Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Q&A with Bjørn Holtan

When some members of the US Olympic speed skating team needed to mix up their training program they called Bjørn Holtan, one of only 200 certified Meridian strengthening and stretching trainers in the world. Holtan, based in San Francisco where he owns his own studio, made several flights to Milwaukee leading up to the Vancouver Games to work with two up-and-coming skaters at their training facility. Athletes seek Holtan because he has a reputation for getting the most out of his clients and that’s what they should expect from a guy who swims competitively among sharks.

What is Meridian strengthening and stretching and how does this differ from traditional workouts?
When I’m working on someone, I am trying to find the muscles that aren’t working with each other. When that happens, muscles begin to tighten and the unbalanced muscle won’t be as strong because it’s not getting the nutrients and blood circulation that it needs. Based off the unbalanced muscle that I find in an individual, I get information on what is happening in the body on a physical, physiological & psychological basis. Once the problem area is diagnosed, I then correspond what meridian lines are related to the muscle. In Meridian stretching you’re in control of the stretch by beating the resistance on the contracting muscle to create the stretch.

I’m already confused. Can you give me an example of a Meridian stretch?
Sure, let’s say you want to stretch your left bicep. You would contract that muscle and apply pressure with your left hand into your right hand. The right hand is now beating the resistance on the contracting muscle to create the stretch.

OK, I just did that. Now I get it, thanks. Tell me more about meridian lines.
Meridian lines carry energy throughout the body. There are 16 of them running from your head all the way down to the tips of your fingers and toes. If energy gets blocked, it can cause muscle tension, physiological problems and psychological issues as well. When I first tried Meridian stretching seven years ago, I watched people coming out of the previous session feeling changed for the better; their headache went away or their blood pressure fell down.

How did you help the US Olympic speed skaters get ready for the Olympics?
I worked with Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. and Brian Hansen. We dedicated the majority of time during our sessions to meridian stretching & meridian massage or “mashing” as it is referred to sometimes. This is done with my feet. So, they kneel down and I walk on their quads to help lengthen the muscle and break up the myofascia, which is a connecting tissue, to help relieve the risk of injury. I love to work with these athletes because they are healthy and injury prevention is really rewarding for me. They will not feel any pain or stress when they hit the ice and get into that starting position. Well, that is the goal!

Did anything about these athletes surprise you during training?
I started working with them almost three weeks before the Olympics and was truly amazed how focused they were with their craft while also being appreciative of the people assembled to help them. They were really personable and sincere and I think they have a lot of integrity. Nancy and Brian both followed up with thank you letters despite how busy they were. From just watching them through training, they are very composed and their stress levels are so low which is remarkable at their level of competition.

What are your expectations of Nancy and Brian at the Vancouver Games?
This is each of their first Olympics and they’ll surely be going back to compete in them again in 2014. I think they will really enjoy the experience in Vancouver and take away so much from it. Right now, they say they feel faster and more confident since I’ve started working with them so close to the competition. I’m confident they’ll rise to the occasion and make everyone in the US proud.

You have quite the athletic resume yourself. As an accomplished swimmer having competed in some big time events, what are some of your most proud moments in this sport?
I guess the most exciting was at the collegiate level with being the conference champion in the 200 meter butterfly and finishing third in the 100 because they’re such hard races. I was a member of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse swim team and earned MVP honors for those finishes. I’ve enjoyed success in a lot of international swimming events and triathlons but the “Alcatraz Sharkfest" open water swim stands out in my mind. I was competing in this race for the first time, from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, against 800 swimmers. I had never swum in the bay before and I was terrified because my imagination ran wild; I could have sworn I saw sharks. They exist in the area but they’re mostly bottom feeders; the Great White’s are beyond the bridge. I was fortunate to finish third in that event.

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