It’s 9:30 a.m. on the last day of a week-long training camp for the U.S.A. men’s senior gymnastics team, and several Rio-bound athletes are sitting in a circle and launching into seemingly impossible stretches.
“Right leg!” Olympic veteran Sam Mikulak shouts at the athletes gathered around him. In automatic response, they easily grab their perfectly flexed toes.
It’s all sweaty business at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center – where the best male gymnasts from across the country come to train.
And with the Rio Games then-fast approaching, there’s no joking around for the tight-knit, hard-muscled squad.
At these special camps (held every month or so), the senior men’s national team usually begins with a brisk jog, a motivational speech from one of the athletes and a chant of “U.S.A.!” that ends with a resounding clap.
“We’re thinking right now we want to be a gold medal team,” Mikulak told PEOPLE at one of the camps this March. “Like, we’ll say: ‘Listen dude you suck at this, you need to get better at this and I don’t care if I hurt your feelings, I hope you aren’t upset that you’re not good at this and you’re going to take the time to make it better!’ “And we’ve taken that to heart.”
Alex Naddour, also bound for Brazil, said it’s all about pushing the team to Olympic glory.
“At the end of the day, it’s exciting to win an individual medal,” Naddour told PEOPLE. “But that will fade, all it’s going to be is you and that medal, you know? The team, the memories, when you win a team medal you form an even stronger bond with your teammates than you already have. That’s what I want in Rio.”
Joining Naddour and Mikulak in Rio are team captain Chris Brooks and 2012 London Olympic veterans Jake Dalton and Danell Leyva. Stanford gymnast Akash Modi and 2015 U.S. National rings champion Donnell Whittenburg are team alternates.
“Everybody works hard at this level,” Brooks told PEOPLE during a break at the training camp. “Everyone is talented. But my heart and my desire to be – that’s my secret weapon.”
At 9:45 a.m., a ballet instructor interrupts the stretching session for a lesson in poise and flexibility. The athletes line up and move toward her, turning cartwheels or pushing forward with shoulders back and toes pointed.
The gymnasts know every bit of every workout counts: “It’s about getting all of us on that platform [In Rio],” Dalton told PEOPLE. “It feels a whole lot better when everybody comes home with a medal!”
By 10:30 a.m. the men are in a back gym – with a trampoline, a pit filled with blue foam, a chalky pommel horse, dirty socks and sweaty towels. Some athletes take turns flying off a high bar and others hit the rings, all under the careful eye of their coaches.
With Katy Perry’s “Firework” providing the sound track, the guys joke around and shout encouragements as they spot each other:
“Dude you got this!”
“Keep striving, bro, stay focused!”
The bonding, they say, has made them all good friends. “We’re really close,” Modi told PEOPLE. “One time Sam and I were at a competition and I ordered a quiche and Sam was like, ‘That’s your nickname man!’ and so now, well, that’s what the national team calls me.”
After a lunch break (pasta with meat sauce, salads and stir-fry are the cafeteria options for the day) the gymnasts head back to the gym for a grueling afternoon training session focused on skills and routines.
“We do strength circuits with gymnastics skills [when we work out],” Whittenburg told PEOPLE. “We don’t use weights; gymnastics has a way of making your body physically fit so it just depends on the way that you work and the way that you train. You gain muscle in the spots that you need it the most!”
The men wrap up at 4 p.m. and gather for a final motivational speech from 2008 and 2012 Olympian Jonathan Horton. And then, it’s time to say goodbye – until the next training camp.
“Dude, text me!”
“Naw, man, I’ll FaceTime you bro.”
“Ha! Aww yeah!”
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org.