BY THE time she had played 90 minutes of regulation soccer, 30 minutes of overtime and then blasted the last penalty kick past Chinese goalie Gao Hong to win the 1999 Women's World Cup final, it was clear that U.S. defender Brandi Chastain was in superb physical shape. Then she ripped off her jersey, and the world got a closer look at her physique (inset below). How has she maintained her conditioning throughout a career in which she's spent 15 years on the national team? The answer lies partly in her mental and emotional makeup: She never lost her enthusiasm for her sport, even when she suffered anterior cruciate ligament tears in both knees early in her college career. (She had reconstructive surgery in 1986 and was named an All-America four years later.) "I've been playing soccer for 30 years, but I still wake up every morning and get excited about it," says the 36-year-old Chastain, who is expected to again be a team leader on the U.S. defense at the 2007 World Cup in China. "I still love going out to the field and sitting down to put my cleats on and smelling the grass. If I close my eyes, I could be 16 again." Chastain trains at Santa Clara University, from which she graduated in 1991 and where she met her husband, Jerry Smith, 44, the women's soccer coach there since '87. Here's a look at key elements of the workout that the 5'7", 130-pound Chastain does several times each week.
PUSH-UP WITH SHOULDER STABILIZATION
Ten push-ups before switching the ball to the other hand. Three sets of 20.
Brandi: "By taking my hand from a stable surface and placing it on an unstable one [the soccer ball], I'm working different muscles in my arm than I do with a regular push-up. And it really works my core. You need to keep your abdominals tight to be able to hold this position."
SIT WITH ADDUCTOR CONTRACTION
Hold for one minute. Three sets.
Brandi: "When I started doing abdominal work, I would hold this position for 15 seconds. I built up to a minute by adding five-second increments every couple of weeks. For an added challenge, I'll put the ball between my feet and squeeze to work my adductors [inner thigh muscles]. I've started doing it on The Bean (right). You can do this on a mat or the floor, but you get a better workout with this apparatus because you're on an unbalanced platform and you have to work to keep your balance. Watching TV, I use The Bean as a chair, then flip it over and do exercises during commercials."
A series of sets lasting 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds, one minute, 45 seconds, 30 seconds and 15 seconds. One minute of active rest between each set.
Brandi: "Active rest is when you stand holding the handles and continuously make figure eights with the rope. That keeps the heart pumping as in a soccer match, during which there's no rest. You can do this exercise as a warmup, or you can incorporate it into your routine as a conditioning tool."
HEADING EXERCISE WITH RESISTANCE
Three-person rotation. Person A stands in front of Person B (Chastain) and tosses a ball, which B heads back to her. Person C stands behind B, holding a resistance band attached to B's waist (as shown). Sets of 10 or as many as you can in one minute. Five sets.
Brandi: "I create tension on the elastic band by moving away from the person who's holding it, and I maintain that tension while jumping up to head the ball. It works my legs and core while also working on balance. You feel it helping on the field when you're going up for a header or when an opponent is pulling or pushing to gain position."
ONE-LEG BALANCE WITH KICK
Stand on a balance disk on one leg for 30 seconds as partner keeps tossing a ball to be kicked. Switch legs. Five sets.
Brandi: "Balancing on an unstable surface, I'm forced to use every muscle in my leg and all the muscles in my foot. It also strengthens my ankles, which is important considering the number of ankle sprains in soccer. You don't need to add the kick. At home I'll just balance on the disk for a minute. If my husband or son [Cameron, 16] is around, sometimes they'll toss the ball, and I'll catch it instead of kick it."
PANINI POWER: CHASTAIN CHOWS DOWN
BREAKFAST My favorite meal. I even make breakfast for dinner sometimes. I'll make an egg-white omelet with three eggs, fresh mushrooms and tomatoes and some cheddar cheese my cousin sends me from Wisconsin. We have orange trees in our yard and I have a juicer, so I make a pitcher a few times a week. My favorite juice to make is carrot-apple. I'm also a big herbal tea drinker in the morning. It has to be caffeine-free. My husband has banned me from caffeine because if I have it, I become superhyper. LUNCH My husband gave me a panini press for Christmas, so I've been experimenting with that. I'll press turkey and cheddar on wheat bread, or I'll make something vegetarian like avocado, tomato and mushroom on a tortilla. I also love tomato bisque soup. There's nothing like soup and a sandwich on a cold day. I'll have a glass of water or milk with it. DINNER I love ethnic food. Mexican or Indian or Thai. It needs to have a little flavor to it, a bit of tang. If we go out for it, I'll try to imitate it at home later in the week. I'll whip up enchiladas verde, and I make pretty good pad thai. A few times a week we'll open a bottle of wine. There's a great vineyard right by us called Wente that has a nice Cabernet reserve, but I've also been getting into Pinot Grigio and Riesling lately. That's only a few times a week. Otherwise I have water or milk with the meal.
ROBERT BECK (CHASTAIN WORLD CUP)
RUSSELL ILLIQ/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES (AVOCADO)
CORBIS (COFFEE CUP)
DIGITAL VISION/GETTY IMAGES (CARROTS)
FIVE COLOR PHOTOS
Photographs by Nick Cardillicchio