What Exercising with My Olympic Idol Taught Me About Working Out Alone
My soccer player friends worshipped the ground Mia Haam ran around on. My tennis player friends were obsessed with Serena Williams (and rightly so). But me? I was a swimmer, and let me tell you, I had a roll call of role models. Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, and Jenny Thompson made the list, but in 2008 at 17-years-old, I was wowed by Dara Torres.
She came back to the sport at 41-years-old and took home a silver medal with her teammates in Athens—clearly you get why she’d motivate a young female swimmer. So a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to interview and chat with Torres about her role partnering with Celgene and Otezla in the beautiful Show More of You campaign for psoriatic disease for the second time (something she has struggled with personally), I had another fan-girl moment.
Torres was diagnosed when she was in her 20s training for the '92 Olympics, and felt that it was initially unnerving to be in a bathing suit and dealing with the skin condition on her elbows and lower back. "I realized that I'm training for the Olympic games and my work suit is my swimsuit, so I have to be in a swimsuit and alright, I have this, I'm going to deal with it, and I'm not going to stop it from following my dreams. Just because I'm in a swimsuit it doesn't matter. I need to have the confidence to do what I came here to do. That's why I was so excited when they wanted me to be a part of the Show More of You campaign, because it is important to show more of you." The campaign features portraits of people showing their true selves, as captured by photographer Martin Schoeller.
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In addition, she’d be showing me some of her favorite solo exercises that help her reduce stress, a trigger for psoriasis.
"I do realize that it does flare up with stress and for me a big stress reliever is working out," she told me. "There are many reasons why I love working out, but one of the bigger ones is because it relieves stress and I love the way it makes me feel on the inside and outside, so the more I can get my stress under control, the more it won't flare up."
But exercising solo for stress relief hit me on another personal level. From nearly six years old until I was 20, I had a coach. Growing up swimming competitively, I was never solely responsible for coming up with my workout routines. And while I have no problem running or going to a class, I have a hard time figuring out what moves I can do by myself in the gym, at home, or in my hotel room when I’m traveling and need the relief fast.
She explained that it doesn't have to be so focused on aerobic exercises, but little things that you can do quickly with either weights, a chair or your own body weight. She walked me through boxing moves like jabs and uppercuts using 5 lbs. weights and dips and push ups using a chair as a prop. Then, we hit the mat to work on core strength.
We did 20, 30, and 60-second reps of each exercise, like flutter kicks and leg circles while laying on our backs. Another genius workout? Laying on your back and tracing the letters of the Alphabet with your legs and feet together. Trust me, 26 letters will make you feel the burn.
And while she still does use a coach for swimming, she had some words of wisdom for anyone like me, struggling to complete solo cross-training exercises.
"The biggest thing is to keep a positive attitude and also find something that helps you stay focused on the workout," she said. "So for me, when I work out at home—I need music or I put on the TV. The entertainment help pass the time, and I would be bored to death without it. It helps me focus on my goals."
But perhaps her most interesting piece of advice on stress and working out by yourself, though? Your body needs time to rest and recover, so you shouldn't stress out about getting in that workout, which would be a total contradiction to doing it in the first place.
Since then, I've combined a few of these exercises into a mini 20-minute workout that is perfect on those days I just can't get a run in, and I even tried it out in my hotel room during a work trip. I've revamped my Spotify playlist, and at home, I've done abs to the sites and sounds of The Crown reruns.
Now I know I don't need a coach to reach my goals, but advice from an Olympic athlete is always welcome in my book.