Her innovations for keeping her body in top shape as she advances deeper into middle age are almost entirely out of the pool. In Florida, after her two-hour water workout, Torres changes into a black workout top and shorts and meets her strength coach. Over the past year and a half, Torres’s focus has moved away from heavy, static weightlifting and geared her training toward balanced, dynamic exercises that stimulate her central nervous system. “The idea is not to isolate muscle groups but to get muscles contracting together in the right sequences”. Sound familiar? Weight training, grew out of bodybuilding, and that low-rep high-weight tradition is ill suited for a athlete since a body comprised of big muscles that have been trained to produce force only individually wastes considerable energy trying to move. Speed derives from highly coordinated movements and fluid timing. Torres is 12 pounds lighter, stronger and more cut than she was in 2000. Torres told me that it took her head coach, Lohberg, a little while to embrace the program, but she says, “I’m swimming really fast now, so he can’t complain.”
Torres does her weight training for 60 to 90 minutes, four times a week. On this day, O’Brien coached Torres through a series of exercises that she did while lying on a large exercise ball — lifting weights, doing crunches with weights behind her head. She also performed cross-body pulls with another large ball in her arms. Throughout, her shoulders and upper back are corrected for perfect posture. Nearly everyone in Torres’s orbit is in awe of her body — its beauty, its strength, its form. “Dara repairs 10 times faster than most athletes. Considering her age and the length of time she’s been training, it’s pretty amazing.”
After grabbing a steak salad for lunch, (shock horror she's no carb junky) Torres drives home to be stretched. Torres puts as much energy — and money — into her workout recovery as she does into her training. Torres books a massage three times a week and visits, various CHEK and Neuromuscular therapists dependent on whom is available as she needs to, they used their bodies to guide her limbs into precise angles and knead knots and sometimes small pieces of scar tissue out of her muscles.
Torres calls resistance stretching her “secret weapon.” So, “What do race-car drivers do when they want to go faster?”. “They don’t spend more hours driving around the track. They increase the biomechanics of the car. And that’s what resistance flexibility is doing for Dara — increasing her biomechanics.”
Working fingers under her rib cage, a painful technique that, helps with shoulder rotation, and then pressing very firmly with the heels of the hands on Torres’s solar plexus, as if doing CPR helps maintain the movement required to perform as she does. None of this is comfortable but Torres has a very high threshold for pain and the willingness to endure it.
UPON HEARING THAT TORRES is likely to make the Olympic team at age 41, many people had the same question: How is this possible? Kinesiologists counter with a different query: Why are you so surprised? “Dara is extremely impressive, but she’s not as unique as people think.”
So why do we assume a middle-aged swimmer must be all washed up? Because for nonelite athletes, sporting achievements fall off precipitously with age. Body composition changes toward more fat and less muscle. Strength and aerobic capacity decrease as well. But a primary reason that athletic performance degrades in adulthood is changes in priorities. People tend to devote more time and energy to jobs and families than to sports. Even committed athletes downgrade their workout goals from achieving personal bests to staying in shape. Academics refer to this reduction in physical activity as hypokinesis. The phenomenon is not limited to humans.
A 1985 study showed that rats with unlimited access to running wheels exercised less as they aged. But look at people who maintain activity levels and It’s a different story! A lot of what we assume is aging is just progressive hypokinesis. How many people at Dara’s age have maintained their training consistently? I’m going to say there are very, very few.”
Even childbirth needn’t be a sports-career killer. In 1972, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, E. Zaharieva published a study of 13 women who were pregnant and then competed in the 1964 Olympic Games. Most resumed serious training between three and six months after giving birth. All said, Zaharieva wrote, “they became stronger, had greater stamina and were more balanced in every way after having a child.”
Every athlete who is training for the Olympics is subject to testing at any time, in or out of competition. But Torres was offered the chance to volunteer for a pilot program that tests more broadly blood and urine for signs of doping and presumably will catch a much higher percentage of dirty athletes. Torres said yes. (Jones, among others, passed less-sophisticated U.S.A.D.A. tests while using performance-enhancing drugs.) So far they haven't released any data on Torres’s testing. But they says the fact she volunteered is significant. A dirty athlete would be crazy to volunteer for this program, Torres did not ask how the pilot’s protocols worked or what drugs they would be looking for.
EVEN TORRES KNEW that if she managed to earn one of the two spots available on the Olympic team for the 50-meter freestyle, or one of the six available on the 100-meter freestyle (which includes a relay team), this would be her last trip to the Games. Mark Schubert, the national team’s coach in 1984, stated he’s sure Torres will hold master’s swimming records in freestyle sprints at age 50 and 60 and 70. But — let’s face it — compared with the Olympics, even the Masters World Championship is a glorified losers’ round, and holding a master’s world record is hardly an exciting achievement for an athlete who hit the world stage just as she entered high school and who has nine Olympic medals to her name. So theirs a story of determination for you which will hopefully inspire as you consider your inevitable New Years Resolutions
Its been fantastic working alongside you all in 2008 and i look forward to assisting you in anyway possible throughout 2009.
Happy New Year, be we