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Secrets from 13 Olympic hopefuls

London Olympics

 (AP)

If anyone knows what it takes to push through a workout, stay calm under pressure, or fuel up for a long day, it’s an Olympic athlete. And what they’ve learned extends way beyond sports. Their lessons show you how to succeed, no matter what your goals. Here, top athletes—many of whom have already qualified for the London games as of press time—share their go-to moves for everything from toning up to getting some shut-eye the night before four billion people watch them compete. Take their gold-medal advice.

Outsmart temptation

"One meal a week, I have whatever I want. During the last Olympics, it was wings.This year, it’s burritos. When you allow yourself a cheat, it helps you stay motivated to keep up a healthy lifestyle."—Lolo Jones, 29, hurdler; two-time World indoor champion

Ensure a good night's sleep

"When I was in Beijing [in 2008], I used a Pilates technique called constructive rest before going to bed. You lie on the floor, knees bent and feet flat. Then you imagine your muscles filling up with water, then [visualize]] all the tension disappearing."—Natalie Coughlin, 29, swimmer; 11-time Olympic medalist

"I read Atlas Shrugged [before bed] sometimes. It puts me to sleep because it’s so long and monotonous. You can pass out and then pick it up, and they’re having the exact same 70-page conversation!"—Kayla Harrison, 22, judo player; ranked No.1 in the U.S. and No.4 in the world

"Before I go to sleep I jot down all my thoughts. It really clears your mind."—Nastia Liukin, 22, gymnast; five-time Olympic medalist

Tone up all over

"I do a 10-minute ab workout that [boxer] Manny Pacquiao invented—you can find it on YouTube. It’s about 20 different versions of crunches, and you do 25 seconds of each nonstop. It’s brutal, but it really works!"—Shawn Johnson, 20, gymnast; four-time Olympic medalist

"With sabre fencing, it’s important to have a strong core. I do an exercise called ‘the dead bug.’ You sit on the round side of a Bosu ball, lean back, extend one arm and the opposite leg, then switch."—Mariel Zagunis, 27, fencer; three-time Olympic medalist

"Deep squats work so many muscles in your body. Once a week, I do three sets of six, or eight of the free-bar ones, which can help out your balance and work more muscles than doing them on the machine."—Lolo Jones

Avoid back pain

"I have a bad back and I use my core a lot, so I like to stretch both at the same time. With my right leg straight out in front of me and my left bent leg over it, I put my right elbow on my left knee and twist."—Janet Evans, 40, swimmer; five-time Olympic medalist

Reboot your energy

"I love coffee, so when a nutritionist told me it was a great way to get instant energy, she gave me another excuse to drink it! The boost from caffeine lasts four-plus hours."—Sue Bird, 31, basketball player; two-time Olympic medalist

"Before my afternoon runs, I usually feel a little sluggish. So I’ll walk for a minute or two first and get some cold air on my skin. It wakes me up and gets me going."—Kara Goucher, 34, runner; competing in London as a marathoner

Rebound after a setback

"Having a short memory [helps]! We have so many games that if you allow yourself to stay in that [losing] moment, you’ll be locked in. I try to think, ‘What’s my next play?’"—Swin Cash, 32, basketball player; 2004 Olympic medalist

"With any kind of disappointment, I see it as a learning period. What did I do wrong? How can I fix it and show everyone what I’m actually made of?"—Shawn Johnson
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Love the body you've got

"My [hang-up] has always been my butt and my thighs. But I’m more proud of my body since having kids. This is what I look like and I’m comfortable with it. I’m not a perfect shape, but I’m fit and healthy, so I should be proud of it."—Christie Rampone, 37, soccer player; two-time Olympic medalist

"If I have a day when I’m not feeling as toned as I want, I’ll wear leggings. But I’ve embraced the bikini—it empowers me to play better. You have to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and allows you to push yourself and keep working toward what you want."—Kerri Walsh, 33, beach volleyball player; two-time Olympic medalist

Block out any distraction

"It helps me to take a minute to get away—I’ll sit under an umbrella, close my eyes, and listen to Sade or Jack Johnson and find some peace within the madness."—Kerri Walsh

"I hate to say this, but one of the biggest distractions can be friends and family. You want them to be there and support you, but when you need to get your rest or focus, you need to communicate that to them."—Swin Cash

Stay motivated to reach that goal

"When I started swimming again two years ago, it felt like I was starting from scratch. My mind-set was [to tell myself that] every time I swam, it was going to get easier—and it did. When you’re working toward a fitness goal, you just need to start. It’s not going to be pretty, your body is going to scream at you, but each time you’ll get better."—Janet Evans

"I set my phone with motivational quotes to go off on random days and times. Like, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are.’ I’ll forget about it, then one will pop up and it’ll give me a little boost."—Shawn Johnson

Be an imperfect juggler

"You have to rely on your support system. Growing up, I always thought it was a sign of weakness to ask for help, but now I realize it’s really a sign of strength to say, ‘I need help, I can't do it all.’"—Kerri Walsh

Psych yourself up

"I have a power word that I use—when I qualified for the Olympics in 2008, it was fighter. That way when I’m in the race and I get to those dark moments, I can think of the word and it evokes that emotion for me."—Kara Goucher

Keep going (when you've hit a wall)

"I love going to the gym and taking aerobics classes and kickboxing. Doing a variety of activities keeps it fresh and helps work other muscles that could potentially help you with your game."—Swin Cash

"That wall is your mind playing tricks on you. You just need to say, ‘One more step, I can do this. I have more in me.’ You’ll be so proud of yourself once you push yourself past your threshold."—Kerri Walsh

Find a way to unwind

"I like to watch trashy TV—The Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, My Strange Addiction. It allows you to totally zone out, until you realize you’ve wasted all these hours!"—Susan Francia, 29, rower; 2008 Olympic medalist

"Cooking a fantastic meal is therapeutic. I like the entire process—the chopping, the stirring. At the end, hopefully you get to enjoy a great meal with a friend or loved one."—Natalie Coughlin

"After we put my son to bed, my husband and I curl up and watch a movie or TV. That’s when I finally put up my feet and have my glass of wine and a brownie."—Kara Goucher

"Hot yoga is the best. When you’re in [class], there are no cell phones, no talking, no distractions. You’re taking a leave from reality for an hour or so."—Shawn Johnson

Ease aches and pains

"When I’m sore, ice is my best friend. It really works. I take omega-3s every day, which helps with inflammation. And I try to eat things that won’t inflame my joints, like fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and seafood."—Kerri Walsh

"I like to take mustard baths. I combine 4 lbs Epsom salts, 3 oz mustard powder, 12 oz powdered milk, and 1/2 cup baking soda, add in 12 drops each of rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils, then whisk it and pour 1/4 cup of the mix into the tub while warm water is running."—Natalie Coughlin