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Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness' by Dara Torres

June 19, 2010 |  3:31 pm

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Dara Torres was 41 when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, beating women years her junior and becoming the oldest swimming medalist in the history of the Games. Her wins were a victory for older athletes everywhere. 

In "Gold Medal Fitness," written with Billie Fitzpatrick, Torres answers the question many have asked her since: How did she do it?

Her new book -- a follow-up to her memoir, "Age Is Just a Number"  -- outlines the fitness program that she says remade her body and helped her win races long past the age at which most competitive swimmers hang up their goggles.

"Gold Medal Fitness" shows readers how to replicate her type of workouts and perhaps experience greater success in their own athletic endeavors. It describes the swimmer's approaches to goal-setting, diet and exercise; offers 35 days of simple menu plans; features pictures and descriptions of the kinds of exercises and stretches that are a mainstay of her workout; and gives tips on cardio and recovery.

Torres says she has become stronger, leaner and more efficient through a type of strength training she learned from Andy O'Brien that works on three planes of movement to strengthen core muscles. She says most exercise equipment is designed to strengthen one or two muscle groups at a time on a singular plane, whereas most life activities and sports work on multiple planes: up and down, forward and back, side to side and rotating top and bottom.

Though she says the "deceptively simple" exercises shown in her book can be done by people at any level of fitness, they do require equipment and a commitment to learning the proper form. Access to a gym -- as well as a workout partner or trainer -- is probably a given, since exercises call for a BOSU trainer, a Swiss ball, a medicine ball, dumbbells, a cable machine and an incline bench. 

Torres has attained her flexibility, she says, from a resistance stretching program called Ki-Hara that she learned from Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney. Ki-Hara incorporates eccentric training, which contracts and lengthens muscles at the same time. Torres says this type of training builds more muscle power, helps create fast-twitch muscles and speeds recovery. She says Ki-Hara has "literally changed" her body so that she's become faster in the pool and more in balance. These exercises don't require equipment, though a yoga mat, towel and Swiss ball can be used.

Beginning athletes: Unless you are looking for inspiration or are committed to a serious workout program, this might not be the book for you. Yes, Torres offers suggestions on diet and exercise that amateurs and pros alike may find valuable. And the stretching program looks attainable for those in decent shape. But the comfort with gym equipment that's required for some of the strengthening exercises may be a hurdle. And the views of Torres' rippling muscles as she's demonstrating exercises make it hard to judge their difficulty for the average person. (When a five-time Olympic competitor describes an exercise as arduous, as she does with the body-weight squat, you believe her.)

Experienced athletes, however, may find "Gold Medal Fitness" a valuable resource to sample from, dive into or explore with a trainer. The exercises and stretches are clearly described and photographed, and Torres' advice appears to be sensible and straightforward. And there's something to be said for 12 Olympic medals, three of them won after the age of 40.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "Gold Medal Fitness: A Revolutionary 5-Week Program," Dara Torres with Billie Fitzpatrick, Broadway Books, $25.99

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