You’ve seen her abs…now learn how Dara Torres toned them and how you can too:
My coach has always told me that one of my assets as an older athlete has been my stability. What is stability? It’s your body’s ability to stay grounded and aligned during movement, which is by and large a function of strength. Andy shared a great story with me about the Olympic gymnast Olga Korbut. For those of you who remember this petite powerhouse (and for those of you who don’t, I’m sure you can catch a video of her in motion on YouTube), you might recall her incredible acrobatic manipulations of her arms, legs, trunk, and spine. At the ripe age of twelve or thirteen she seemed as if she was as flexible as a contortionist in the circus.
Apparently, however, she wasn’t flexible as much as she was hypermobile (i.e., she had a greater-than-normal range of motion). And as soon as she stopped training at an elite level and lost muscle mass, her joints went berserk. For many years, she was hobbled by arthritis and could barely move, much less bend. Swimmers are often hypermobile and consider their youthful ability to rotate their arms in their shoulder sockets proof of everlasting flexibility. Unfortunately, this is often a false flexibility. The key to harnessing the mobility is strengthening the muscles around the joints and making them stable.
This was one of the primary ways that Andy helped me. When I began working with him, he seemed to be exposing weaknesses I didn’t even know I had, which really got under my skin. I could barely do even the simplest exercises with minimal weight. For example, using five-pound dumbbells and carving letters in the air—a T, W, V, M, and J—with each arm while balancing on a Swiss ball felt arduous. But as I learned to focus on my core and use it to cue into my balance, I began to feel different in my body. And it showed in the water. After only four weeks, I broke a U.S. Masters record.
In a way, Andy retaught me how to think about my body: from my head to my toes, from my bones to my muscles and even my joints. He showed me how, as a swimmer for more than thirty years, I had overdeveloped my front chest muscles and how my middle back was actually weak. With any imbalance, a strong part of your body will compensate for a weaker one. After doing a careful inventory of the ways I used my body and then watching me swim, he came up with a series of movements that literally changed the way I moved, strengthened muscles I barely knew I had, stabilized the muscles around my joints, and basically put my body back into balance. The exercises helped me focus on my core, realign my skeleton, and strengthen the muscles around my joints, making me more stable. They also helped stimulate my nervous system so that my muscles worked more fluidly in coordination. One specific result that I noticed right away was that my fast-twitch muscle reflexes were much faster.
And although I have always had big shoulders and narrow hips, my abs didn’t always look the way they do now. I will say without a doubt that Andy’s workout is the supreme reason behind the ripple.
The long-term results? I swam faster, I looked leaner, and I felt better than I had in years. I’ve worked with Andy for more than three years now. He has helped me hone those original exercises, and I still do the simplest ones religiously. For this book, Andy has helped me outline five groups of movements that work on the three planes of movement. And they all stem from and strengthen the core. The more comfortable you become with the exercises, the better you will move from a singular plane of movement to multiple planes.
It was because of Andy that I decided that I didn’t want my book, Gold Medal Fitness, to offer a plan that reduced what I did to a program that anyone could follow without thinking. What differentiates Andy’s approach to strength training from other methods is that it asks you to pay attention to the subtleties of each movement and how your body is responding. If you line up five people and ask them all to do a squat using only their own body weight as resistance, you will probably see five different versions. One person might be leaning too far back in her heels; another might lean too far forward with his weight in his feet; a third might have her knees outside of the line of her toes; and a fourth might have overdeveloped quads and weak hamstrings and so use the stronger muscles without ever strengthening the weaker ones, or vice versa.
If you do an exercise without giving thought to proper alignment and without awareness of your own deficiencies or imbalances, then you will never right the wrong. If, however, you focus on each of the movements and learn to do them correctly, then over a short period of four to five weeks you will not only strengthen your weaknesses, you will also bring your interrelated muscle groups (and joints and bones) more into balance. What’s important at this point—before beginning the workouts themselves—is that you start believing in their ability to really change your body. These exercises can and they will— but you’ve got to make it happen.
Andy has helped me design five groups of three exercises (for a total of fifteen movements) that will enable you to strengthen your core (including your back, chest, and abs), your legs, and your arms—all while maximizing your efficiency, alignment, and stability.
First, you will learn discrete movements that strengthen your core, using only one plane of movement; gradually you will incorporate more complex movements that combine two planes of movement (biplanar), and finally you will progress to a workout that includes strength training on three planes of movement (multiplanar).
At the same time, you’ll be varying the speed or tempo of certain exercises to create more of a challenge and sometimes an aerobic component. Another way to ramp up the challenge, especially for your balance, is to integrate an unstable surface for some of the exercises. Of course, this requires that you be completely aware of and comfortable with the proper execution of each movement.
You will be using some equipment such as a Swiss ball, a BOSU trainer, and a medicine ball as well as gym machines, including an elliptical, treadmill, and various weight machines. You will learn how to engage your core in each movement, whether it’s a plyo push-up, a body squat, or an incline press.
Together, these exercises will help build your body’s strength while training it to move efficiently, conserving energy and protecting it from injury. The movements build on one another, so that as you become more proficient and move from singular-plane movements to biplanar movements to multiplanar movements you progress from simple to more complex. And as you do the movements, you are engaging more and more muscle groups and joints and using more motions—mimicking how you move in everyday life and in sports.