In honour of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang let's take a closer look at the muscles involved in some of our favourite sports.
We've been watching a lot of sport these last ten days. It's amazing to see what wonderful things the human body can do!
Events like the 2018 Winter Olympics are a great opportunity to get kids interested in science whether it be biology or physics. We, as parents and educators, can harness their natural enthusiasm for the strong emotional moments sports offers to show them all the fascinating stuff going on behind the drama.
Revealing what's behind the scenes inside our bodies is at the heart of our soon to be launched educational app Inside the Human Body. With our app children can learn about the complex chemical reactions that get our muscles active. They can discover many more fun facts about muscles. For now let's just all take a moment to marvel at how muscly our modern Olympic heroes really are.
The Gluteus Maximus Muscle
Olympic Ski Jumping is one of the most impressive of Winter Olympic sports. Who hasn't held their breath as these athletes jump off a ramp 80 to 115 metres high. After take off, they need to stay as still as possible in order to keep airborne as long as possible and go as far as possible. To do this Ski Jumpers use a muscle which is also important for Bob Sledders and Alpine Skiers. We're talking about the largest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus. It's the main extensor in your hip and is situated in your buttocks. Norwegian Maren Lundby certainly did something right with hers! She jumped 110 metres to win gold in the women's competition (included for only the 2nd time).
Marit Bjorgen of Norway is now the most decorated Winter Olympian athlete of all time. She's won 4 medals so far bringing her overall total to 14. She's a cross-country skier and to be at the top of her game she needs great biceps. Bicep muscles are composed of long parallel fibres instead of pinnated fibres like most muscles. It's this that gives them the ability to bulge. They're essential in cross country skiing especially for the double poling technique used to push off.
Twitch Fibres in Muscles
Figure Skating is not just about elegance, grace, beautiful clothes and amazing music. In fact, figure skating offers more physical challenges than ice hockey! All that poise and control requires amazingly strong abdominal muscles. Without them there's no way Winter Olympics skaters could keep their bodies perfectly aligned when doing those impressive jumps. Not to mention the extremely strong quadriceps and hamstrings required for landing. But Nathan Chen, the American skater who landed a record breaking 6 quadruple jumps in the men's competition, puts it down to something called twitch fibers in his muscles. His are apparently "pretty quick" which enables him to "rotate really quickly" and "spring off the ground really easily".
You can see some of the most spectacular jumps and figures of the Winter Olympics during the snowboarding competitions. To be a pro requires strong lower body muscles as well as upper leg muscles. However, your feet and ankle muscles are also essential to help make cuts and turns. Amazingly, your foot contains more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. To be a great boarder these all need to be seriously strong.
In a sport where medal places are decided by one hundredths of seconds being at the top of your form is paramount and getting a good start is essential. A Bob Sledder needs to have the strength and power to push a 180 kg sled as fast as possible for about five seconds. To do this he or she needs really powerful legs. That's why many Bob Sledders convert from sprinting. These powerhouses use their quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, glutes and hip flexors to get the sled off to the quickest start possible. The 2018 Winter Olympics two manned bob sled finished with a dramatic dead heat. It seemed neither team had that little bit more and Germany and Canada shared the gold medal.
Middle and Back Muscles
The Biathlon like cross-country skiing requires a lot of strong upper body muscles - treapezius, latissimus dorsi, pects and rhomboids - to support the strenuous work of the arms. Then there's the legs for those skate-style skids, so hip extensors, abductors and flexors all need perfecting. As if that weren't enough to make it to the finish line, Biathletes also need strong anterior and middle deltoid muscles to hold their rifles steady and hit the target accurately. And then there's the strong back extensors to carry the rifle round the course. Frenchman Martin Fourcade is one of the best in his sport. Widely known as 'The Boss' in Pyeongchang he became France's greatest olympian with a career tally of 5 Winter Olympics gold medals.
Not just Muscles
Of course it's not all about muscles. It's important to remember that behind every well honed Winter Olympics athlete's body there's also an amazingly focused and trained brain. Be it the mental power to sprint at the end of a long biathlon, managing to compete in the half-pipe with multiple injuries, continuing to ice skate despite wardrobe malfunctions these athletes show us over and over again how their mental strength might just be the deciding factor.