Army Sgt. Matt Mortensen — Olympic luger — boosts power with weighted pullups

The doubles team of Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall of the United States brake in the finish area during the men's doubles luge training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Army Sgt. Matthew Mortensen, on top, and Sgt. Preston Griffall come to a stop in the finish area on Feb. 10 during the men’s doubles luge training session at the bobsled track in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

With speeds topping more than 90 mph, luge is one of the most dangerous Olympic sports.

You might think hitting top speed riding on top of a pair of thin blades, flying down a mile-long half pipe of frozen water, is all about leaning back and letting gravity do its thing.

With the difference between winning and losing often down to a thousandth of a second, to be competitive, athletes must make the most of the first 10 feet of their run as they literally claw their way down the track with special spiked gloves.

While their brother bobsledders tend to be built like T-Rexes, with workouts focusing on building and boosting leg power, lugers are all about amping up their arms and backs for that critical start.

Army Sgt. Matt Mortensen, a doubles luger on Team USA, credits a near-constant pullup regimen as his go-to workout for getting ready for the Winter Games in Sochi. But not just any pullups.

“One of our core lifts is the weighted pullup,” he says. “You’re hanging from the bar, with your knuckles facing you, and then we have a dumbbell tied to our waist as we do regular pullups.”

Using a modified weightlifter’s belt, they hang a dumbbell between their legs from a chain.

Able to pull off a pullup with an extra 155 pounds tied on, Mortensen holds the luge team’s record in weighted pullups.

Mortensen suggests building a solid foundation of regular pullups before even trying the weighted variety.

“Once you can do three or four sets of 10 standard pullups, then you can start adding weight,” he says.

To start, add 15 to 20 pounds of weight. Your new goal is now sets of six reps.

“Once you get to a place where three or four sets feels easy, then add another 10 to 15 pounds. Keep aiming for sets of six, and just keep increasing the weight as you go.”

Rest periods should be about two to four minutes, he says, “and drink plenty of water.”

If you feel like you’re hitting a plateau or want to work on maximizing your power, drop your rep counts, but add more weight.

“For me to peak before the Olympics, I’ll be doing sets of two. That will be maximum output at 130 pounds. I’ll also only do two or three sets. It’s all about trying to get your muscles at their maximum output.”

Watch it: Catch Mortensen in action during the men’s luge doubles on Feb. 12.

Jon R. Anderson is a staff writer for OFFduty. Contact him at jona@militarytimes.com.