"After some lifts I need to take a minute to compose myself because I’ve got blurred vision or my eyes hurt”
Matt Glaetzer has this problem with jeans. He goes through them like you go through cheap sports socks. In a matter of months they’re coming apart at the seams, just from the pressure applied by his titanic thighs and glutes.
“I was at the shops the other day and grabbed a pair off the rack that I thought looked all right,” says the personable Glaetzer, not long home from a 30-kilometre morning road ride. “But in the change room I couldn’t get them over my calves.”
If you’re the sheepish custodian of pipe-cleaner legs, then busting through the odd pair of denims – Incredible Hulk-style – might sound like a problem you’d like to have. Fair enough. But keep in mind that Glaetzer pays for his trunk-like lower limbs in the currency of pain: unsparing sessions on the bike and weight-room workouts marked by an intensity that would scare children.
Glaetzer’s tale is a lesson in the merits of finding (or stumbling upon) the thing you’re most gifted at, and then doing everything within reason to turn talent into proficiency. It’s an approach that can carry you far. It’s soon to propel Glaetzer to his second Olympics, where he looms as a contender in three events: the individual sprint, the team sprint and the keirin.
“If I were to come away from Rio with nothing, I’d be disappointed,” he says. “I’ve got the raw materials to win a medal, possibly gold.”
Here’s how a once out-of-sorts kid from the Adelaide suburb of Paradise became a world-beater. Are you making the most of your greatest talent?
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Find Your Calling
In his early teens Glaetzer was adrift. He’d been a promising pole-vaulter until problematic hamstrings and a diagnosis of Osgood-Schlatter disease (painful lumps under the knees) sentenced him to two years of no sprinting.
For someone whose self-image was “the sport guy”, inactivity was discombobulating. “I started to get angry at a couple of my teachers and give them a hard time, which was out of character for me,” he recalls. He took up guitar to try to fill the void, without success. For two years there was trouble in Paradise.
Then his English teacher suggested he enter a triathlon. He showed up for the race pushing his uncle’s old steel bike. “I wasn’t ready for the start of the swim and was last into the water, but the bike leg I loved – just that racing feeling,” says Glaetzer. “Everyone who knows me can vouch that I’m super-competitive in everything I do.”
While he could handle himself on the bitumen, his destiny was the boards. He knew it the first time he careened down the banking of a velodrome. It wasn’t long before he was outracing the top juniors at the biggest meets, prompting a reaction of Who the hell is this guy? His coach told him he possessed something exceptional; something no coach could instil.
At the 2012 world championships in Melbourne, after only three years in the saddle, he posted the same qualifying time for the individual sprint as the great Chris Hoy. “I do believe it’s a God-given gift that I have,” says Glaetzer. “To have some success at a young age is something that a lot of people want and train so hard to get, but they don’t quite have the talent. Fortunately, I do have it and I’m loving it.”
Power to Burn
Glaetzer’s training focuses on building colossal speed and power below the waist. Obtain those qualities and pants-splitting size must follow.
And Glaetzer has something else: the ability to maintain his top speed for longer than just about anyone else in the world – a knack that makes him the ideal third rider in Australia’s crack team-sprint unit.
His most gruelling training occurs on the three days each week when he lifts weights with his fellow elite riders in the morning, followed by a track session post-lunch. Lasting up to three hours, the weights workouts are circuits of compound exercises interspersed with core-torching moves.
“It’s not so much about getting big; it’s about building strength and then converting that to power,” explains Glaetzer, who’s banned from doing upper-body work. Because muscly arms and shoulders would be dead weight? “To some degree, yes. We need to brace the handlebars to counteract our leg power, but there’s no need at all to be massive in the upper body.”
Glaetzer doesn’t muck about with fitness-class weight. For three-rep-max efforts his best numbers are 180 kilograms (squat), 310kg (single-leg press) and 150kg (deadlift).
“I love the gym,” says Glaetzer. “I think I like it more than the track sessions. It’s the pure challenge of determining what your body is capable of in a measurable way.”
Typical of athletes whose god is speed, Glaetzer pushes his limits fearlessly, turning demonic when performing the big moves. “After some lifts I need to take a minute to compose myself because I’ve got blurred vision or my eyes hurt,” he confides. “I just love that feeling of giving my absolute maximum.”
Want bigger thighs without the weights-room suffering? There is an alternative, says Glaetzer. It involves finding a steep hill and riding up it – repeatedly – with no help from your gears. “Grinding hills in a big gear would increase your muscle mass if you wanted to avoid the gym,” he says.
At the track sessions, a 40-lap warm-up precedes drills focused on hitting or maintaining top speed, with a handful of maximal efforts punctuated by 20-minute rest periods. On the back of a morning spent heaving loaded barbells, these afternoon all-outers test character.
“By the time you’re up to your third or fourth effort, the morning’s taken its toll,” says Glaetzer. “It’s a battle to go out and maximally hurt yourself again. It’s like voluntary torture. You know you’re going to hurt yourself but you have to do it. And you can’t hold back because success is about commitment.”
Seat of Power
Glaetzer’s training is focused below the waist, on building ever-greater strength and speed in his lower limbs. While it’s an obvious goal for a sprint cyclist, powerful pins are also your ticket to improved sports performance and a balanced physique.
Warm up thoroughly – you’ll be going heavy. Do Circuit 1 without resting between the big move and the core exercise, then rest for a minute before starting your next round. Do five rounds, rest for 2-3 minutes, then follow the same protocol for Circuit 2.
A Squat - With a barbell across your back, brace your core and squat until your thighs are horizontal. Drive back up.
B Plank (90 seconds) - Hit the floor and hold yourself still on your elbows and toes.
A Deadlift - Keeping your back flat, grasp the barbell at your shins. Lift and straighten.
B Bear Crawl (60 seconds) - With your weight on your hands and feet, move quickly across the floor.