Strength of an Olympian

Physiotherapist Phil Evans has worked with some of Team GB’s top athletes and says how they train can benefit us all as we age in everyday life

Strength, both mental and physical, was vital for all our medal-chasing athletes at the recent Tokyo Games, and staying strong will help us all as we age. After we hit 40, we naturally lose muscle mass (sarcopenia) and this can have a dramatic effect on the quality of our lives.  Urban Body’s lead physiotherapist, Phil Evans, has worked with Team GB athletes and says by challenging our muscles we can maintain and increase strength for the long term and also reduce the risk of injury. Here he gives his top tips:

Weight training

Lifting weights is not only good for you, but perfectly safe when done correctly. Just like an elite athlete, it’s important that your workout is customised and also takes into account any ailments you may have. Arthritis in your joints, bulging discs and even meniscus tears are all normal in the ageing process. They don’t mean you can’t exercise, but you need to make sure your strength training routine reflects this.

The two priorities to consider when I’m examining someone’s strength routine are posture and loading strategies. Good form is critical to protect your joints and back while loading refers to how much weight you lift and how often (reps). This changes because the integrity of your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) alters during the ageing process. Loading strategies also need to be adapted if you’re injured or in pain. A strength coach and physiotherapist can ensure you have a strength training routine that is not only safe but perfect for your age and ability.

Core strength

After the age of 40, things like balance and reaction times start to become more compromised and the likelihood of back pain increases. Maintaining good core strength helps with all of this and becomes more important than ever.

The biggest problem I see with people trying to strengthen their core is that they just don’t know how to do it properly. They may be doing all the right things but with all the wrong muscles. If you’re new to core strengthening, or perhaps you’ve been doing it a while but your core strength still isn’t where you want it to be, consider trying Pilates. Having proper control over your breath, body and movement are the cardinal signs of a truly functioning and strong core.

Intensity and variety

If you are performing high intensity exercise for every session there is very little chance for recovery. Exercise intensity should vary from 35 per cent up to 85 per cent of your maximum capacity. However, the majority should be done at lower intensities. Feeling chronically fatigued and very hungry are classic signs of over-training and are signals that it’s time to slow down a bit. Even elite athletes don’t push themselves to the limit at every training session.

No matter your workout of choice, it’s essential to mix it up from time to time. Cross-training can improve your overall performance and also work on all muscle groups. Varying exercises can help you avoid overuse injuries and obviously it keeps your mind a bit more interested too.

Mental focus

It’s no secret that the majority of Olympic athletes utilise mental training as an essential component of their regime, especially in the final stages before an event. Elite athletes ensure their body and mind are running at optimal levels during intense competition. Success, in sport and in life, begins with having a goal to focus our energy on.

Athletes visualise themselves winning the highly desired gold medal, surrounded by their coach, teammates and loved ones celebrating their victory. It is key to establish your own goal and plan how you will achieve it, step by step. You might want to work towards a big event such as a half marathon, or want to build up your training so you can achieve a certain target. Remaining positive and optimistic, even in the face of adversity, can make all the difference.

Phil Evans is lead physiotherapist at Urban Body, an award-winning clinic based at the West Warwickshire Sports Club in Olton. He has spent the last 10 years treating elite athletes and been involved with the GB bobsleigh and judo squads as well as Leicestershire County Cricket Club. For more information visit or call 0121 2706045