How to Age Gracefully (And Still Kick Ass)

Natalie Coughlin is focusing on the little things

Aug 1, 2016
Outside Magazine
How to Age Gracefully (And Still Kick Ass)

Natalie Coughlin, 33, with seven tips to stay sharp.    Photo: Tyler Gourley

At the London Games in 2012, Natalie Coughlin won a bronze medal in the 4x100 relay. The third-place finish brought her Olympic medal count to 12 (three of them gold), tying her with swimmers Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most medals won by an American woman. The Rio Games will be the 33-year-old’s fourth Olympics. With her eyes on the record as she competes in the 100-meter backstroke, freestyle, and freestyle relay, she’s learned to ­focus more than ever on the little things. 

Shut Eye: "As I've gotten older, sleep has become more essential. I’ve started using earplugs, and I kick the dogs out of the bed. They were hurting the quality of sleep I got. It was hard on all of us.”

Nap Time: “I hate naps, but I force myself to take one for an hour and a half most days. I’m at the pool at 5 a.m., and though I can function on six hours of sleep, I need eight or nine to be at my best.” 

Need a Lift: “I’ve started lifting weights a lot more, usually for two hours, four days a week. I do Olympic lifting, squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups. I’ve even added weight exercises in the water. Sometimes I’ll swim with 14 pounds strapped around my lower back. It’s helped me gain power and prevent injuries.” 

Alternative Medicine: “I’ve done cupping therapy for about eight years. The cups suction the skin and fascia away from the muscle, so it increases blood flow and accelerates muscle healing.”

Green Thumb: “I have a big garden with herbs, fruits, and vegetables. And I keep chickens. It ensures that I eat healthy, but picking vegetables and gath­ering eggs also helps relax me.” 

Compress and Decompress: “About 18 months ago, I made a $1,500 investment in a pair of NormaTec compression sleeves. They’re hooked up to a battery and squeeze your limbs like a massage. I use them for anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours while I’m watching TV.” 

Mind Training: “I visualize a lot. I visualize what the ready room looks like, the walk up, the race. The mind is a muscle that needs to be trained, and that’s something I’ve worked on as I’ve gotten older. I can be highly focused now for hours on end, but it takes tons of practice.”

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