Anne Line Gjersem competes during the figure skating women’s
short program at the 2014 Sochi Winter


All of those jumps and spins that look so effortless require
almost perfect balance and posture, which means that core
strength is key. Olympic figure skaters have to have an almost
freakishly strong core to keep the body perfectly aligned when
doing double and triple Axels.

The abdomen muscles are generally contracted throughout a figure
skating move, and “the ability to correct oneself when slightly
off axis in a jump is more likely to happen if the skater has
strong abdominal and back muscles,” U.S. Figure Skating explains
in its training guide.

Former team USA figure skater Gracie Gold told Self magazine that her
favorite exercise to build core strength uses a resistance band
to target the abdominal oblique muscles.

Speed skating — Legs and buttock

Apolo Ohno speed-skating Mike
Powell / Getty

Olympic speed skaters are known for their bulging glutes and
quads, which they need to propel themselves forward even while
whipping around tight curves. Squat jumps can work some of
these muscles off the rink, speed skater Shani Davis told
Men’s Health.

“Speed skating is a unique way of human locomotion, in the sense
that forward velocity is achieved by sideward push-offs,”
explained researchers in the International Journal of

Speed skating actually uses muscles similar to those used by
cyclists, so biking — much kinder to the joints than skating — is
a common part of a speed skater’s training regimen, said World Cup speed
skater Patrick Meek. Five-time Olympic medalist Eric Heiden became a professional cycling racer
after his speed skating career ended.

Ice hockey — Thighs, hip flexors

hockey olympicsMartin Rose/Getty

With fast skating and puck-slapping power a part of every game,
ice hockey is really a full-body sport. It engages everything
from core strength to hand grip.

But the US National Academy of Sports
Medicine recommends
that hockey players focus on “the inner
thighs, thighs (quadriceps), hamstrings, and hip flexors since
these muscle need to be strong and powerful to allow for
acceleration in skating, stopping, and change of direction.”

When the US women’s hockey team trained with strength and
conditioning coach Mike Boyle last summer, he had
them focus on “quick, explosive movements that typically involve
jumping,” he told The Boston Globe. But while
their legs were strong and spry, those women were also bench
pressing 140 to 150 pounds.

Olympic hockey forward Hilary Knight told Women’s Health magazine
she also builds leg strength through lateral lunges, rear-foot
elevated squats, and goblet squats.

Lauren Friedman contributed to this article. 

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