In this series leading up to the London 2012 Olympics, STACK will feature exclusive interviews with Olympic athletes and their trainers. Focused on training, nutrition, skills and other aspects of preparation, the interviews will help you improve your own strength, speed, conditioning and skills—regardless of what sport you play. Today, we highlight Brenda Villa, Olympic silver medalist in water polo and Team USA captain.
Although it is often overlooked and usually unpublicized, water polo is an intense sport, one that requires the highest levels of speed, endurance, strength and all-around athleticism. And the U.S. Women's Water Polo team is a dominating force, winning gold medals at the 2003 and 2009 World Championships.
STACK was fortunate to chat with a veteran member of the team—world-class athlete Brenda Villa—about the game she loves and what her team is doing to bring home gold from London in 2012.
STACK: How did you first get involved in water polo?
Brenda Villa: Thank goodness, my mother signed me up for swim lessons at a young age. By age eight, I was on the swim team and playing water polo for the City of Commerce [Calif.]. My mother wanted her children to be comfortable in the water; she thought it made sense living in southern California where the beaches are so close and there are so many pools.
STACK: How did you approach college recruitment?
BV: My college recruiting experience was a little bit different. I actually played on the boy's high school team, and our season was during the time when most high school girls went on recruiting trips. It was really hard to get [the visits] in while in season.
I actually had my sights set on Stanford from the get-go and applied for early decision. I was fortunate enough to know [their decision] and accept my acceptance to Stanford by November of my senior year.
STACK: How did you evolve as an athlete?
BV: I have been playing water polo year round since the age of 13. I played with my club team, the Junior National Team, Senior National Team and Italian club teams. It is very important to play a lot of games and gain experience. In the U.S., after you finish college, you do not have the opportunity to play year round, which is why I've played in Italy—for the club team Geymonat Orizzonte—since 2004.
STACK: Tell us about your personal and team goals for London 2012.
BV: I have been fortunate to compete in three Olympic games. My personal goal is to make my fourth Olympic team, play my best and help my team stand at the top of the podium. Our team goal for London 2012 is to qualify at our first opportunity in the Pan American games. Once we qualify, we will focus on accomplishing the only gold medal the USA women's team has not earned yet [in the Olympics].
STACK: Walk us through your workouts for the Olympics in 2012.
BV: In the year prior to the Olympics, the national team goes into full-time training. This entails everyone moving to near Los Alamitos [Calif.], where our training center is. We have double days four times a week and single practices on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Each training session lasts three hours. We do strength training and cross-training three times a week. We do swim training three times a week. The rest of the hours in the pool we focus on technical and tactical aspects of the game.
Water Polo Olympic Workout
Perform the following workout three times per week.
Shuttle Sprints — 6x200m (change direction every 20m)
Towel Grip Pull-Ups — 3x5
Deadlifts — 4x6
Hanging Leg Raise — 5x5
TRX Tricep Extension— 3x6
Weighted Push-Ups With Feet Elevated — 4x6
Reverse Fly on Bench — 4x6
Perform the following circuit three times per week.
1x200m [Villa's interval is 2:30]
2x100m [Villa's interval is 1:15]
"The strength training and conditioning are essential for us," says Villa. "Water polo is a physical game, and you need more than just the tactics and water polo skills to be successful. Being able to escape a defender or stop a dynamic offensive player definitely has roots in strength training , and I know it has helped improve my all-around game."
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock