How to get the legs of a cyclist, the arms of a boxer & the abs of a dancer

We asked some sporting greats how they train, what they eat and how much they sleep to get the bodies that define them

11 February 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel and Shanthini Naidoo
Boxers are known for having big guns.
Boxers are known for having big guns.
Image: 123RF/xixinxing

There are pieces of my body missing! Well, technically they're still there, but I can't see or feel them anymore. That's what happens when you get really serious about a particular sporting discipline.

Take cycling, for example ... your upper limbs become puny excuses for arms that fade into what used to be your shoulders. But your thighs! Your thighs could have been carved by Michelangelo.

Different types of sporting discipline result in different body types. We asked some sporting greats how they train, what they eat and how much they sleep to get the bodies that define them. Combine all four for the perfect build!

Rofhiwa 'War Child' Maemu (left).
Rofhiwa 'War Child' Maemu (left).
Image: Supplied


Alan Toweel, coach of boxer Rofhiwa 'War Child' Maemu

Training: For a title fight we do conditioning work six weeks before the event - hammer on the tyre and chopping wood exercises - which strengthens biceps and wrists, and conditions shoulders. Closer to the fight we start bag work to practice technique, speed and power punching. We do a lot of skipping at double time for 15 minutes at a time.

We also do lots of "pad work" so he can practise throwing and defending punches, eye co-ordination, reflexes and footwork. We do sprints to keep fitness levels up. A few weeks before the fight we do sparring fights. War Child runs about 25km four times a week.

What you eat defines your body: Two weeks before the fight we cut down on starch and eat lots of greens and protein.

Shuteye: Eight to 10 hours a day as well as naps.

Fitness tips: To focus on arms and forearms use small weights to punch with.

War Child is aiming to compete for the WBA featherweight title.

Revil Yon (right).
Revil Yon (right).
Image: Supplied


Revil Yon, ballet dancer

Training: Male ballet dancers use their core a lot. To get that six pack, I do 40 push-ups and sit-ups every morning. Then I use a theraband to do biceps and triceps exercises. That's all before Joburg Ballet's daily warm-up class at the studios, which lasts over an hour, to warm up and stretch our muscles. Then there's a full day of rehearsals. At the end of the day I do focused stretches to warm up my hip area.

What you eat defines your body: Lots of fish - especially tuna - and veggies, and I drink lots of water to stay hydrated. I love to have a piece of steak now and again, too, for protein. Some fruit is good, but not too much as they contain a lot of sugar. I eat pasta for carbs. It doesn't hurt to add a green salad.

Shuteye: I sleep about seven hours, waking up at around 6.30am. I usually lie in for an hour, though. Before every performance I have to take a power nap, otherwise I don't feel comfortable onstage. It's a pre-performance ritual for me.

Fitness tips: Walk before you run. Going to the gym can be intimidating, so try to have a swim for about 30 minutes a few times a week. It helps to keep your heart rate up and builds endurance and muscle strength. Don't use trolleys when you're transporting your groceries from A to B - carrying your shopping bags will give your arms a workout! 

See Revil Yon onstage in Carmen with Joburg Ballet, Joburg Theatre, April 6 to 15.

Hendrik Ramaala and Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain after the New York City Marathon.
Hendrik Ramaala and Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain after the New York City Marathon.
Image: Getty Images


Hendrick Ramaala, coach of marathon-winner Desmond Mokgobu 

Training: Run twice daily, a lot of distance - 160km to 180km a week. Also core exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, and a lot of stretching after each run to improve strength and flexibility.

What you eat defines your body: Carbohydrate-rich food - cereals, rice, pap, pasta, chicken, beans, vegetables, bread, nuts and a lot of fruit. Red meat twice a week. When racing we use sport/energy supplements and drink lots of water to hydrate the body as we sweat a lot.

Shuteye: Rest is very important. I suggest my runners get between eight and 10 hours of sleep at night plus two to three hours of resting or napping during the day if they want to be competitive.

Fitness tips: Training as a group keeps us motivated and disciplined. As a coach I need to ensure that my athletes do the right training to avoid injuries and overtraining.
I need to keep them motivated. Dress properly for training, particularly with the right running shoes for comfort and to avoid injuries.

• Mokgobu won the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathonin Japan last Sunday.

Ryan Gibbons.
Ryan Gibbons.
Image: Getty Images


Ryan Gibbons, cyclist

Training: I train on the bike 20 to 30 hours a week during base and 16 to 25 hours in season. In a typical week I'll do two to three long endurance rides and some days with long threshold intervals and then other days with shorter hard intervals and sprints. I'll do some motorpacing leading up to races and get on the Time Trial bike once a week. I'll also do basic core exercises and light strength training two or three times a week.

What you eat defines your body: When I'm in heavy training and racing blocks I make sure I get enough carbs to fuel me and enough protein to recover. I try to stay away from junk food as much as possible and avoid carbs at night. Grilled fish or chicken, roast veg and rice is my favourite.

Shuteye: Adequate sleep and rest is very important and often overlooked. I try to get a minimum of nine hours sleep every day.

Fitness tips: In the off season I try to mix my training up to keep it fresh. I'll try new strength exercises or go for a run. It's important not to make drastic changes or do anything that could strain or injure you.

Gibbons is competing at the South African national champs this weekend for the Dimension Data team.