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Train Like an Olympic Water Polo Player

Men's USA water polo player Shea Buckner reveals how he prepares for one of the Olympics' oldest games.

Water Polo Player

The training it takes to get a player through a game in one piece is, as you would expect, incredibly intense. In fact, it would probably qualify as grueling, even for guys that consider themselves fit. Here’s a basic breakdown of a typical day with the U.S. team from Buckner:

7:45 AM-9:45 AM - Lifting weights

9:45 AM-12 PM - Swim 6,000 to 8,000 yards. This is about 3.5-4.5 miles.

7:00 PM-10:00 PM - Swim another 3,000 to 5,000 yards; approximately 2-3 miles.

After this, it’s on to working on game tactics and leg conditioning. 

Over seven hours of pushing the body to its absolute limit in just one day of training—it definitely sounds like an Olympian effort. Training hones in on building plenty of leg strength, since the best players are the strongest ones, with the ability to elevate out of the water from the force of their legs and core. Players constantly churn their legs independent of one another in a circular motion to stay above the water, a technique known as the “egg-beater.” The skill allows players to remain stable above the water while also keeping arms free to play the game. Of course, the technique takes a tremendous amount of leg strength, and general body strength, to sustain it for such a long period of time. Even with all the training, Buckner says players usually substitute every two to three minutes to stay fresh.

Interestingly, the physique of a water polo player depends on the position in the game.

“Attackers are normally leaner and faster, while centers are much more bulky,” Buckner says. “Defenders and centers are normally the tallest players and also strongest in the pool, but what attackers give up weight and strength, they make up for in speed.”

If you’re looking to shake up your workouts a bit, consider emulating some of the hard work put in by world-class water polo players. For starters, Buckner suggests working on power cleans to develop all-around strength. In the pool, he suggests treading water by mastering the egg-beater technique, gradually raising your hands and then elbows out of the water over time as you develop the skill. If you can do this for 30 minutes at once, as Buckner suggests, you might have a future as a water polo player.

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