Olympic Fitness Secrets

Five-time Olympic swimmer Dara Torres reveals the easy and land-based exercises that have helped her beat joint pain.

By
Health Monitor Staff

Knee osteoarthritis once threatened to sideline 45-year-old Olympic swimmer Dara Torres. But she has worked to improve her flexibility with the help of physical therapy and Ki-Hara, a set of exercises designed to create balance and efficiency in the body.

Here, Dara shares a few Ki-Hara exercises from her book Gold Medal Fitness: A Revolutionary 5-Week Program. Get your healthcare provider’s okay before trying these stretches.

Hip-Flexor Lunge: loosen your hips and lower back

Step 1. Start in a kneeling position. Place your right leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle. At the same time, contract your left front leg muscles (including hip flexors below the hip bone) as if trying to lift your knee, while also pushing your lower leg against the floor.

Hip-Flexor Lunge: loosen your hips and lower back

Step 2. As you do this, use your bent right leg to balance and pull your body forward, keeping your chest up and your core muscles engaged. Release and repeat 8 to 10 times; then switch sides.

Bent-Leg Hamstring Stretches: stabilize your knees and hips

Step 1. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Put your left arm under your head for support (or use a pillow or rolled-up towel). Bend your right knee up to your chest and then drop it to the side so that your knee is in line with the shoulder on that side.

Straighten your right arm and grab your heel. (If you can't reach it, use a yoga strap or grab your calf instead.)

Bent-Leg Hamstring Stretches: stabilize your knees and hips

Step 2. Press your right heel down toward the buttocks while contracting the inner hamstring. At the same time, use your right arm to pull up on the heel and lengthen your right leg out toward your shoulder. Don't lock your knee. Return to start position. Do 5 to 10 reps on each side.

Bent-Leg Hamstring Stretches: for central (middle) hamstring

Step 1. Follow setup above, but keep bent right knee in line with the chest (not out to the side).

Step 2. Use both hands to grab the heel, calf or a strap. Follow directions above, but focus on contracting the middle hamstring while lengthening your right leg toward your head.

Bent-Leg Stretch: for lateral (outer) hamstring

Step 1. Lie on your back with knees slightly bent. Bend your right knee to the chest and cross it over so it's pointing toward your left shoulder. Use your left hand to grab the outside of your right heel. Put your right hand and arm on the outside of the right knee to stabilize the leg. (If you can't reach your foot, use a yoga strap or grab your calf.)

Bent-Leg Stretch: for lateral (outer) hamstring

Step 2. Press your right heel down toward the buttocks while contracting the outer hamstring. At the same time, use your left hand to pull up on the heel and lengthen your right leg toward the left shoulder. Return to start position. Do 5 to 10 reps on each side.

Quad Stretch: loosen front thighs and hip flexors

Step 1. Start on hands and knees with your feet facing a Swiss ball or the wall. Lift your right leg, point the foot to the ceiling, and drop the knee about 4 inches from the ball or wall. The closer the knee is to the ball, the more difficult and intense the stretch will be.

Quad Stretch: loosen front thighs and hip flexors

Step 2. Rest your toes and top of the foot against the ball or wall. Then slowly bring your left leg up into a lunge, keeping the left foot flat on the floor. From here, kick the foot into the ball to contract (resist) the muscles on the front of the leg (quadriceps). As you kick into the ball or wall, use your left leg to push your body back to stretch the quads. Repeat 5 to 10 times; then switch sides.

Can Opener: get stronger shoulders

Step 1. Stand or sit with hands clasped (and fingers interlaced) just above the forehead. Keep arms bent at 90 degrees and elbows open at chin level.

Can Opener: get stronger shoulders

Step 2. Push your palms against each other and squeeze the elbows in, as if you were trying to pop a balloon between them. Keep shoulders down and neck straight. Return to start and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Ki-Hara Stretching Tips
  • Aim to do the stretches at least three times a week.
  • Combine the hamstring stretches with the hip flexor lunge and the quad stretch.
  • Aim for a 4 or 5 out of 10 for the resistance level. Take six seconds to do the resistance movement.
  • Stop once you feel you can’t resist anymore or if your muscle starts to shake, and return to the starting position.

Ki-Hara exercises provided courtesy of Innovative Body Solutions of Coral Springs, Fla.

Published
June 2012