Gold Medal Secrets: Strength
Make More Muscle
John Orozco’s favorite exercise is called the ice cream maker, but it’s also a magnificent upper-body muscle maker. “Do a chinup. Then, as you descend and straighten your arms, simultaneously lift your hips and feet until your body is parallel to the ground,” he says. Sets of 20 are cake for the 19-year-old national team gymnast. You? One good rep would be great. You’ll have better luck with his leg lifts: Grab a chinup bar using an overhand grip just wider than your shoulders. Lift your legs, keeping them straight, until your toes touch the bar. Try to complete 2 sets of 5. Take solace in knowing that Orozco trains 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, 12 months a year, for a sport in which events last from 6 to 40 seconds. But he needs more than just brute strength: “You’re releasing the bar, flipping and twisting, then catching it again—it’s tricky and scary,” says national team coach Vitaly Marinitch. “It takes bravery.”
Wrangle a Stronger Core
To strengthen his core and shoulders, swimmer Michael Phelps, Subway Famous Fan, uses this battling-rope circuit. Do the first exercise for 30 to 45 seconds, rest 15 seconds, and move on to the next. When you’ve done all three, rest 1 minute and then do two more circuits. Grab a rope end in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. This is the starting position for all three exercises. Up and down: Make waves by lifting and lowering both arms as fast and hard as you can while keeping the rest of your body braced. In and out: Move your arms out to either side and back in as fast and hard as you can, creating lateral waves. Alternating: Do the up-and-down wave, but alternate arms so one is up when the other is down. (Want more advice to chiseling your middle? Check out our musclemorphosis.com.)
Stay Low to Get Strong
Keeping a low center of gravity is crucial in most sports, none more so than wrestling. Jordan Burroughs, a world champion at 163 pounds, uses this walking side lunge drill: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and squat low enough for your hands to touch the floor. Without raising your body, take a long step to the left with your left foot and drop into a side lunge, with your left knee bent and right knee straight. Bring your right foot toward your left so you’re back in the original squat position. Repeat until you’ve finished a circle roughly 10 feet in diameter. Rest 30 seconds, and then circle in the other direction by lunging to your right.
Grow a Bigger Pair (of Legs)
For Matt Chrabot, one of America’s top-ranked triathletes, balanced leg strength is a key to swimming, riding, and running faster, and the single-leg deadlift helps him achieve it. Grab a pair of light dumbbells—Chrabot uses 15-pounders—and stand on your left foot. Lift your right leg and bend the knee so your shin is parallel to the floor. Push your hips back as you bend forward and slowly lower your body as far as you can, or until your right leg nearly touches the floor. Pause and push yourself back up. Do 10 reps, switch legs, and repeat. Rest 2 minutes and do 2 more sets with each leg. (For another way to sculpt your glutes and hamstrings, try this musclemorphosis.com.)
Swing to Victory and Muscle
Kerron Clement, 2008 silver medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, hates the final third of a race. “As you fatigue, your form starts to slip, which can cause you to stutter-step and slow down.” Clement focuses on the posterior-chain muscles, primarily the glutes and hamstrings, so they continue to provide propulsion when he needs it most. The kettlebell single-arm swing is a classic for the posterior chain: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell in your left hand in front of you. Push your hips back as you swing it through your legs, and then snap your hips forward to bring it up to chest level. Do 5 sets of 5 reps with each arm, resting 30 seconds between sets.
Build Lean Muscle
Middle-distance runners need to be strong and lean. That’s why Lopez Lomong, a 2008 Beijing Olympian in the 1,500 meters, does this circuit, holding a 25-pound kettlebell in each hand at arm’s length: 1.) Walk 50 yards; rest 5 seconds. 2.) Do 10 squats; rest 5 seconds. 3.) Do 10 lunges with each leg; rest 2 minutes. Repeat for a total of three circuits. (A kettlebell is a great way to build total-body strength. Make sure you try this musclemorphosis.com.)