Find out how athletes, in their quest for Olympic gold, train for sports’ biggest stage.
TIM HUTTEN | Water Polo
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 220 pounds
Born: Los Alamitos, Calif. | Lives: Seal Beach, Calif.
Michael Phelps has famously claimed that he regularly consumed 10,000 calories per day for training (cough, yeah, right, cough). But water polo players rival swimmers in terms of total yards logged per session, and when you add in the vertical game and combative element, it’s fair to say that the energy demand is much higher. Still, Tim Hutten likes to keep it simple. “I don’t go around counting my calories, but I do have a pretty good sense of what I should and should not be eating,” Hutten says. “I would say that I’m a healthy eater. You can’t just eat burgers and junk and expect to perform. We also supplement with 20 to 30 grams of protein after our weight workouts.”
WHEN TIM HUTTEN — all 6 feet 5 inches and 220 pounds of him — and his teammates were awarded their hardware at the Beijing medal ceremonies, it marked the first time in 20 years that a U.S. men’s Olympic water polo team had won anything at an Olympic Games. The drought broken, the water polo world was suddenly abuzz with theories on how such a turnaround had been orchestrated. Was it coaching? Was the United States just due? Perhaps. But it also could have had something to do with the fact that the Americans were better physically prepared than ever before, with Hutten a standout example of the team’s emerging commitment to cutting-edge sports science.
A few years back, ESPN listed water polo as the 11th toughest sport in existence. “It’s kind of a total-body workout,” Hutten says of a match. “You have to swim fast, then use your legs for balance and to position yourself. On top of that, you have to fight with the other guy and use a lot of your strength to do that. You go up and down the pool a couple of times when you’re wrestling, and you can get exhausted pretty quickly.”
All that exertion requires training. Hutten, 26, first started tussling with the weights during 5:30 a.m. team sessions during his college days at University of California, Irvine. “We worked out on our own, so some people didn’t do much and kind of goofed off a bit,” he recalls. “You had others, like me, who were serious and used that time to get bigger and stronger. After three to four years, it makes a big difference.”
Now on the U.S. Men’s National Water Polo Team and all but a sure bet to defend against the world’s toughest players in London, Hutten has the benefit of some of the most personalized instruction available courtesy of the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif., further enhancing his already intimidating physical makeup. “Going into his second Olympics, Tim is one of the strongest guys on the team from the hips up,” says Dr. Marcus Elliott, a performance specialist and founder and director of P3. “He’s damn strong and really powerful, and in terms of motivation and drive, he’s an outlier.”
Elliott and his staff put the team through a battery of traditional exercises such as squats and cleans, but they also do land-based moves — like holding heavy dumbbells in the top of a prone, chest-supported row — that mimic moves they’d do in the water.
The hope is all that training will pay off this summer. “In Beijing, we were just one win away from being at the top of the podium,” Hutten says. “Our only goal is to be there in 2012.”
Photo Courtesy of Rob Grabowski
REID PRIDDY | Indoor Volleyball
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 200 pounds
Born: Richmond, Va. | Lives: Newport Beach, Calif.
JUMP LIKE AN OLYMPIAN
Wanna build Reid Priddy-style hops? “A lot of jumping is genetic, so picking your parents better is key,” Aaron Brock jokes. “But there are a few things you can do on your own to maximize what you were born with.”
1. WEIGHTED JUMPS
Brock recommends using a weighted vest or a light set of dumbbells held at shoulder height to perform box jumps. Choose a box that’s about 12 inches high to start and use a higher box and more resistance as you progress. “You’re stimulating fibers to adapt to that increased load, which will help improve explosiveness,” Brock says. “Start with three sets of six to eight reps, not done to failure.”
2. SIDE SHUFFLE
According to Brock, one key muscle group for maximizing jump height is the gluteus medius, which lies just beneath and outside your meatier gluteus maximus. To build strength in this underrated muscle, try lateral resisted shuffles. Wrap a light resistance band around your ankles and, standing straight up with your knees slightly bent, shuffle to one side for reps. “Keep your upper body very rigid, with your toes pointing forward,” Brock says. “Start with two to four sets of 15 reps or steps in each direction.”
3. SINGLE-LEG SQUAT
Regular squats have their place, but even two-foot jumpers need good unilateral explosiveness on the court. Brock suggests performing four sets of the single-leg squat, aiming for six to 10 reps each set. “To maximize fast-twitch fiber use, give a little ‘pop’ at the top of the move where you come off the ground slightly,” he says. Add resistance after you can do 10 clean reps with your own bodyweight.
DURING THE OLYMPICS, beach volleyball seems to be the big draw. But anyone looking to see rapid, explosive game play should plan to watch Reid Priddy and the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team defend their gold medal.
Indoor volleyball is a much faster, much more dynamic game, free of the hindrances of uncertain, sandy footing and two-man scrambles to cover the court. Dozens of times during a match, Priddy, an outside hitter, rapidly elevates to 42 inches and hammers the ball down at more than 75 miles per hour. Priddy’s swing is violent, if technically sound, making him one of the most dangerous and exciting players in the game today.
“Explosive movement is what dominates the offensive side of the game,” says Aaron Brock, MS, ATC, CSCS, a trainer who works with Priddy and his teammates. “Reid is the definition of explosive — he’s 100 percent fast twitch, very dynamic. He’s easily the best athlete we have.”
Priddy, who also plays professionally in Russia, says that the biggest challenge when preparing for any major tournament is the absence of an offseason. “The National Team is our passion, but we all have to play internationally to make a living,” he says. “And when we come back, we’re all beat up, so we have to be very in tune with our bodies in order to stay healthy. Keeping in the best shape possible is more important than our touches on the ball.”
To that end, Priddy now works with a personal trainer who can easily identify any problem areas that emerge in his game. Typical workouts focus on building power through weighted box jumps as well as maximum strength sets on exercises such as squats and deadlifts. He also employs some offbeat techniques to enhance his conditioning. “I use the Airdyne Bike from Schwinn, the VersaClimber and slideboards for extra work,” he says. “People underestimate the amount of athleticism it takes to play this game at this level, as well as the mileage it puts on your body.”
The year-round grind wouldn’t be possible, Priddy says, without proper nutrition — something that has taken him some time to get right. “Eating well has been a huge adjustment in my career,” he says. “At first, I thought I just needed calories. Then, with some education, I realized I could be getting more out of those calories, so I started making better choices. The most important thing I’ve learned is that nutrition planning is incredibly important.”
Priddy bolsters his nutritional game plan with key supplements. He keeps his fuel stores topped off by using recovery drinks during practices and matches, and after a bout on the hardwood, he usually reaches for a Muscle Milk or similar protein drink to repair beat-down muscle bellies. His favorite preworkout pick-me-up? A piping hot cappuccino.
Nutrition alone won’t help Priddy and his teammates pass, set and swing their way to another gold, and with different coaches, different players and a different system, it could be difficult. “We don’t like to say we’re going to repeat; we like to say we’re going to win again,” he says. “We’re trying to maximize all the resources and attributes that we have and figure out how those complement each other, but I like our group, and there’s no doubt that the possibility is there.”
Photo Courtesy of US Presswire
SANYA RICHARDS-ROSS | Track and Field
Height: 5’8” | Weight: 135 pounds
Born: Kingston, Jamaica | Lives: Austin, Texas
Sanya Richards-Ross prefers to keep things clean and simple in the kitchen.
FOOD: “I’ve never really had a nutritionist. Both my parents are Rastafarian, so I’ve never eaten pork or red meat. I have a really clean diet, chicken and fish, mostly. My typical meal is grilled chicken or salmon, rice, baked potatoes and salads. On heavy lifting days, I always have a protein shake afterward. My dad juices for me often — broccoli, carrots and all the stuff I hate so I get enough of my fruits and veggies. There’s no big secret to my nutrition. Because we’re all over the world, you can’t consistently get the same thing. I try not to be picky, but I always try to get some pasta the night before a race. I just try to make sure I’m full.”
SUPPS: “I try to take my vitamins every day and then I take fish oil, which I feel helps me a lot. My strength coach may say to up my B-12 based on our training. You have to be so careful about what you put in your body. Even if it sounds good, I’m fearful.”
IT CAN BE ARGUED that the 400-meter dash is the most grueling track event there is. It doesn’t allow sprinters the luxury of running on ATP and adrenaline the way 100-meter sprinters do, and after all the explosive energy is exhausted, they have to rely more heavily on oxygen and stored glycogen, touching off an unbelievable, total-body burn. Sanya Richards-Ross has run the 400 in fewer than 50 seconds more times than any other woman in history (41).
Richards-Ross breaks her technique down into phases that she calls the Four Ps. “The first 100 is kind of a push phase, where you’re trying to get out as fast as you can and build up as much speed as you can,” she says. “Pace. Here, you get in a great rhythm and try not to run too fast or you’ll falter. Then comes positioning, where you kind of start to position yourself based on where your competition is. The last phase we call pray (or poise), where you try to hold your form to the finish. Depending on what you’ve done leading up to the last P, you’ll pay for it there.”
To perfect her stride and running economy, Richards-Ross relies heavily on interval work. Close to competition, she will run a few 600s, resting five to 10 minutes in between. Then, she’ll dive into 12 grueling intervals of 200 meters that she has to finish in fewer than 30 seconds. She rests two minutes between sprints. But in an event during which the first three to four seconds can determine the outcome, strength and power are key.
“My weight-room work varies depending on the time of year, but in the early season, we’re doing circuit training,” she says. “During that time, I may be doing bodyweight stuff like pull-ups, push-ups and dips to get ready for the next phase, which is more dynamic. Then, we get into snatches, power cleans, overhead squats, leg extensions, leg presses and Romanian deadlifts for hamstring stabilization.”
All that explosive, full-body work may mystify those unfamiliar with the rigors of sprinting, but Richards-Ross views it as critical to her performance on the track. “Contrary to what people think, it’s not just about your legs,” she says. “For us, we focus on our block starts a lot. Being explosive translates into a great start. For me, the last 100 is all arms. The legs start to falter, but if your upper body and core are strong, you can dig really deep and propel yourself to the finish line.”
The critical nature of core strength in her sport has made Richards-Ross borderline obsessive about training her abs, performing more than 1,000 reps for her midsection five times a week. “Stronger core muscles will help stabilize the body to reduce trunk rotation during the race,” says Chris Phillips, CSCS, a California-based performance coach and owner of Compete Performance (competeperformance.com). “This will allow for more efficient movement during running, especially while going around the turn.”
Richards-Ross was part of the gold-medal-winning 4x400 relay team in her first Olympic showing in 2008, but she came up short in her quest for gold in her individual race, falling behind in the final 100 meters and finishing with a bronze. That leaves her hungry for success this summer. “The ideal situation for me in London is to leave with two golds,” she says. “I was burned in the last Olympics, and I wanna get my first individual gold this time.”
Photo by Victor Sailer