He's the fastest man in America, yet Tyson Gay is taking it slow in his quest to compete for Olympic gold in the 100-meter dash, the crown jewel of all events in the Summer Games.
It's a change of course for the American record-holder, whose past training strategy was to go as hard as he could, for long as he could, in the gym and on the track. "I've always done that since I was young," Gay says. "It took me a long time to learn that I don't have to always run fast at practice and kill my body and myself to produce good times at the meet."
Gay's new outlook is part of his natural growth as a world-class athlete, but it's also due in part to numerous injuries he's been forced to train around leading up to London. "This year, I'm taking it a lot slower, saving my body, and picking and choosing my battles," he says.
Less than one year after Gay's monumental victory against world-record holder Usain Bolt at the 2010 DN Galan Stockholm Diamond League event, he underwent a combination surgery to correct a hip impingement and repair a torn right labrum.
The operation put him on crutches for the first time in his life and kept him off the track until mid-April of this year. When he awoke after surgery, Gay was precisely 13 months out (to the day) from the Olympic Finals in the 100m, the only event he'll compete in this summer.
Progressing from the hospital bed to the weight room took roughly four months. Once he was cleared to begin training, Gay started by performing basic bodyweight exercises to regain his full-body strength and stability (see workout) and prepare his muscles for more intense workouts.
After completing the tedious yet necessary starting phase, Gay was able to get back to lifting like an elite Olympic sprinter.
By week five of the power-building phase of his program, Gay was maxing out 350 pounds on his Deadlift—not the rapid progress the 5'11", 165-pound powerhouse has grown accustomed to making over his career, but consistent with the practical approach he now takes with his training. "It's not a lot, but it's a lot for me only doing Deadlifts for power for five weeks," says Gay.
This past spring, Gay transitioned to the explosive phase of his workout regimen, using the same lifts he performed in the power phase, including the Deadlift, Squat and RDL. "It's not going to be many reps, but instead it's going to be explosive and quick," the adidas-sponsored sprinter says.
Gay will open at the adidas Grand Prix on June 9, his only scheduled race ahead of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the end of the month. "I want to run a fast time at a heavier weight, and then when the Trials come, I want to drop about five pounds and be able to PR at the Trials," he says.
For America's fastest man, the golden opportunity in London is not about the much-anticipated showdown with Bolt. Gay knows that in order to achieve his goal of standing atop the podium this summer, he'll have to be at his absolute best. "I want to be the best," he says. "I want to reach my full potential. I want to leave this sport knowing I laid it all on the line."
Gay's Strength Workout: The Starting Phase
Returning to world-class condition required Gay to start from the ground up. Here are the exercises he performed to get himself ready for another quest to compete at the Summer Olympics:
- Stand on flat side of BOSU with feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended forward
- Squat until legs are bent 90 degrees
- Drive up to start position; repeat for specified reps
Coaching Points: Keep eyes focused straight ahead // Fire glutes to explode up from squat
Tyson Gay: "The glute muscles need to be strong for sprinting, and doing the BOSU Squat really fires the glutes up. It also helps me work the stabilizer muscles to strengthen those smaller areas that don't get worked when I'm doing machine exercises."
- Perform Push-Up with hands on flat side of BOSU
- Explode upward to return to start position; repeat for specified reps
Coaching Points: Keep back flat and core tight // Lower until chest is just above or touching BOSU
Gay: "The BOSU Push-Up works the upper body and also helps stabilize the core. The upper body is extremely important, especially the shoulders. That's where I get my power for the arm swing."
Stability Ball Sit-Up
- Lie face up with lower back on stability ball and perform Sit-Up
- Return to start position; repeat for specified reps
Coaching Points: Engage core and perform in controlled manner // Stay balanced on stability ball
Gay: "This exercise helps me stay stable through my abdominal muscles. A strong core holds everything together, and is the key to a good start and strong finish to a race."
Dumbbell Arm Swings
- Assume staggered stance while holding lightweight dumbbells at sides
- Drive arms forward and back in controlled manner, keeping arms at 90 degrees
- Repeat for specified reps; alternate lead leg each set
Sets/Duration: 3x10-20 seconds
Coaching Points: Keep chest up // Maintain slight forward upper-body lean // Keep center of gravity underneath body
Gay: "This helps with the trajectory and force of my arms going back and driving forward. By pumping a weight for 20 seconds, my arms are going to be more open when I'm sprinting, which allows me to get a bigger step and cover more ground."
Photos: Jen Pottheiser
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock