Image: Michael Phelps
Jamie Squire  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Michael Phelps won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. "In order to slice through water with deftness and speed, you have to be strong in multiple planes of motion. I have Michael do medicine-ball exercises to achieve that end," says his swimming coach, Bob Bowman.
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updated 8/7/2008 8:30:05 AM ET 2008-08-07T12:30:05

Despite all the corporate grandstanding, the saccharine profiles, and the cheesy music, we're still drawn to the Olympic Games because they promise a glimpse of athletic perfection — that sinuous state of being when the outer boundaries of raw physical ability are reached and then exceeded ever so slightly.

But the fact that such boundaries are breached raises a question: How can each generation of athletes become faster, stronger, and quicker ... without doping?

The answer is simple: They train with coaches on the absolute cutting edge of exercise science, coaches whose tips will help you build muscle, burn stubborn fat, and even recover in record time. You'll find their secrets here. Beijing may be out of your reach, but a leaner, stronger, more energetic you is only a few weeks away.

Boxing: Larry Nicholson
USA Boxing's developmental coach of the year in 2003 and current assistant coach for USA Boxing

Float like a butterfly
"Nimble feet will give you a leg up in any activity that requires quick changes of direction, be it backyard toddler chasing or pickup basketball with the guys. Place eight cones three feet apart in a line, and then do three sets of each of the following exercises: Weave through them at a sprint, weave through them while high stepping, jump over them with your feet together, and weave through them while facing sideways.

You won't find a better warm-up. We do it every morning before stepping into the ring."

Develop full-body strength
"Weights are great, but don't underestimate the power of body-weight exercises. They provide you with a body awareness that you just can't get with plates or dumbbells, and that translates into more explosive power in the ring and more agility in the real world. Unfortunately, most guys do body-weight exercises incorrectly.

They focus on reps when they should really be concentrating on time. Rather than shoot for, say, three sets of 10 push-ups, do as many as you can in 30 seconds. Employ the same strategy with pull-ups, dips, and single-leg squats, resting for 30 seconds between each set."

Olympic Lifting: Mike Burgener
Father and coach of Casey Burgener, the top-ranked U.S. power lifter in Beijing

Achieve perfect balance
"Along with flexibility and body control, balance is an essential component of weight lifting. The best way to bolster it is with an overhead squat. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp a length of PVC pipe with a grip that's slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold it eight to 12 inches above your head, keeping your chest out, torso erect, and heels on the ground. Press the pipe upward as you squat down as far as you can go without arching your back, and then rise up. Do three sets of five to 10 reps. Start doing it with a barbell when the PVC pipe becomes easy.

You'll strengthen your core, hips, and shoulders. You'll also find it challenging to get out of bed the next morning."

Keep hitting new heights
"When you hit a wall — say, spending a month at 180 pounds on the bench press — don't train harder or attempt to force muscle growth by piling on more weight. Reduce your load by 10 to 20 pounds. In other words, if you want to bust out of a rut, undertrain for a week or two. Trust me on this one. If one of my athletes is tired, sore, or just not with it, I'll reduce his load for a week to 10 days. More often than not, he'll come back better than before and set records because his muscles were able to fully recover and repair themselves."

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Swimming: Bob Bowman
Head coach for the University of Michigan swim team and personal coach to six-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps

Extend your stroke
"If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you'll see that his power comes not from fast strokes, but from long ones. The average freestyle swimmer takes 12 to 16 strokes to cover 25 yards. Michael requires just six to eight. Follow his lead by trying to trim one stroke per pool length the next time you jump into the water. Consciously extend your arms. It will feel awkward at first, like you're exaggerating each stroke, but once you start hitting those longer strokes at your previous short-stroke speed, you'll be faster, stronger, and fitter."

Armor-plate your core
"In order to slice through water with deftness and speed, you have to be strong in multiple planes of motion. I have Michael do medicine-ball exercises to achieve that end. My favorite is called the diagonal woodchopper. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball over your right shoulder. Chop down and across your body until the ball touches the ground outside your left foot. Return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side. Next, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Holding the ball directly above your head, suck in your navel and lower the ball behind you as far as you can without lifting your back or bending your arms. Do three sets of 15 reps."

Running: Brad Hudson
Champion 2:13 marathoner and current coach of Olympic gold medal marathon hopeful Dathan Ritzenhein

Run faster, expend less energy
"Whether you're trying to log a faster 10K or just keep up with your bean-thin teen, the key to running more efficiently is to reduce the amount of time your feet spend on the ground. One of the best ways to do this is with hill sprints. Find a stretch of road with a 10 percent grade (think: bunny slope) and sprint up it for 10 to 12 seconds. Stay on your toes, lifting your feet rapidly and taking short, quick strides. Walk back down, rest three minutes, and repeat. Steadily work your way up to six to eight sprints. In so doing, you'll condition your fast-twitch muscle fibers — the ones that count in the 40-yard dash — to fire at maximum intensity, and your nervous system to relay signals more efficiently."

Build speed stamina
"Everyone knows that intervals are the key to cardiovascular fitness, but if you want to achieve a new personal best, don't focus on increasing your interval speed, focus on increasing your interval distance. For example, if you regularly run six miles, start running every other mile at your targeted 10K speed. Once that becomes comfortable, steadily increase the distance of each interval until you're running all six miles at your race pace."

Cycling: Allen Lim, Ph.D.
Physiologist for Team Slipstream-Chipotle, which is sending numerous cyclists to Beijing, including 18-year-old phenom Taylor Phinney

Pedal with greater power
"Whether you're commuting to work, cruising through Vermont, or racing around a velodrome, the key to proper cycling technique is to keep tension on the chain at all times. The upstroke is particularly important: Pull back on the pedal with your hamstrings, and when it nears the top of the revolution, kick forward. Working through all 360 degrees will boost power and speed, and accelerate your fitness gains."

Reduce your recovery time
"The most important muscle in cycling is the one you park on the seat — your gluteus maximus — so stretch it before and after every ride. Lie on your back and pull your right knee toward your chest until you feel the stretch in your glutes. Hold for 20 seconds, switch legs, and repeat. Other important muscles to stretch include your hamstrings, quads, and calves."

Basketball: Keith Jones
Senior vice president of basketball operations and athletic trainer for the Houston Rockets, and an athletic trainer for Team USA Basketball

Prevent back injuries
"I don't care if you're a pro baller or a weekend warrior, most injuries on the court — thrown backs, pulled groins, twisted ankles — result from reacting to someone else's movement. Keep yourself nimble and limber with the following stretch: Lie supine on the floor with your legs flat and arms by your sides. Next, pull your left knee toward your chest, and then to the right, so that you feel the twist and stretch in your back and core. Hold for 20 seconds, and then repeat with your right leg. Also, invest in a pair of compression shorts. Ninety percent of NBA guys wear them. McDavid's Dual Density Hexpad Thudd Short ($80, mcdavidusa.com) is a good brand, and it will both keep your muscles warm and help prevent pulls."

Boost your agility
"Warm muscles are agile muscles, which is why I have my players do the following full-court drill before every practice and game. If you don't have access to a basketball court, mark off 100 feet wherever you can find room. Jog to the far baseline and back. Skip to the far baseline and jog back. Jog backward to the far baseline and then jog back. Do walking lunges to half-court, jog the rest of the way to the far baseline, and then repeat the drill back. Do 'ice skaters' (lunge forward 45 degrees to your right, and then 45 degrees to your left, and so on) to the far baseline and repeat back. Do 'defensive slides' (shuffle sideways with your arms held out in front of you) to the far baseline, and then face the other way and repeat back."

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