Like so many top swimmers, Philipp A. Djang, Ph.D., grew up swimming—learned when he was ten, swam for college (Southern Oregon State)—and then, also like so many swimmers, he took a break from competition. But the civilian scientist for the Army didn’t take a break from working out. “I did physical training—pushups, situps, running—triathlons, and played racquetball. I was swimming but not competing.” He returned to competing in 1999, at age 45—and now holds 15 United States Masters records and ten individual world records.
“My secret sauce is that I study my sport,” says Djang, now 66. Swim times notoriously deteriorate with age, and that’s more pronounced the shorter the distance you swim. To counter that, Djang didn’t take the traditional slog-through-long-hours-of-practice approach. He adopted the contemporary strategy of Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training, in which you swim superhard (80 to 90 percent of your top capacity) for short bursts (two to ten minutes). Since his swim events are sprints, it makes sense for him, he says. “I train like I race, with multiple high-intensity rehearsals of my target races.”
To stay at a high level, he studies up on anatomy, kinesiology, and sports medicine, and it’s made him tend to the small muscles that support his sport. Rotator-cuff strengthening is key, he says, since swimmers are susceptible to problems there. And he’s consistent. “Fitness is the result of cultivating a habit. I exercise every day just like I brush my teeth.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Men’s Health.
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