July 30, 2012 -- Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte credits a beer keg and a giant boat chain with helping him win the United States' first gold medal of the London games.
Lochte powered past teammate Michael Phelps and the rest of the field Saturday to easily win the 400-meter individual medley on the first full day of the summer Olympics.
His next two performances were less impressive: He lost the lead in the 400-meter relay Sunday, costing the U.S. the gold, and he came in fourth in the 200-meter freestyle on Monday.
But with some of his strongest events yet to come, Lochte could still end up being one of the biggest stories of the London games.
Lochte Added Strongman Training After Beijing
If so, his unconventional training routine is likely to share the Olympic spotlight.
After a performance that he considered disappointing at the Beijing games four years ago, Lochte came home determined to mix up his training routine, his longtime strength coach Matt DeLancey tells WebMD.
Lochte had seen DeLancey compete in "Strongman" competitions, and he convinced his coach to add some of the decidedly different exercises used by Strongman athletes to his out-of-pool workouts.
So while training for the London Olympics, Lochte spent 90 minutes to three hours each Sunday dragging 400- to 500-pound boat chains, flipping 650-pound tires, and tossing 25-pound beer kegs over his head.
That is in addition to spending about three hours a week performing more conventional strength training and spending many hours each day in the pool.
"Strongman training is not a workout that I would recommend for all swimmers," DeLancey says. "But Ryan is a guy who needs a whole lot of variety. He also likes to have a mental edge when he goes into a race, and he feels that this gives it to him."
The trainer says all that chain pulling and tire flipping helps both the mind and the body push past their limits.
Strongman strength training can also help improve vertical jumping strength, which is needed for strong starts, turns, and underwater dolphin kicks.
"Much of what we do is geared toward improving hip extension, which is about 40% of the vertical jump," DeLancey says. "When a swimmer comes off the wall the mechanics are similar to jumping straight up."
Strongman Training Not for Everyone
As assistant director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports at the University of Florida, DeLancey uses Strongman exercises to train some, but not all, of the athletes he works with.
But he always modifies the training to fit the athlete's sport and individual needs.
"Everything we do is geared towards the athlete's specific needs," he says. "Ryan has always trained in a way that is appropriate for a guy who is trying to be the best swimmer in the world. That's very different from someone who wants to maximize strength."
DeLancey says he was not surprised to see Lochte dominate the 400-meter medley last weekend in his first race of the London games.
"He worked hard for it," he says. "He's a solid worker and he has made me a better coach. He challenged me to think outside the box as a trainer. I didn't really do that until I met him."