Five-time Olympian. Four-time Olympic gold medalist. Author. Mom. It may seem like swimmer Dara Torres's high-profile resume is longer than the 50-meter pools she glides through so effortlessly. But, as we found out when we sat down for a chat with her recently, she is mortal: The snooze button can seem tempting, she needs to music to get pumped up for a workout (AC/DC anyone?) and she knows that taking care of her body as she ages is important, even after the lure of the Olympics has faded. That's part of the impetus behind her new book about her workout regimen and an innovative stretching technique, Gold Medal Fitness: A Revolutionary 5-Week Program. Here, she talks about the book — and much more.
Spry: Why did you write this book?
Dara: After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I traveled around the country making appearances and on a book tour for my memoir Age is Just A Number. No matter where I went people of all ages — from elite athletes to regular men and women — came up to me and asked things like, "What do you do to get your abs?" "How do you work your arms?" "What do you eat?" and "What's your secret?" I realized that how I approach my training might help other people so I put it all in this book. My first book was a memoir. This one shares my workout plan, a plan that anyone from working moms to athletes can do. Even if your goals are different from mine — if you want to be able to carry your kids or have more energy — it will help you achieve them. This is the same plan I started when I was a 39-year-old, new mom who decided to try out for the 2008 Olympic team and the one I've been doing ever since.
Spry: What are some things that make your type of training different from other workouts?
Dara: A few things. For one, it includes a type of resistance stretching called Ki-Hara. The goal is to create balance and efficiency in the body by contracting the muscles while lengthening them. I discovered it 10 years ago, when I realized that as an older athlete I needed much more flexibility. Our bodies naturally tighten up as we age — especially once we pass 30. This method, which I do three days a week and before and after every race, has changed my body. It's made a huge difference in how I move on land and in the water. Not only have I become faster in the pool, but this kind of stretching makes me relax, feel light and get tension out of my body. It's the reason I'm lean and long. Even after a few days of doing these stretches you will feel your body almost bounce with life.
Spry: What are your tips for moms who find it hard to find time to workout?
Dara: Truthfully, it's easy for me to find the time because it's what I do for a living. But you can always find the time to exercise. You don't have to do a two-hour workout to get in shape. You can do workout videos at home. Or you can grab cans of food from the pantry and do basic exercises like ab twists or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Even little things can make a difference and will help you feel better about yourself. For me working out and staying in shape is how I take care of myself and when I do everything else in my life falls into place.
Spry: What's a typical workout for you when you're not training for an event?
Dara: I had major reconstructive knee surgery in October. It's a year recovery so I'm limited in what I can do. Right after the surgery, I was on crutches and couldn't do aerobics for three months. I thought I was going to die! But I did a lot of core and upper body. I also walked in the pool. I'm not swimming now because I can't kick, but I do an hour and 15 minutes of weight training and 45 minutes to an hour of aerobic exercise — like the elliptical trainer or spinning — a day. Then three times a week I do resistance stretching for an hour and a half to two hours. I want to stay in shape because I may go for another Olympics. When I'm training, which I'll start again in August, I work out five days a week and take off Thursday and Sunday. When I was younger, a "day off" meant running for 45 minutes, but now when I take a day off it's a total rest day.
Spry: What advice would you give to someone just starting an exercise plan?
Dara: It's important not to go full force when you're starting out or you can get injured. Also, stick with it until you see results. How long that is is different for each person, but once you see results, it will motivate you.
Spry: How do you stay motivated on those days when you just don't feel like working out?
Dara: I have those days for sure. I'm a very goal-oriented person. I think about my end goals and know that I'm not going to reach them lying in bed pressing the snooze button. I also can't do anything without music. It's my safe haven and motivates me. It gets me going and fired up whether I'm in the weight room, at the pool or doing cardio. I like different types of music, too. My playlist includes a mix of everything from Mary J. Bilge to Led Zeppelin to Beyonce to AC/DC.
Spry: What do you do to relax?
Dara: I go to bed at night. Before a meet or competition I get more than eight hours or else I'm a mess.
Spry: Does your daughter [Tessa, age 4] swim?
Dara: Yes, she's been swimming by herself since she was 3 — not because I want her to swim competitively, I just want her to be safe around water.
Spry: Are you going to go for the 2012 Olympics?
Dara: My heart and head are saying yes. But my body is behind. I have to wait and see what happens with my knee.