With the help of a panel of trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, performance experts, pro athlete coaches and more, the esteemed editors of Sports Illustrated set out to answer the question: Who are the fittest athletes in all of sports?
Three FINA athletes have been recognised for their elite athletic prowess in this year's recently released ‘Sports Illustrated Fittest 50 2022’ – USA Water Polo’s Maggie Steffens and Team USA Swimmers Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel.
SI’s Fittest 50 ranks the best-conditioned athletes in the world where they feature alongside other world-class athletes including gymnast Simone Biles, basketball player LeBron James, tennis player Naomi Osaka, tennis player Rafael Nadal, and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
As the respected sports publication wrote, “There’s no denying it: all athletes’ bodies are built to meet the unique demands of each sport and withstand the rigours of the game. At the elite level, physical fitness and conditioning are ever-present. But what happens when you level the playing field and compare athletes of all shapes and sizes in disparate sports?
“Each year Sports Illustrated accepts the challenge and ranks the best-conditioned athletes in the world, consulting the expertise of trainers, exercise physiologists and performance experts with experience across the college, pro and Olympic levels of sports. The panel evaluates athletes on the following criteria: performances over the last 12+ months; demands and risks of their respective sports; durability; training regimens; and other physical benchmarks including power, speed, strength, agility, endurance, flexibility and more.”
Maggie Steffens (USA Water Polo)
It’s no surprise to see Maggie Steffens on the Sports Illustrated Fittest 50 2022 since her exceptional performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. At 24-years-old, Steffens scored her first water polo goal of the Tokyo Games in just 21 seconds into Team USA’s opening preliminary match. She then went on to net 13 more goals, bringing her Olympic career total to an outstanding 56, making her the all-time leading scorer in Olympic water polo history. The USA Water Polo team captain then led the Americans to their third consecutive gold medal.
Outside of the pool, Steffens is also a force to be reckoned with, lifting weights, and mixing in hardcore cardio exercises that help build endurance, speed, and explosive power.
In a recent sponsor interview she discussed her heavy training schedule which is as focussed on recovery as it is on achieving optimum fitness, “Our team lifts at the gym for two hours at a time, 3-4 times a week,” Steffens said. “We’re in the pool 6-7 hours a day, 6 days a week.
I do bodywork treatments for my shoulders specifically. I always have my water bottle with me for hydration, and of course I prioritise sleep. I really emphasise a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle and you have to be willing to push yourself to be the best. See where you can take your body!”
Maggie was awarded Best Female Water Polo Player 2021 at the FINA Gala Awards in December, ranking her highly amongst other leading names in aquatics and acknowledging her hard-earned achievements throughout a tough year of competition.
Katie Ledecky (USA Swimming)
USA Swimmer Katie Ledecky made it on to the Sports Illustrated Fittest 50 2022 after another sensational Olympic performance. This time at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, she started by winning gold in the inaugural women’s 1500-metre freestyle race with a time of 15:37:34, which was a staggering four seconds faster than silver medallist Erica Sullivan. The six-foot-tall long-distance swimmer also picked up another gold and two silvers in Tokyo, bringing her total Olympic career haul to a seven.
When discussing her gruelling workout schedule, Ledecky cited nutrition and what she puts into her body as a key element to staying strong, fuelled and Olympic ready. Her day-to-day meal plan during training season is pretty straightforward. She cooks her own meals and typically focuses on a nutritious plate of whole foods over supplementing meals with protein powders or vitamins.
No stranger to putting in the hard work, Ledecky typically swims “ten times a week.” This is broken down into two swim sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and one swim session on Wednesday and Saturday. After every pool session, she’ll do a quick warm-down in the pool to recover from pushing her body to the max. Then she takes Sundays off completely to rest.
When she isn’t doing laps in the pool, Ledecky loves to hit the weights room for strength training and dynamic exercises like squat jumps on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to keep her body strong. Her training for the Olympics didn’t really change her schedule, because as a professional athlete, she’s constantly training for the next big competition, “It’s quite a bit of training. It doesn’t really change in an Olympic year. We have other big meets throughout the four-year, in this case five-year, cycle.”
Caeleb Dressel (USA Swimming)
There’s no denying that at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Dressel proved himself to be at the peak of his physical fitness. His explosive power helped him take home five gold medals by the end of the Games. One of the fastest men to ever hit the water, 25-year-old Dressel became the first swimmer in the history of the modern Olympics to win gold in the 50 Freestyle, the 100 Freestyle and the 100 Butterfly at the very same Games. He was also a part of the 4x100 freestyle and medley relay winning teams.
However, Caeleb doesn’t just enter ‘beast mode’ in the pool, at 6”3 and weighing 194 pounds, he trains hard in the gym to help drive his dominance in the water. In a recent Men’s Health interview Caeleb said: “Everything I do in the gym translates to being a better swimmer. My lifting routine is designed to develop and maintain exceptional strength off the block, so it mainly includes cleans, power cleans, jerks and snatches. I’ll usually end my power days with some box jumps and medicine ball throws to help build up my burst as well."
Dressel likes to keep his fitness program's structure loose. "I really don’t have a set schedule, which is nice. My coach and I mostly pick workouts we feel are right for that day, though I always make sure to get in a lot of foam rolling, shoulder prehab and core work.”
Caeleb was also awarded Best Male Swimmer 2021 at the FINA Gala Awards in Abu Dhabi last December, recognising him as a leading name in aquatics and as an athlete who excelled consistently due to his hard work and dedication throughout 2021.