Learning from Olympians Online Part 4: Japanese Weightlifter Rika Saito Trains You How to Stretch Your Way to Flexible and Strong Joints

An Airbnb Experience with Rika Saito, Olympic weightlifter for Team Japan.

Weightlifting is not an easy sport to compete in. Injuries are commonplace.

You can herniate your disc, incur Achilles tendonitis, tear your labrum, inflame your elbow or knee, or pull your hamstring,Rika Saito started her career as a high school student, and competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the women’s 69 kg weight class for Team Japan. In her 13 years of weightlifting, she said she was struggling with injury almost all the time: lower back pain, elbow ligament injuries, fatigue shin fractures, etc.

So in order to decrease the frequency and duration of injury, she said it was important to do the exercises that increased mobility or the stability of the joints of her body, from her ankles to her neck.

Saito, a native of Kyoto, offered her years of experience in high-performance weightlifting training to average Japanese stuck in home isolation with her Online Airbnb Experience, entitled “オリンピアンによるからだと向き合うストレッチ,” or “How an Olympian Stretches.”

Saito spent over a year in Canada working odd jobs and studying English. While her English ability is strong, she runs this program in Japanese, running ordinary folk like me through such flexibility exercises as:

  • Scorpions: where we lay flat on the ground face down, lift one leg up and bend it over your back until your toes hit the ground, and then repeat with the other leg
  • Downward Dog Left Lifts: where your hands and feet are planted firmly on the ground with your butt raised in the air, and you lift your leg with your foot reaching to the ceiling before bringing the leg down and the leg tucking back in with the knee pointing in the direction of the other arm, and
  • Spider-mans: where you start off similar to downward dog but your plant, say, your right foot just outside your right hand, and then allowing your body to push down and stretch the tendons in your legs.

Repeating these stretches brought sweat to my brow. But Saito was enthusiastic and encouraging during the hour of training.

Still, I wasn’t about to start lifting massive weights as Saito has done in her career. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Saito finished sixth in her weight class at the age of 25,seven years after becoming the best high school women’s weightlifter in Japan. After lifting 87 kg in the snatch (a single motion lift), she succeeded in her three tries at the clean and jerk, capping her day with a lift of 122 kg. Her 209 kg total did not medal, but it was a Japan record and an incredible feat.

Full demonstrations of stretching technique via Zoom.

Imagine, she said, picking up the heaviest member of the Japan Rugby Team and lifting him over your head. That would be Koo Ji-won, who is 122 kg.

While Saito did not medal, she still got to enjoy the immensity of the Olympics. She was amazed at the VIP treatment Olympians got as her bus zipped along the highly congested highway from the airport to the Olympic Village, with her lane cleared of traffic. And she was star struck at who she saw in the dining hall – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi – gold medalists all at the Beijing Games.

Motivated by Tokyo’s winning bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saito has been helping train Japanese weightlifters and educating athletes about the issues of doping, and looks forward to the Tokyo Olympics next year. She’s particularly hopeful for Japanese weightlifter, Mikiko Ando, who finished fifth in the 58 kg women’s weight class, and has high expectations for Ando.

The problem – like so many others, she doesn’t have tickets to the Olympics!




If you’re Japanese comprehension is intermediate or better, join this great Airbnb Experience with Olympian, Rika Saito. And if you ask, she can run this program in English.

Saito snatching the Japan record at the Beijing Games.