Weight: 195 lb
Most athletes follow a regimen that builds endurance, strength, and power over the course of a year. Under coach Bob Bowman, the mastermind of the long-term view, Michael Phelps mapped out a 16-year plan for world domination—the entire duration of his career. In the years before the 2004 Athens Games, Phelps focused on building a massive aerobic capacity, logging 50 miles a week in the pool. Leading up to his record-smashing performance in Beijing in 2008, he added four days a week of weight-intense dry-land training—Keenan Robinson, Phelps' trainer, rotates through a bottomless bag of routines to keep Phelps at the top of his game—and 10 pounds of water-slicing muscle. Fourteen gold (and two bronze) Olympic medals later, he's all about power as he prepares to storm London. In addition to knocking out four sets of five pull-ups while wearing a 40-pound vest, "I'm doing more Olympic-style lifts, like power cleans and snatches and plyometric push presses and box jumps, to get explosive power for jumping off the block and pushing out of turns," Phelps says. "At this point in my career, everybody has caught up. So I'm fine-tuning the little things that add up to make a huge difference."
DETAILS: You didn't take a day off for six years leading into the 2004 Athens Games. What was that like?
Michael Phelps: I used to have a thing—coach Bob [Bowman] and I couldn't talk to each other before 8 a.m. because I was in a terrible mood. I don't like getting up that early. Getting into the cold pool just isn't fun. It sucks. But during those six years it was a sacrifice that I made to try to become my best. So yeah, in bed at 10 or earlier every night. Waking up at 6:30 every day. When I was a kid, I would do anything. Whatever Bob told me to do, I would do about 10 times better. I wanted to be the best. I still do.
DETAILS: After Beijing in 2008, things got a little touch-and-go—like that time you took off for Las Vegas when your coach was expecting you at the pool.
Michael Phelps: At that point, I just didn't have anything. It was weird going from the highest of the high, the biggest point of your life—winning eight gold medals—and then saying, "All right, where do I go from here?" I wasn't motivated. I did nothing, literally nothing, for a long time. I gained 25 pounds. A friend of mine and I were playing football on the beach in Miami, and somebody got a picture of us and put it all over the place. And he's like, "Bro, you gotta start working out, man. You are fat." So I started going through the motions again. I would go back for a week or two and then stop. I'd show up for dry-land practice and then just sneak out the back door so nobody saw me. I was watching Rocky II the other day—the one where he's fighting Apollo for the second time and he's just going through the motions. It reminded me of how I was.
DETAILS: Then there was the marijuana photo. Was that like a slap in the face after all you'd done?
Michael Phelps: It was a learning experience. I'm the kind of person who has to go through the learning experiences myself. Somebody could tell me, "If you eat this much you'll be fat," and I'd be like, "Yeah, okay, let me try it." Growing up, my mom taught us to make our own decisions, but also that you have to pay for the consequences of those decisions. I'm thankful for that. I'll be the first to say I've made thousands of mistakes, but I've never made the same mistake twice.
DETAILS: What brought the motivation back?
Michael Phelps: I realized that I probably hadn't reached my full potential. There was still more in the tank. As I come to closure on my career, am I going to look back in 20 years and say, "What if?" That's something I don't want. This is it. I've always said I wouldn't swim past 30. I don't want to be that guy who's hanging on, but I want to reach my max potential. I don't care how much pain I have to go through or the sacrifices I have to make. I'll get it.