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31 Days

Day 2

Train Like an Olympian

Words by Cory Ohlendorf

Photography by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Olympic swimmer Jack Conger

Olympic gold medalist Jack Conger.

Olympic swimmer Jack Conger

Olympic gold medalist Jack Conger.

Elite athletes are known for their intensity. You don't make it to the top of any sport without knowing how to endure some pain, harness raw talent and channel determination into an actionable plan. Just ask Jack Conger. The 25-year-old swimmer is both an American and world record holder. He already has one gold medal from the 2016 Olympics in Rio and is currently training for the Tokyo Games that have been rescheduled for this July. Who better to take training tips from?

I caught up with Conger in between training sessions—as you'd imagine, the guy doesn't have a lot of down time. And what I discovered is that Olympic success has almost as much to do with your mindset as it does your physical condition. His guidance will help you with your workouts, no doubt, but also applies to life outside of the gym.

“Keeping my head in the right space is super critical,” says Conger, who spends about 20 hours a week in the pool (not including dry land training). He works regularly with a sports psychologist to maintain his focus and drown out distractions. “Especially during an Olympic year, you've got to stay out of your own head, so I meditate a lot, and I don't let my work consume me.”

Fuel up

“So many guys will hit the gym but overlook what they're putting in their bodies. This is something that I've been focusing on a lot recently. As they say, you don't put regular gas into a Ferrari. You want to think about it like you're putting the best possible fuel into your machine. When I wake up, I make sure to drink a full bottle of water. Even for quick breakfasts, I'll make sure to have a banana, yogurt and a protein bar. I keep Gatorade gels in my gym bag when I need energy to finish a hard workout. But look, you're not a horrible person if you have a cookie—just try not to have the whole box in 30 minutes.”

Set lofty goals

“Understanding why you're working out and what you're trying to achieve is super important. Otherwise it's easy to lose focus and lose motivation. That's why I find setting goals is so crucial to success. But you want to set lofty goals—they should be difficult but achievable. Don't be afraid to push yourself. Not all workouts are enjoyable, but when you know why you're doing it, your goal can help push you through. Even if you don't accomplish what you set out to, it's never really a failure because you'll learn from it and be better prepared the next time. Failures can be really great that way.”

Free Your Mind
and Compartmentalize

“It took me a little while, but I don't bring my work home with me anymore. It's one of those things that's really important to me. Honestly, in all parts of life, keeping things separate is key to maintaining your focus and being present in what you're doing—always. It's crucial to have dreams and work towards making them a reality, but if you start obsessing, it can consume you. When I'm in the pool, I shouldn't be thinking about anything else. And when I'm home, watching the Redskins or golfing or taking my dog for a walk, I shouldn't be constantly thinking about the pool.”

Turn a weakness
into a strength

“People love to do what they're great at or comfortable with, but don't usually like doing what they're not so great at. I'm confident in the pool and I'm good when it comes to lifting in the weight room, but for me, squatting has always been tough. I haven't been the best at squats, so that's something I've decided to really focus on this year. It's a personal challenge to see how I can improve, but it'll also help me later on with my kicks in the water.”

Don’t forget
to have fun

“I know working out isn't always a fun. During those dark, morning workouts, the only way to stay motivated is to find the little things you enjoy and focus on those to help you get through the tough parts. You can usually find something fun, something to enjoy about the process, right? If you've set a goal to train for a half-marathon or an Ironman, the only way to stay motivated and achieve your goal is find little ways to enjoy yourself.”

Train Hard,
Sleep Harder

Sleep quality

Jack tries to get a full 10 hours of sleep each night. Focus on quality of sleep by going to bed before 11 pm for optimal hormonal release and avoiding screens for 30 minutes before dozing off.