Read an Excerpt
As an athlete, staying in shape has been my life’s work. It’s also my passion and the source of my strength and confidence. When I work out, I feel most like myself and most comfortable in my body and mind. I feel motivated to continue to set new goals for myself, go after them, and give them my all. You might think that this tenacity comes from being an Olympic athlete, but I believe it’s the result of living in my body in an active way. Working out and staying in shape is simply how I take care of myself, and when I do this, everything else in my life falls into place. The same can happen for you. You might not have come to this book with aspirations to make the Olympics, but I can promise that what you find here will not only show you how to achieve your best physical shape, it will also inspire you to be the best you can be in all areas of your life.
Gold Medal Fitness is a five-week plan that will reshape your body through revolutionary strengthening and resistance stretching exercises that lengthen, tighten, and build your muscles. The plan will also offer a fresh, efficient way to include cardio in your workout, and share what has become my secret weapon—an active recovery phase. This plan is based on the training I’ve been doing for the past four years, since I made the decision, as a thirty-nine-year-old new mom, to try out for the 2008 Olympic team. Because of these cutting-edge techniques, my own fierce determination, and the support of a handful of devoted trainers, I not only went to Beijing to compete, I came home with three silver medals.
The games in Beijing were my fifth Olympics. My competitive swimming career has spanned three decades, and I’m not finished yet. As a student at the University of Florida, I earned the maximum possible number of NCAA all-American swimming awards—twenty-eight—and as the first U.S. swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games, I set three world records and won twelve Olympic medals, including four gold. And I’m still not finished.
This book is for all of you who don’t want to hang up your suit, take off your running shoes, or give up on feeling—and looking—great. My memoir, Age Is Just a Number, might have introduced you to me and some of the events in my life. But this book will share my workout regimen with you. We may not have exactly the same goals, but I bet we do share similar needs. Wouldn’t you like to pick up your kids without your back aching? Have the energy for an early-morning workout before getting kids to school or yourself off to work? Achieve a sense of balance that enables you to feel relaxed, confident, and strong instead of depleted by the end of the day? I will show you how to achieve these results—and more—while getting into the best shape of your life.
How This Book Came to Be
After the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the publication of my memoir, I traveled around the country doing a book tour and making appearances as spokesperson for Hewlett-Packard, Fitness Nutritions and other companies and organizations. During this busy year, as I continued to train for the nationals and World Championships, I met thousands of women and men of all ages who wanted to hear about how I had made a comeback as a forty-one-year-old athlete. As I crisscrossed the country, I was struck by how many women approached me with questions. “How do you do it?” “I can’t believe you’re still going so strong! What’s your secret?” I began to think about how I approach training and how my regimen might actually help other people—regardless of their age or level of athleticism—get into better shape. Yes, I’ve been a competitive athlete for a long time, and I probably do have a genetic edge in terms of body type and athletic skill. But I am also just like you—a busy woman and mother, juggling work, child raising, and training (my primary job). And like you, my day doesn’t end when I finish training for the day—I also take care of my very active four-year-old daughter. I continue to travel, give talks, and attend book promotions and other sponsor-related events. I’m basically always on the run, trying to keep up with all that I have to do.
The more I thought about how to answer the myriad questions these women (as well as some men) were asking me, the more I realized that across the span of five Olympics, I’ve never stopped changing, adjusting, and fine-tuning how I train and stay in shape. I think it’s this realization that has most inspired me to write this book: I believe that you, too, can achieve optimal fitness if you make getting and staying in shape a priority; adapt your workout routine to your body’s everchanging needs; approach working out as an integral part of taking care of yourself; and then go for it. Training does not mean focusing on one part of your body or group of muscles; it’s a full-body experience and approach to taking care of yourself. For all of you women out there who think you might have what it takes to get physically fit—regardless of your age, our shape, your weight, or your long list of responsibilities—you definitely can. But you’ve got to want it.
In this book I am offering a simple, straightforward plan of exercises and workouts that will strengthen your core and increase your lean muscle mass through dynamic resistance stretching techniques. You will also learn a unique strengthening approach that is absolutely essential for women (especially as women begin to feel the effects of their age) as well as a choice of cardio workouts—all based on the combination that I’ve been doing with my committed group of trainers. I am now forty-three and probably in the best shape of my life, but these workouts are not just for those of us past forty. In fact, many of my teammates who are in their twenties have adapted these stretching and strengthening techniques and found amazing results—increasing their speed and endurance, recovering from practices and meets more quickly and with less downtime, and bouncing back from injury more fully. These women are elite-level athletes, but like me, they need to constantly work at their overall fitness in order to maintain their strength.
So for those of you who are coming to this book to get in shape, you will find some fabulous tips, exercises, and workouts that will tone you, strengthen you, and make you leaner. You might be twenty-five, thirty-five, or forty-five—but you will see and feel results in just five weeks. Why five weeks? Because it takes most of us that amount of time to learn the proper execution of the strengthening and stretching movements and to see the results.
Some of these exercises incorporate simple pieces of equipment (a Swiss ball, a BOSU Balance trainer, elastic bands, for example), some incorporate gym machines, and others you can do completely on your own.
In many ways this is an anti-program fitness book— because I believe it’s crucial to listen to your body and pay attention to what it needs and how it is responding to certain exercises. If your quads feel tight, for instance, you may need to adjust your workout accordingly, stretching both your quads and hamstrings before doing any strengthening. So you play a big role in how successful you will be with these workouts. Can I guarantee that you’ll have six-pack abs? No, because a big part of making this plan work is up to you. But if you want them, I’ll show you how to get them. And if you don’t, but instead just want to slim your waist and strengthen your core
so that your lower back doesn’t bother you, or have more stamina and accuracy when you play tennis, or simply feel better as you get in and out of the car and run through your day (as most women do— kids or no kids), then you’ll find that, too. And through some commonsense nutrition advice, you can learn to trim a few pounds if necessary, allowing the hard work you’re doing in your training to make more of an impact.
CHAPTER 1 - GETTING INTO THE FAST LANE, ONE MORE TIME
In the world inhabited by competitive swimmers, I’ve been considered old for a long time. The first time I really felt this was when I decided to make a comeback for the 2000 Olympic team. I was thirty-two years old, and some people, including my beloved dad, thought I was crazy. He still believed in me, though, as did many other supporters, but the most important factor was that I believed in me. I made the team, went to Sydney with my fellow Americans, and won five medals—two gold and three bronze. But who’s counting?
That experience was the first time I was forced to relearn how to both push my body and respect it. It was a turning point in my career, and I had to dig deep inside of myself, rethink how to train my body, and ask new questions about what makes a person stronger and more flexible—in body and in mind. In other words, I had to understand how not to let my age get in my way.
I’ve always had my own sense of time, and in most ways it’s worked for me. Most swimmers will tell you that at one point they simply decide to hang up their suit. I’ve had moments like that, too, but I’ve reversed my decision now a total of three times. The last such time was when I was thirty-eight and finally, miraculously, got pregnant after years of trying. I jumped back into the pool simply to get some exercise and get rid of morning sickness during my pregnancy, believing that a strong body would only help to make my baby stronger. Being in the pool again felt so right that I was encouraged to begin yet another new training regimen. And two years after my daughter,
Tessa, was born, I found myself, at the age of forty-one, in Beijing at my fifth Olympic Games.
As the title of my memoir, Age Is Just a Number, indicates, I like to challenge the odds. I believe that most of us can not only reach beyond our own preconceived limitations but also rise to challenges much bigger than we allow ourselves to dream . . . if we simply believe in ourselves. I know that’s a big if. How do you gain that trust in yourself? By setting up real, measurable goals and developing realistic expectations and plans to meet those goals. Then, of course, there’s follow-through. Don’t expect to lose those last five or ten pounds if you’re not consistent with your workouts. Don’t expect to run that 5k if you haven’t been running 3 miles three or four times a week. Don’t expect to finish that book you’ve always wanted to write if you don’t sit down at the computer several times a week. Results demand showing up. However, it’s also true that when you do show up and put in the work, you might just exceed your own expectations.
So, when I put on my Speedo and my old goggles again, I knew that as a thirty-nine-year-old new mom I had to train differently. I couldn’t expect that my body was the same as it was in Sydney six years earlier, or in Barcelona eight years before that. Once I understood this, I learned three very important lessons: (1) I needed to develop more flexibility so that my muscles and joints were more balanced and supported one another; (2) I had to strengthen my body in a new way (lean and long rather than bulky and beefy); and (3) most important of all, I had to recognize the importance of recovery for my mind and body. These three elements combined to make me a faster, stronger, and smarter swimmer. Rest and recovery time, functional strength training, and resistance stretching have been my mantra, my secret weapons, and the key not only to competing as a forty-something athlete but also to feeling amazingly confident and comfortable in my body. And they can be yours as well—just wait and see.
From the Hardcover edition.