Men's Health: Ryan Lochte's Olympic quest

Some guys visit Florida to swim with dolphins. I’ve come to swim with Ryan Lochte. If you haven’t heard much about this man-porpoise hybrid, you will soon. Lochte was named FINA Swimmer of the Year after winning five gold medals at the 2011 World Championships. It was there that he finally and decisively emerged from the wake of his friend and rival Michael Phelps. Not only did Lochte, 27, vanquish the octo-golden boy in their head-to-head races, but Lochte’s winning time of 1:54.00 in the 200-meter individual medley was the first world record set since performance-enhancing suits were banned in 2009. “The World Championships were just an appetizer of what I’m capable of doing,” Lochte tells me.

Some of Lochte’s physical gifts were conferred at birth: broad, flexible shoulders to power his stroke, hyperextending knees to bolster his kick. But genetics is only a starting point. He averages 40 miles of interval training over nine swim practices a week. Often he’s rigged up to contraptions designed to make a hard sport harder. Case in point: This morning, Lochte dons a belt connected by pulleys to a cable tower that’s calibrated to 50 pounds; as he swims, he’s raising the weight. It mimics the fatigue at the end of a race, when your arms and legs feel like lead. He reels off a dozen 15-second sprints, but his stroke never turns to garbage.

Four days a week, Lochte’s strength and conditioning coach, Matt DeLancey, directs grueling, 90-minute sessions. Today’s first circuit, for instance, began with Lochte hoisting a medicine ball overhead and then slamming it onto a 30-inch elevated box. As the ball bounced, Lochte leaped up and snagged it in midair before he landed on the platform. After 5 reps, he moved to the next exercises: five snatches with a heavy barbell; five heavy deadlifts; and finally, a 20-yard sprint. After a 1-minute rest, he repeated the circuit. By the end of the fifth round, his arms and legs were twitching. This high-power, low-rest approach, says DeLancey, extends Lochte’s endurance by forcing his muscles to adapt and burn lactic acid more efficiently. On a deeper level, it has helped him learn to live within -- and even embrace -- a world of hurt.

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