If Aly Raisman, who's 21 now, makes the 2016 Olympic team, she'll be the oldest U.S. gymnast on the team. And like any seasoned veteran, she has life lessons she's picked up along the way.
"I feel like I'm smarter now and wiser, so I'm able to understand the importance of staying hydrated and nutrition and the recovery process," says the woman who captained the U.S. to gold in London. "But definitely my body is a little bit more achy than it was before."
Seven-hour training days filled with the constant repetition of routines will do that to a body. Raisman sat down with the 2015 Body Issue to talk about how she keeps on ticking.
Raisman says she doesn't function well without some solid shut-eye, but training days that can last seven hours can cut into her sleep schedule.
"I don't finish workouts most nights until 9 p.m., so I try to get home as quickly as I can. By the time I shower and everything, probably around 10:30-11, which is when I kind of wind down, because after a four-hour workout it takes me a bit to get myself to fall asleep sometimes."
Her wake-up call is at 7 a.m. for 8:30 a.m. workouts.
"I eat really, really healthy," Raisman says. "Everything that I put into my body is for the purpose of gymnastics." Her key ingredients:
Water: "I always make sure that I drink a lot of water. I love having hot water with lemon. That's really good for your metabolism.
Protein: "I have a lot of chicken and fish. My favorite food is sushi and salmon, so I eat a lot of that.
Good stuff: "I try to stay away from white bread or processed things. ... I have a lot of fruit, too."
Raisman has a habit of saying something nice about herself in the mirror every day.
"It's not like I literally stare at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning, but it's just like if I'm in the mirror instead of picking out something I don't like -- of course I'm not perfect. If I have a negative thought in my head I try to change it and remind myself I'm only human."
Hitting the gym
Raisman's body is her tool, so it stands to reason that body-weight exercises are her main form of training. "We don't do any kind of lifting. It's a lot of punching on the floor, getting the rebound in your feet, calves and ankles -- a lot of toe rises, a lot of conditioning on the bar, a lot of rope climbs. I do rope climbs without using my legs, only using my arms." Well, not just her arms ...
"Before the last Olympics I used to have to sit and put a 10-pound weight in between my legs and climb the rope without my legs all the way to the ceiling, so that was really hard. You're lifting your whole body weight up by your arms with another 10 pounds added onto it, so that was really hard.
"You are also scared to drop the weight the entire time because you're afraid it might land on someone's head, so you have to be very careful. I'd say the whole climb was 15-20 feet."
When her gymnastics days are over, she plans to pick up boxing, a sport she discovered when she took a year off after the Olympics. No weighted rope climbs there, but plenty of arm work.
Raisman's afternoon warm-up "is basically all endurance and all conditioning. I have a four-hour workout at night, but after the warm-up and conditioning, I'm already tired."
She also runs 15 minutes every morning, usually on a treadmill, but uses that as her "me" time when she can listen to music. Her favorite cardio is done outside, though.
"During the summer when it's warm I like going for a run or a walk outside ... I'm not a very good runner because gymnastics is all about a minute and a half routine and you stop and go again. I'm really proud of myself if I can go 20 minutes without stopping."
Raisman has some tricks for staying sharp when it's her against the world out there on the beam (or floor or bars):
"You're standing up on the beam and it's 4 feet high and 4 inches wide and you have to flip on it ... you almost feel like you forget how to do it because you're so overtired. It's like 8:45 at night I still have a few more beam routines and I'm like I have no idea how I'm going to do this. ... I try to think about using the Olympics as motivation, trying to win an Olympic gold medal again is pretty good motivation that normally does the trick."
"I literally block everything out. When I was competing in London during the beam final, there were thousands of screaming people in the stands, but the only voice I could hear was McKayla Maroney -- I was listening to her and she was talking me through the beam routine the whole time. I can block out everyone's voice except for my coaches, Marta Karolyi and my teammates. ... It makes me feel more comfortable when I can hear their voices.
Inside your own head
"When I actually think about how narrow the beam is or how high the bars are or how much it hurts just to fall, that's what freaks me out. My coaches were just telling me, 'You think too much. Just think about your favorite song or think about something else.' Normally coaches tell you that you need to focus and think more about a certain skill, but they always tell me just 'Don't think, you'll make yourself crazy.'"
Raisman is not a fan of medicine when she can avoid it, but sometimes, the hair just demands it. "I literally put in like 15 hair ties because I have so much hair that it falls out so much," she says. "So sometimes I'll get headaches because my hair is pulled so tight and so back. ... I'm over-neurotic and over-paranoid, so I try not to take medicine very often, but if I have to I'll take the Advil for the hair headaches."
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