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The ancient Greek athletes' preparation for the ancient Olympics

26 Feb 2014
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Just as it happens nowadays, the ancient Greek athletes who wished to take part in ancient Olympics had to prepare themselves not only in order to fulfill the qualifications required to participate in the games but also to be capable of winning the first prize and the champion’s glory. Ancient Olympics were  the most renowned and important sporting event of the ancient times, as well as of the modern, world so the ancient Greek athletes participating had to be well prepared and trained.

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The sports facilities in ancient Greece

The fitness, the beauty and the harmony of the body in ancient Greece were considered as high ideals. They strongly believed that the health of the spirit should be combined with the health of the body -the quote “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is well known. Since they paid special attention to the physical exercise of all men in general and not just of the athletes, all the cities of ancient Greece had public training facilities. In the “palaistra” they were practicing martial arts, such as wrestling and boxing, and in the “gymnasium”, which was larger, they used to train in racing and in throws. In the gymnasium there was even a special bathroom, called “loutron” where they could clean their bodies at the end of the exercise.
 

The training period for the ancient Olympics in ancient Greece

 
Ancient Greek athletes preparing for the ancient Olympics started training ten months in advance of the games (they were actually gave an oath to that) and the last month’s workouts took place in the “palaistra” and in the great gymnasiums of Elis, “Xystos” and “Maltho”. Thus, the ancient Greek athletes for the ancient Olympics could get used to the premises and the climate of the area while at the same time their training was held under the supervision of the Hellanodikes.
 

 

The Ancient Greek athletes trainers in ancient Greece

In the preparation of the ancient Greek athletes there were three important people each one with a very special role. The trainer, the “paidotrivis” (another coach with a different task), and the anointer.
 
The trainer in ancient Greece had a wider and more scientific education about the training technique of the ancient Greek athletes. He was the person that decided in detail the type of the proper exercises and diet for his athlete to strengthen or weaken, soften or harden specific parts of his body depending on the sport in which he would participate. As a result, the trainer had also medicine and dietetics knowledge. Besides, it was very important to understand his athlete’s character and temperament in order to determine the ideal sport for him and the workout schedule he should follow. The trainer had even the right to check on the ancient Greek athlete’s private life and control it when he considered necessary to do so. Undoubtedly, the contribution of the trainer to the athlete’s progress in ancient Olympics was huge.
 
In ancient Greece the “paidotrivis” was the practical coach who supervised the training of the ancient Olympic athlete and made sure that he would perfectly execute the trainer’s instructions. He was usually an old athlete of the ancient Olympics who had already withdrawn himself. Even though he wasn’t as widely educated as the trainer he had extensive experience and technical knowledge on the sports, being able to teach the ancient Greek athletes. Like the athlete, he was also naked during the workout and he was holding a thin rod of wicker. He slightly hit the athlete’s back with the rod when he wanted to draw his attention to something or more strongly in case that he had violated a regulation.
 
All the athletes respected and appreciated these two kind of trainers. Actually many of the champions used to set up their trainers’ statues next to theirs wishing to honor them.
 
Finally in ancient Greece the anointer was the person who completed a good workout. His task was to smear with oil and massage the ancient Greek athletes’ bodies. He used a special technique to massage with circular motions starting always from the limbs towards the heart. The intensity varied according to the desired result. The massage before the training of the ancient Greek athletes was of moderate pressure so that the body would obtain elasticity and would be prepared for the exercise. The massage at the end of the workout was more gentle (as part of the recovery) to help the muscles relax. And even in cases that the ancient Greek athletes had a cold or muscle injuries the anointer would appropriately massage him to help him get well. The oil used was pure olive oil sometimes mixed with oleaster oil. It was kept in small bottles stored in every gymnasium and palaistra, whereas many times the athletes used to bring their own oil in a small vessel, called “aryvallos”, hanging on their wrist.
 
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The use of the sand before the training of the ancient Greek athletes in ancient Greece

 
In ancient Greece, after the anointer’s smearing and massage and just before the training, the ancient Greek athletes sprinkled sand all over their bodies. The sand stuck with the oil and stayed on them. Depending on the type of sand used either they cleaned the skin pores or they closed them to control the excessive sweating. In addition, in this way they kept their body warm in the winter and cool in the summer as they also prevented sunburns. When the workout was over the ancient Greek athletes scraped off the mixture of oil and sand using a special tool, the “stlegis”. After that they took their bath.
 

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The role of music during the training of the ancient Greek athletes in ancient Greece

 
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It is very interesting that the workout of the ancient Greek athletes was often accompanied by the melody of flute in ancient Greece because the ancient Greeks thought that the music gives to the body movements (especially in the high jump) rhythm and harmony, key elements for a show of high level like this offered in the ancient Olympics.
 
Consequently, the proper training, the care, guidance and advice of the experts in exercise and nutrition, the help of music and of course the strong will and the discipline of the athlete himself was what constituted a successful preparation of the ancient Greek athletes in the ancient Olympics.
 

 

Dimi NtouranidouWritten by Dimi Ntouranidou

Graduate teacher of Greek literature (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Literary editor of publications, Responsible for writing articles about the ancient Olympic Games   

 
 
Images of the ancient Greek Olympic Games blog are taken from the Ancient Greek Olympic Games Comic. In the Ancient Olympic Games Comic you will find much more about the ancient Olympic Games while having fun reading a wonderful comic story. You can download a sample episode of the comic here.
 
 
 
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