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How sport scientist Greg Wells stays fit

Written by: Cary Castagna, QMI Agency
Feb. 6, 2014

Greg Wells (Supplied)


Torontonian Greg Wells has gone to geographical extremes to take his body to extremes.

Among his most notable feats, he ran the Nanisivik Midnight Sun Marathon on the northern tip of Baffin Island — billed as one of the world’s toughest marathons.

He also bicycled from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa as part of the four-month, 11,000-km Tour d’Afrique — recognized as the world’s longest and most challenging stage race.

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But what else would you expect from a University of Toronto prof and Olympic-level coach who practices what he preaches?

“I believe that you have to do it yourself in order to talk about it,” Wells tells Keeping Fit by phone. “I can’t be asking Olympic athletes to push themselves into certain zones if I haven’t been there myself.”

In his quest to take his body precariously close to its breaking point, however, Wells has gone a little too far on occasion.

“I’ve gotten heat stroke myself and I’ve gotten altitude sickness,” says the 42-year-old sports scientist who swam competitively at the international level in his younger years.

“I’ve trained at a very high level. I’ve had a really cool life. I’ve been lucky enough to be a good athlete. I’ve had a chance to coach and be a physiologist for Olympians right up to the Olympic gold-medal level.”

Of course, Wells, an assistant professor in kinesiology and physical education at the U of T, doesn’t regret taking his body into “the danger zone,” as he refers to it, to figure out how far it can go.

“I do it because it’s my world and my life,” he adds.

 

And as can be expected from the expert in high-performance sport, Wells takes a wise approach when building to a physical crescendo.

He practises and preaches the concept of making incremental 1% improvements on a day-to-day basis over an extended period of time. It’s what he refers to as “the aggregate of 1% gains.”

“I always tell people that the difference between 20th and third at the Olympics, the difference between being just a qualifier versus a medallist, is usually only about 1%,” explains the MRI researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children. “And everyone can be 1% better every day.”

But everyone need not take their bodies to the dreaded danger zone.

When Wells presents sports-science concepts to a mainstream audience — like he does with his book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes — he boils it down to bite-sized practical applications.

“What I encourage people to consider is just: can we be more active intelligently? Can we take all of the knowledge that’s available to us now and synthesize it to make sure that we’re very productive at work, we’re able to follow our passions, we’re able to engage with our family, and we’re able to stay healthy, not only physically, but mentally as well?” he says.

That’s something Wells — a fit 185 pounds at five-foot-10 — has been striving to do in his own hectic life, while balancing a “crazy work schedule,” training and a toddler.

“So it’s trying to find a way to exercise consistently, perform really well at work and then have a great life at home,” he explains. “That’s where I’m really finding the benefits of investigating sports-science techniques.”

But as the buff prof is discovering, that kind of real-world application becomes more difficult with age.

“I recognize that as we get older, we recover more slowly, so I have to do things better,” he says. “I have to eat better. I have to sleep better.”

To that end, Wells, who has a couple of half-Ironman races under his belt, has recently been following what is known as a concurrent training regimen.

“Concurrent training isn’t really focusing on any one area of specialization,” he explains. “I’m trying to build a comprehensive training program that has a little bit of cardiovascular training, a little bit of strength training and a little bit of flexibility training.

“And then I’m trying to support all that with better nutrition, the best nutrition that I can possibly do on a day-to-day basis, given that my lifestyle is insane and we all work way too much.”

 

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