After watching the USA’s Erin Hamlin bring home the Bronze Medal in luge at the Sochi Winter Olympics, you can’t imagine the pride I feel. I used to be an amateur luge athlete, and then I was the Strength and Conditioning / Start Coach for USA Luge, and a coach on the 1994 USA Winter Olympic Team. I’ve been fortunate to assist with biomechanical analysis of Erin’s start motion and, between creating Beducation videos and running my store, I still provide physical training advice to the luge program.
Amateur athletes train very hard, both physically and mentally. What most people don’t realize is that restoration is a key component of achieving success. Ice baths, contrast showers, massage, and most importantly, sleep, are all designed into and accounted for in any successful athlete’s training cycle.
When I was sliding, I awoke each morning and took my heart rate, respiration rate, and evaluated my overall feeling of tiredness and mood. It was a key way for me to evaluate my level of recovery. When I was coaching my athletes, I specifically designed sleep and restorative techniques into their training programs. I could always tell which athletes stayed out too late or didn’t follow my recovery protocols, as you can’t fake restoration.
Looking back, it amazes me what we used to sleep on and still be expected to recover. Being young, we didn’t give it a second thought. Old worn-out mattresses thrown on the floor, folded over futons…things I’d be embarrassed today to place out with the trash in front of my home. Luge is an incredibly stressful sport for the lower back and neck, and what we were sleeping on certainly wasn’t doing us any favors.
These days I always discuss the importance of restoration and sleep with everyone in my store, but I make a special presentation to the athletes who visit with me. I still see young Olympic hopefuls sleeping on hand-me-down mattresses that aren’t fit for the family pet. Children usually won’t complain and it’s often not until a parent happens to take a nap in their child’s bed that they discover the mattress needs to be replaced. Granted, a nine-year-old doesn’t need the strongest innerspring unit available, but that child still needs a good supportive mattress using healthy and durable foams. And since little Johnny or Jenny probably isn’t holding down a 40 hour a week job and providing for themselves, it’s the job of the parents to provide an appropriate sleep surface for their child.
Young athletes aren’t the only ones I see neglecting their restoration. I’m still surprised at the lack of guidance provided by top-level collegiate and professional athletes in this area. I’ll find 300 pound college linemen sleeping on fiber-filled dorm mattresses or some low-density foam product. Or professional athletes using rent-to-own mattresses in their in-season apartments. Conversely, I’ve seen some of these same athletes being sold extremely overpriced items that are wholly inappropriate for their frame and needs.
Some colleges and sports teams have recently begun bringing in truly educated sleep specialists to address these restoration and mattress deficiencies. But it’s nowhere near the norm and this aspect of a professional athlete’s training is still largely ignored. When world records are set in various disciplines, the athletes will often recount that the reason they did so well on that particular day was that they were refreshed and (relatively) pain-free. A proper mattress plays a key role in achieving that result.
The main point is that we should all want to provide high quality products that are appropriate for all of our customers. But when an athlete comes in, be they young or old, remember that they’re looking for a product that is integral to their success on many levels. Give them the attention they deserve.
And while Erin Hamlin may have the best mattress in the world, I don’t think she’ll be seeing much of it for the next few weeks. But I think we can cut her a bit of slack, as she’s been training since she was 12 years-old for this moment. Way to go, Erin!