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Olympic hopeful Sam Effah shares his use-it-or-lose-it workout

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Ready for a workout? U of Calgary alum shares his routine. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Promise something to the “Fastest Man in Canadian University History,” Sam Effah: This year, unless you’re training in the Rockies or surfing in Costa Rica, you will go to the gym (when you can), or hole up in your makeshift sweaty bunker and work out.

If you don’t, says the sprinter who was recently inducted into the Canada West Hall of Fame, when our tight little world expands again . . . well, opening day won’t be pretty.

Strength isn’t just about being able to bench-press 200 pounds; it’s critical for injury prevention. Sprinters like Effah bust their hamstrings and hips more than any other body parts. So, next time you drop into a squat, think about the dynamic forces at play as the ground underneath you changes constantly, quickly and unpredictably. Strength in the muscle groups surrounding our joints makes the difference between a tweaky turn and a torn tendon.

Before gyms were sealed (again), we spent time with Effah, who is training for the belated 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (tentatively rescheduled to this summer), where he put us through his paces. So clear off the coffee table, haul out the new equipment you got for Christmas and get ready to join Team Sam with this personally designed workout.

The moves


Benefits: Facilitates muscle gain because it exhausts your muscles in fewer repetitions, resulting in greater muscle size compared to the results you gain using lighter weights such as dumbbells. A barbell allows you to hold more weight than a dumbbell, since you control the bar with two hands, not just one.

Why bother? “This works on developing a clean, explosive action. My coach believes this is a great transition into sprinting. I do three short sets of three, 25-pound barbells. And then I might switch things up by increasing the weights to 70 pounds; my max is 90.”

Dumbbells — bent-over row

Benefits: Works your lats, shoulders, forearms, biceps, spinal erectors, hamstrings and glutes.

Why bother? “Keep your core tight and your back straight as you row the weights up to your chest. Lower and repeat. I use 15-pound dumbbells. I also use them for lunges, one-arm swings, cross-body hammer curls . . . there are so many good exercises you can do with dumbbells.”


Benefits: This excellent cardiovascular exercise also increases your stamina, burns lots of calories and boosts your metabolism. And you can do this outside. Right now!

Why bother? “I want to make sure that my form is on point. Start off slow before you get fast. I am always thinking about the impact my foot is having on the ground. Am I getting enough clearance? Is my knee high enough? I think about stepping into lava . . . off and on, off and on. I try to get my knees up to 90 degrees. Anything higher and you’re wasting energy. I push to get them to a 90-degree angle . . . 80 to 90 is perfect. Sprinting uses dozens of muscles at the same time, making it one of the most complete muscle-training exercises out there.”

Dynamic stretching

Benefits: There’s evidence that dynamic stretches can enhance explosive performance such as jumping, running or sprinting, as well as balance and agility. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when you stretch a muscle as far as it will go and then immediately move back out of that position.

Why bother? “This is part of my warmup and I truly believe you will be less likely to get injured if you’re properly warmed up. There’s no name for this stretch, but it’s like a ninja-lunge that really works your hamstrings and abductors. You can hold the stretch for a second, but the idea is that you are continuously moving. I do about 10.”


Benefits: Strengthens your back, arms and shoulder muscles, as well as improves grip strength.

Why bother? “Your upper body is just as important as your lower body. This is not heavy work; this is body work which I really enjoy. I do about 10 to 15. Start by grabbing the handles of the pull-up station, with your palms facing away from you and your arms fully extended. Your hands should be around shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, exhale and drive your elbows towards your hips to bring your chin above the bar. Lower under control back to the start position.”

Medicine ball twists

Benefits: Strengthens your core, especially your obliques.

Why bother? “It’s easy to make mistakes with a medicine ball workout. What you need to remember is that the ball should just briefly touch the ground. By doing the Russian twist with the ball gives your core a great workout and I really believe that core strength is underrated. If done properly, it also works your obliques and pelvic floor. Here’s how: Sit down and hold the ball in your hands, twist your torso to the right until the ball lightly touches the ground. Then twist to the left; repeat. I do 10 to 15 reps.”

Foam rollers

Benefits: Improves range of motion, decreases muscle fatigue, loosens IT bands and improves flexibility around joints such as your knee.

Why bother? “Make sure you roll the muscle first — not half your hamstring — and don’t over-roll. Some people roll their muscles until they are mashed potatoes. Roll each spot five to 10 times and then leave it. I try to do the front and back of my legs — my IT bands and my quads, abductors . . . my entire legs. And I do this at the end of my workout.”


Article courtesy of University of Calgary