Longtime coach Mario Sategna shares a modified version of Hardee’s strength-and-conditioning plan.
Get the recipe for Hardee's protein-rich, go-to dinner.
Behind the Scenes
Go behind the scenes of Carlos Serrao's July cover shoot with Trey Hardee.
This August more than 10,000 athletes will compete in 302 events at the Summer Olympics in London. But none of those contests will challenge the overall athleticism of its competitors as uncompromisingly as the decathlon. Over two grueling days, decathletes will test their limits in 10 track and field events, each emphasizing a different aspect of fitness—from endurance (the 1,500 meter) to brute strength (the shot put) to explosive power (the high jump). Athletes in other sports will rack up more medals, and the USA Basketball squad will dominate headlines, but only the decathlon champion will be awarded the title of World’s Greatest Athlete along with the gold. Just completing the event requires superhuman effort.
Consider the case of the sport’s reigning champ, 28-year-old Trey Hardee. Last August, on his final javelin throw at the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Hardee blew out a ligament in his right elbow. “I heard it pop almost immediately,” says the Birmingham, Alabama, native. For most athletes, that sound would have meant game over. Not for Hardee. Realizing that if he posted even a mediocre time in the 1,500 meter he could still clinch the victory, Hardee had his trainers wrap his arm. Then he ran. He finished the race in 14th place, securing his second consecutive world championship. “A tornado of emotions” is how he described his feelings afterward. “Nothing seemed to be going right, but that’s decathlon.”
All of which is to say, no, Trey Hardee shouldn’t be shy about claiming the title of World’s Greatest Athlete (though he has yet to earn it on the Olympic stage). Critics will point out that he is still regaining his form after Tommy John surgery last September. Or that, starting on June 22, he’ll have to fend off a U.S. team stacked with medal contenders—like Ashton Eaton, who finished a close second behind Hardee in Daegu, and Bryan Clay, the current Olympic champion—just to represent the United States in London. “It’s frustrating at times,” Hardee says of his long off-season, “but I’ve learned to remain consistent with the basics, because that’s what separates a great athlete from a good one.”
And that, say those who know Hardee best, is what makes him the odds-on favorite in August: he is a tireless student of fitness. His longtime trainer, Mario Sategna, a track and field coach at the University of Texas, says Hardee is that rare athlete who’s not only fast and powerful—he often posts top scores in both the 100 meter and the shot put—but also intellectually engaged with every aspect of his training. “Every day he works to get better,” says Sategna.
And this made us wonder: What if we had the World’s Greatest Athlete answer every nagging question we’ve ever had about nutrition and fitness? How much of what he knows would apply to us, too? Quite a lot, it turned out. “I’ve been through years of training,” says Hardee. “I know that certain things I do won’t apply to everyone. But we all have the ability to use our brains to get better.”
That, perhaps, is Hardee’s best advice: train smarter. In the discussion that follows, we asked him about everything from his strength-training philosophy to his favorite snack foods—because training smarter is a whole lot easier when you learn from the best.
THE HARDEE QUESTIONS
Smart advice from a two-time world champion
Let’s start with the basics: Should I focus on speed or endurance in order to get fit?
Both, says Hardee. The reason you don’t see as many recreational athletes doing sprint drills is because of misconceptions. “People are obsessed with burning some specific number of calories, and they think the best way to do that is by running high mileage, which is not always the case.” The other reason: sprint exercises are hard. They’ll make you exhausted and sore, which is why many people avoid them. But that’s exactly why you should include them in your workout regimen, explains Hardee. Your debilitating soreness after a fall touch-football game is a sign of a weak link in your fitness—your muscles are sore because they’re being taxed in a way that they never were during a summer filled with mountain biking and trail running. “Endurance isn’t a bad thing, but people think that’s the only way to get fit,” says Hardee. “Really, there are 10 different ways to do it, and the more ways you incorporate, the better.”