This article serves to guide and inform sportspeople who want an insight to the world of the winter sportsman. It's by no means exhaustive but should be useful for people looking to take the plunge.
Note: The stuff I mention based on getting involved with a team is linked to my knowledge of the current GB programme, other nations will work in their own way. Generally this article should provide insight and advice for any athlete looking at coming into the sport. I don’t mention monobob, however.
This sled contains a soldier and a long jumper!
A Brief History From My Perspective
Like a fair few sportspeople, after a torrid experience with injury, I trialled for bobsleigh in the summer of 2016. Being a relatively powerful sprinter, I transferred quickly.
That winter, I had an introduction to the sport in Igls, Innsbruck at - what I was told at the time - is the easiest track in the world.
Trying bobsleigh for the first time is an extraordinary experience. Incidentally, being told you’re on the easiest track in the world is the world’s worst thing to hear. All you then think is, ‘oh God this is going to get worse.’
Anyone whose first track is Altenberg or Lake Placid, and still likes it, is good to go.
Anyway, after hating my first run, I jumped back in for the second and never looked back.
A bit like any sort of virginity experience, everyone’s is a bit different. The rare few love it immediately (good for them). The rest of us wonder what the hell our life has come to and spend the immediate aftermath icing our sore bits.
You have no frame of reference for the bump and smash of bobsleigh.
It’s violent, loud and dangerous. You are essentially freefalling down a mountain in a baked bean can.
My first 4-man experience resulted in a crushed hand, a trip to Innsbruck A&E and several months of debt collecting letters from the hospital.
As is classic with the resilience this sport inspires, I still managed to get out on Europa Cup a week later in what would become my favourite place in the world, Koniggssee (I’m not convinced anyone knows how to spell it right).
Then, after a Christmas Push Selection, I found myself on the second leg of the 2017 IBSF World Cup and thus my career began.
The immense bravery required to overcome your innate, human survival instincts and the physical capabilities required to excel in bobsleigh make the whole thing worthwhile. It is a uniquely rewarding sport and if you feel you might have what it takes, let’s see if I can help guide you a little further.
GB Athlete Alan Toward with a pretty comfortable 170kg jerk
Ultimately, this has to be your bread and butter. You need to be fast, and you need to be strong.
What I love about this sport however, is that there are athletes that will fall anywhere along the strength/speed spectrum and will be suited for different roles.
2-Man and 2-Woman (minimum weight sleds 170kg, maximum weight of crew and sled 330kg for women, 390kg for men)
We’re a gravity sport so weight is important. The heavy thing falls faster, hence why restrictions were brought in. It’s generally considered to be better to have weight on the athletes instead of lumps of lead strapped into the sled, however.
That was my experience this year anyway (season 19/20). Being between 86kg - 90kg and with my pilot also losing weight, we had to put 30-odd kg in the sled to get up to weight. That puts a huge strain on the start and leaves you at an immediate disadvantage.
So get fat.
Well, don’t, but make sure that a consideration of gaining weight is a reality if you are below 90kg for men and below 70kg for women. I’ll summarise this section with a crucial bit of information below.
4-Man (minimum weight sled 210kg, maximum weight of crew and sled 630kg)
Again, the heavier the crew, the lighter the sled you can push, and hence faster starts.
I’ve seen many athletes (particularly sprinters) come into bobsleigh, obsess about gaining weight, and get dramatically slower. They lose touch with what made them good in the first place. They trade their speed for weight, and it doesn’t always work.
In fact, if they haven’t kept up with their running in general, it never works.
On the other hand, some athletes find the bigger and stronger they get, the faster they get. It’s a trial and error and balance process.
If you’re below 90kg (for men) then you need to be exceptionally fast or be capable of producing massive force for your size, otherwise you just won’t have enough impact.
Smaller guys need to be that much more explosive by virtue of the fact that they will always be handicapped with heavy sleds. #teamskinny
If you do opt to gain weight, my advice is to balance it with plenty of acceleration work.
Sled pulls and short accels between 10-30m. You might be building a big frame but you need to be patient and make the process logical. You need to be able to shift that frame as fast as you did when you were lighter. Any longer runs need to be tempo or build up runs that go between 60-120m, no further.
If you’re a big bastard, make sure you can shift over short distances but don’t despair if you’re not a sprinter. On the 4-man, the number 2 athlete (loading straight after the pilot) needs to have an explosive strength bias and can be less concerned with speed numbers. A number 2 gets the sled shifting then hops in and lets the whippets finish it off.
My first 30m was always world-class, even if my remaining 70m wasn't. Lolz - TBM
Which Sport Are You Coming From?
We get sportspeople from myriad backgrounds but it’s no secret that track and field athletes (sprinters, throwers, jumpers, multi-eventers etc) particularly excel at bobsleigh.
There’s a large training crossover from the mechanics and output required to successfully complete the acceleration work those sports need.
Similarly sports like high-level basketball, rugby, football, weightlifting etc are also all useful transfer sports as you will have been doing a level of weight training coupled with a solid background in running and plyometry.
If you come from these sorts of backgrounds, keep sprint drills in, plyometry, emphasise strengthening of your ankle joints (the joint that takes the most strain during pushing) and be considered in your approach to hypertrophy.
105kg of GB's Sam Blanchet leaving people for dust when playing Rugby 7s for England
If you come from a lower impact sport but still have large power output (track cycling, swimming, rowing etc) then you need to be careful with how you ease into the requirements of bobsleigh.
You 100% need to start running. But you need to learn how to run technically well. Finding a decent athletics coach will be crucial. Learn drills and learn plyometrics if you haven’t done much.
Be patient and build your speed progressively.
You’ll have likely not experienced or conditioned your hamstrings much for the rapid eccentric rigours of sprint exertion. Strengthen your hamstrings with Nordics, GHR, RDL, Hamstring Walkouts (Google them if I haven’t produced the content yet!).
Then, with the help of said coach and lots of reading, drill, drill, drill.
Strengthen your ankles and achilles (look up dorsi-flexion then tattoo it inside your eyelids).
Learn push and acceleration positions with heavy sled pulls. If you have the ability to generate massive power, it will come through, you just need to give yourself time to allow your body to settle with the ‘new normal’ of its requirement.
If you rush sprint work, you’ll get hurt.
If you rush plyometric and rapid ground contacts with poor balance and coordination, you’ll get hurt.
There are huge forces being put through joints that have never been asked to do it before, so give them time.
GB's Vic Williamson is currently in the process of a successful transfer from cycling
Ultimately you don’t know if you don’t try! The GB programme runs trial dates (TBC for 2020, thanks COVID), but beyond contacting the BBSA you can contact pilots directly and it’ll be their discretion whether or not they look at you.
I’m the sort of proactive turd who goes straight to the people in the know, if you don’t ask you don’t get! Just ask British Cycling. I’ll always field questions anyway if I feel the individual is serious - try me here.
If you’re successful at trial, then you’ll likely be assessed at an on-ice push facility to see if you transfer well there too.
Be mindful - good trial doesn’t always equal on-ice performance.
Similarly, good on-ice performance doesn’t guarantee anything either! You’ve still got to try a full ride down a track. A lot of people literally and figuratively ‘knock it on the head’ from here.
But if you love the ride and you show good push potential, you might just make a bobsledder.
Fun at the Sigulda World Cup 2020
Beyond All This.
You will still be on a long journey in this sport.
You’ll learn about the admin elements, mechanics of the sled, long shifts out on the road as you travel away from loved ones, plus finding somewhere in the madness to actually train like an elite athlete.
In fact, here's 10 things to consider if you want to be a useful bobsledder and enrich the programme you enter:
It’s cold, don’t complain. It’s cold for everyone
You are away for long periods. Make sure your loved ones are aware and on board
It hurts, don’t complain. It hurts for everyone
Turn up to team events on time. Meetings, work in the garage, training sessions etc lateness is a surefire way to alienate yourself from the team. Trust me
It can be scary, complain about this sometimes. It can be scary for everyone (Whistler anybody?), but bottling it up is no good either. You need to feel you can express anxieties to your teammates and as long as this never gets to the point where you’re bringing everybody down, it can be helpful to bounce feelings off more experienced athletes
Accept work in the garage and do it gladly. Depending on the programme, pilots will have a lot to do, the more available you are for work takes pressure off the individuals who get you down the track
In fact, accept that this sport is a lot of work and do whatever is required gladly
Be resilient. You’ll need to adapt to training and competing in minus temperatures
If someone in the team has pissed you off. Tell them and deal with it professionally. It might be a hassle to deal with in the moment, but you want to be able to compete and succeed, bottled tensions do no good for anyone in such a close-knit environment
Enjoy the sport, enjoy the ride, enjoy the training. You won’t be doing it for long, life will hit before you know it and you’ll soon wish you were back on the road with the team. Don’t look back with regret, look back with fondness and gratitude
Ultimately this sport might be hard work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
That’s up to the individuals involved.
If you complain every moment along the way, take no accountability for yourself, don’t tell your loved ones how long you’ll be away for, turn up late, treat peers poorly and basically make it seem like you don’t want to be there, then yeah it’ll be shit.
Follow those 10 steps though, smile, be grateful for the experience you’re getting, say yes to every opportunity and love your legacy in bobsleigh, you won’t just enjoy this sport - you’ll be remembered.
Team Canada - left to right Ben Coakwell, Cam Stones, Justin Kripps, Ryan Sommer
If you want any more information please don’t hesitate to contact through the following links:
If you’re a British athlete try here.
If you want to see races, results, teams etc try the IBSF.
Other nations try here: