On a sunny spring morning in Centennial, Colo., Missy Franklin starts her daily pre-practice routine. She brews a pot a coffee, makes eggs and some toast and readies her mind and body for another long day of training. The 21-year-old, after living on her own for two years at Cal-Berkeley, is much more self-sufficient than the last time she was preparing for the Olympic Games.
“It’s a lot different than I was expecting,” Franklin says of training for her second Olympics, after winning five medals (four gold) in London in 2012. “I’ve learned so much the past four years. I’ve had so many new experiences…. I feel like I know myself so much more than when I was 17, whether that’s emotionally or physically. I think I’ve grown in both ways.”
After winning an NCAA championship at Cal last March, Franklin made a tough decision to leave school after completing her sophomore year in order to start her course towards Rio 2016. As her professional swimming career began, so did the steady flow of endorsement deals, photo shoots and sponsorship money. With all of the changes, Franklin kept one part in her life constant: her support system. She returned home to her parents, reunited with her club swim coach Todd Schmitz, who was with her in London, and continued to work with longtime fitness trainer Loren Landow.
“I’m in a totally different place, the team is going to be different, the place, the pool—all of that is going to be different,” Franklin said before the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha. “I feel that same passion and that excitement remembering was it was like to be on top of the podium. Remembering what it was like to hear my national anthem. And that’s what I’ve really been working so hard for again, and it’s really just using those same memories to fuel me now.”
She was right—it is all going to be very different in Rio. After finishing seventh at the trials, Franklin will not defend her gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke. And after swimming in seven events in London, she only qualified for three in Rio: 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter backstroke and the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.
But no matter the number of events, or the event itself, Franklin’s focus will be on the same smidgen of time: One one-hundredth of a second.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but in the 200 freestyle in London, I missed a bronze medal by one one-hundredth of a second. I got fourth [place] in that race,” Franklin says. “Every single day at practice that’s what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for one one-hundredth every single day. Because if we can do that, by the end of the week, we’re going to have a tenth, and that tenth makes an even bigger difference than one one-hundredth.”
In preparation for Rio, Franklin’s six-day-a-week workout schedule consists of about five hours of training, split into three sessions per day, before she tapers down in the days before the competition. (Franklin also adds 90 minutes of hot yoga twice a week because “in the water you can’t feel yourself sweat so I love doing something when I can really feel myself sweating and getting everything out,” she says.) While her pool workouts, led by Schmitz, are focused on yardage and pace work, Landow looks to counteract the strokes, starts and sprints while in the gym.
“A lot of times athletes get into overuse and repetitive patterns and a lot of chronic and acute injuries can pop up from the positions they have to be in for their sport. So my goal is to take her out of the positions she’s been in,” says Landow, who has worked with Franklin since she was 14. “We try to restore normal posture and all of our training builds from there.”
Landow, who works with NFL, NHL, MLB, UFC, WNBA and Olympic athletes out of his Colorado-based company Landow Performance, says he operates on the motto “posture dictates function” and aims to make Franklin strong in more normal positions, “knowing that she is going to go back in the pool and go back in the positions she needs to be in to be successful.”
In addition to helping her recover from shoulder issues as a teen, Landow also worked with Franklin’s physical therapist (who happens to be his wife) to help her overcome a 2014 back injury, and the subsequent spasms, that set her back in training and competitions.
“I would flare up at certain times and other weeks I’d be fine,” Franklin says of the spasms. “I would have to take some time away from the pool to make sure everything calmed down and make sure I wasn’t pushing it too hard because I definitely didn’t want to make it worse and create an injury that was going to keep me out for longer.
“There’s been so much work done to help me through this and now we’re really in a place where I know I don’t have to worry about it all.”
Landow says part of his job is to restore her body to the point that it can handle the rigors of daily swim practice, which can consist of upwards of 11,000 meters per day.
Sessions in the gym begin with hip exercises, which serve as a warm up but also as a way for Landow to check Franklin’s range of motion before a session and adjust the program as needed. After the warm-up, Franklin moves to explosive-based power exercises that are made to replicate the raw power output of pushing off of the blocks or the wall, without too much specificity, such as jumping exercises or medicine ball passes or slams.
“I focus on general biomechanics, to restore health to allow her to do well in a freestyle of backstroke. There are certain things we’ll do that have a mechanical similarity but we aren’t trying to mimic stroke exactly,” Landow says. “I need to make sure that once she gets in the positions in the pool that she’s strong, but the technical cueing has to come from her swim coach.”
Landow and Schmitz talk on a daily basis about Franklin’s form in the water and chart her performance based on her sleep score from the night before.
“I make sure her body is robust. That she has great strength and great power and great endurance,” Landow says. “I always look at it as I am the mechanic, working on the quality of the vehicle. And it’s up to the swim coach to work on the capability of the driver.”
Despite some struggles at trials, there is no doubt that Franklin has put in the work leading up to Rio. Though she may only get a few opportunities to get back on the podium at the Olympic Games, Franklin knows it will all come down to one (one-hundredth) thing.
“Our sport comes down to such miniscule numbers that everything you do, every little detail makes all the difference in the world,” Franklin says. “I think it’s most important to be adaptable and make the most of the situation that you’re in and not try to recreate an old situation, but make the best of what you have right in front of you.”