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How Michael Phelps Managed To Break So Many Swimming World Records, One After Another?

August 20th, 2008 · 18 Comments ·


“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.” —Michael Phelps

Swimming sensation Michael Phelps has won a total of 16 Olympic medals – 6 gold and 2 bronze at Athens in 2004; 8 gold at Beijing 2008. As of now, no one else has won so many Olympic medals in history. At the age of 23, with probably another Olympic games to go in his career, he will keep that medal records for at least another decade.

Within 8 days, from 10 August to 17 August 2008, in 8 events which he has participated, he broke 7 world records. Even the only one event which he did not break the world record (100 meter butterfly), he still made it to Olympic record.


Today, let’s look at 3 main topics:

  1. What Michael eats.
  2. How he has incorporated some gym workout in his training regimen.
  3. His other success factors as a swimming superstar, including his physique, tactic, mind power and others.

1) Michael’s Phelps’ Diet
Phelps does not have a strict menu to follow. He actually eats what he wants to eat, whenever he wants it. For the normal day, here is what he usually eats:

  • Breakfast: 3 fried egg sandwiches; cheese; tomatoes; lettuce; fried onions; mayonnaise; three chocolate-chip pancakes; 5-egg omelette; 3 sugar-coated slices of French toast; bowl of grits; 2 cups of coffee
  • Lunch: Half-kilogram (1 pound) of enriched pasta; 2 large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread; energy drinks
  • Dinner: Half-kilogram of pasta, with carbonara sauce; large pizza; energy drinks

The first time I saw his diet menu, I thought it was not really healthy. The dishes contribute about 10,000 to 12,000 calories a day whereas a normal guy needs only 2,000 to 2,500 calories. If we do not know him and see him eating meals, we probably think he is a crazy overeater who just comes out from prison. But, hey, now we are talking about a swimming champion who trains 5 hours daily.


In fact, his coach, Bob Bowman does not really restrict what Michael eats and how he eats. If you look at the diet menu again:

  • He eats white bread instead of whole wheat bread.
  • He eats only 3 big meals instead of spreading them to more meals with smaller portion.
  • He eats not so much fruits and vegetables. Instead, he eats damn lot of carbohydrates – pasta and bread.

However, Michael Phelps told reporters that he needs calories into his system to swim. Due to his muscle intensive physique (about 8 percent of body fat) and long hours of training, he has high metabolism. If an ordinary desk office guy eats 10,000 calories, he probably will gain 2 pounds of fat daily. But, Michael Phelps is definitely not an ordinary man.

While celebrities like Ryan Reynolds and Will Smith have to watch out what they eat with strict workout regimen, Michael Phelps just eats what he likes yet still be able to have that toned body shape many models are dying for. I guess that is something that differentiates a world class athelete than the heroes we watch on silver screen in cinema.


2) Michael Phelps’ Gym Workout
If you watch the underwater scene showing how Michael Phelps swim, you will notice that his strokes have clearly differentiated him from other swimmers. His strokes not necessarily fast, but they are long and smooth. Instead of going for short-stroke speed, he goes for stronger and longer strokes that propel him forward.

Few years earlier, Michael’s coach, Bob Bowman has hired a personal trainer to design a gym weight lifting workout program for him. However, because they found out that program focused more in building bulky type of body, the workouts became counter productive. What swimmer like Michael needs is buoyancy in water and not bulky body with huge muscle mass. They fired that trainer and got a new trainer which gave more swimmer-friendly workout.

In order to slice through water with those deadly powerful strokes, one must be strong in multiple planes of motion. True enough, according to what his coach has disclosed, Michael Phelps does “diagonal wood chopper” and “straight wood chopper”.



Here are general guidelines how you can do diagonal woodchopper:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands.
  2. Lift the medicine ball over your right shoulder.
  3. Then, chop down across your body by moving the medicine ball towards the ground outside of your left foot.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Do 3 sets with 10 repetitions for each side.

How you can do “straight woodchoper”

  1. Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your knees, but your feet remains flat on the floor.
  2. Hold the medicine ball directly above your head.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles and lower the ball behind your head as far as you can without lifting your back or bending your arms. The motion is like chopping the air, but in one single straight plane.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.


Phelps does other typical strength trainings, 3 times a week with 1 hour each session, but those trainings focus in building his muscle endurance and flexibility in addition to improving his stroke power. With such a powerful and long stroke, when others have to take 12 strokes, he probably cover the same distance with only 8 strokes.

As for cardiovascular exercise, Micheal Phelps relies on stationary bike because running is too much hazard for his knees. Believe it or not, Phelps often tripped and fell often when he run. Rumor said his flexibility in his knees and ankles, though enhanced his performance in pool, results in some loss of stability on land.



3) Other Michael’s Phelps’ Success Factors

Training hard and eating right contributes some of the success, but not all. Here are few others:

  • Made For Swimming Physique – Michael Phelps is between 187 pounds (85 kilogram) and 195 pounds (88 kilogram) with height of close to 6 foot 4-inch (about 1.93 meter). He has big feet (US shoe size of 14), broad shoulders, large chest, long arms and his wing span is nearly 80 inches (about 3 to 4 inches longer than his height). His upper body tapers down to an almost girlish waist with less than 30 inches. With such a tall and lean body shape, he is a human “fish” built for swimming, and winning too if I may add.




  • Started Earlier With Tough Coach – Bowman actually started training Michael Phelps when the Phelps was still 11 years old. He pushed Phelps to swim at least 50 miles each week. According to him, kids at that age, is able to increase the size of their hearts and lungs in ways that no longer possible later on. The larger the heart and lungs, the bigger the aerobic engine. Phelps has been training almost 5 hours a day and 7 days a week without any rest day. Bowman admitted that he has trained the star to the extent that Phelps has little time or energy left at the end of the day for anything except to eat, sleep or occasionally watch the television. Phelps has to swim on his birthdays and Christmas too. He probably has missed some of the things he should have enjoyed at his age, but he has probably gained much than what he has missed. By the way, Bowman was a college swimmer before he became coach and he has a degree in child psychology. That helps, I guess.



  • Low Blood Lactate Level – In simple explanation, lactic acid is produced by human body in muscle cells during exercise. Accumulation of lactic acid occurs when the supply of oxygen to the cells is limited because the muscle cells are working so hard. So, indirectly, the less lactic acid one has, the better he can perform in his next race. A US researcher specializing in swimmer physiology, has done some test on Micheal Phelps. Even after swimming, Phelps’ lactate count was 5.6 (5.6 millimoles of lactate per liter of blood). How about other swimmers? Out of 5,000 other competitive swimmers being tested, all of them has level more than 10. In other words, the uncommon low number of lactate is so significant in Phelps’ body. His muscles recover faster than almost everyone after workout and race. This uniqueness has enabled him to compete so many events within such a short time, yet breaking records, one after another. In Beijing Olympic alone, he has swum more than 25 miles and over 1,000 laps at Water Cube, including preliminary and semifinal heats.



US Olympics Swimming Team Made an Impressive Come Back in 4×100 Meter


  • Tactic and Mind Power – Some other swimmers may have tactics to swim fastest they can when they dip into the water; some may reserve their energy for the final lap. Michael’s tactic is simple – he just swims consistently with same pace, from the start till the end. His strokes remain uniform like robot, from the start to end. Nothing spontaneous. When other swimmers are fighting against fatigue, Phelps still swims calmly as if he is swimming downhill with his smooth strokes. It is not that he is not tired, but his ability to relax and focus have helped him to block out the pain and fatigue. He has strong mind power. Michael has an athletic mentality and he is keenly competitive, and that is what drives him.
  • Water Is His Second Home – “My job is to be in the water and swim,” he told an interviewer once. He admitted that without water, he does not know what he would be doing. Water just fits him and fits what he loves, swimming. If we have this term called “aquaman”, Michael Phelps will surely own that name without any challenger.





I am sure Phelps himself will remember Beijing Olympic 2008 forever, not only because of its opening ceremony at 8:08 PM on 8-08-2008, but also his 8 gold medals with 8 records. Some people may say that Michael Phelps is the champion because of his natural body frame. But, I disagree. Natural assets, no doubt, is important, but they can only take him so far. Just like golfer Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps has worked his ass out. I hope that despite being an endorsement magnet with sponsors such as Powerbar, Speedo and more, Phelps will continue to win in the next 2012 Olympic in London with more world records.

Once again, my salute to Michael Phelps.


Michael Phelps’ Posters available at Amazon:
michael-phelps-poster-listening-ipod.jpg michael-phelps-poster-in-beijing-olympics.jpg



Category: Motivation

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18 responses so far ↓
  • Angie Tan // Aug 20, 2008 at 1:06 PM

    He’s absolutely brilliant!! A legend for us to emulate. ;-)

    My tennis coach was tough on us as well even for us small kids. If we had to do 20 jumping jacks and 20 push-ups, we had to do it. It was for our own good.

    What Michael Phelps had as a kid was tough love and it paid off. This is the same for most of the athletes out there. :P

  • Josh // Aug 20, 2008 at 2:11 PM

    Great write up on this Swimming Legend… excellent!

  • alfonto // Aug 20, 2008 at 2:51 PM

    yeah mun, this is one great write up about this dude. A true legend. Couldn’t think of anyone who would surpass his olympic achievement.

  • foongpc // Aug 20, 2008 at 4:43 PM

    Wow! This is a really excellent post on Michael Phelps! He’s extraordinary and a tough act for anyone to follow. He eats so much and only 3 times a day which is contrary to what we are taught to do – just show that what a great athlete do cannot be followed by the average person. Also means that everyone is different and have different requirements. One rule cannot fit all.

  • ah rum rum // Aug 21, 2008 at 9:33 AM

    Wow you’ve done quite a number of home work may i know how long you spent for it?
    It is quite impresive with the report think this can be some sort of article on newspaper.

  • saiful // Aug 21, 2008 at 7:34 PM

    hi mun, thanx for the post… he’s a living legend in swimming and i bet a lot of people envy with his body as well (8% body fat percentage?) btw i have a suggestion. how about u write the article about our local celebrities who really care about their fitness and also ordinary people who u know have achieve their target… i think it’s going be inspired by a lot of people becoz they are so near to us and we will how to care bout our diet since they eat the same thing that we consume… thanx

  • eleena // Aug 22, 2008 at 6:17 PM

    wow, this is one interesting and excellent post of Michael Phelps. you really have done a great job here.

    anyhow,all Phelps tough hard work paid off. it was amazing to saw him swimming in each event he compete.

  • Tom Parker // Aug 23, 2008 at 10:13 PM

    Fantastic post Mun. I’ve read lots of other fitness blog posts on Michael Phelps but yours by far is the most detailed I’ve seen. I never knew about his low blood lactate level or his “made for swimming physique”. Not that this makes his achievements any less impressive. He has worked very hard all his life to become the best at what he does.

    I have a quick question. Would I be able to re-publish your article in my Free Fitness Tips Newsletter at the end of this month? I will of course provide a recommendation for your blog and a few links back if you let me re-publish. Please let me know.

  • Jane // Sep 7, 2008 at 10:17 PM

    My brother had 3% fat when he was 13 years old. And now hes 15, i wonder how much fat he has now. i think less, he is crazy about sports. And he had a six pack at the age of 12-13 years old. Thats crazy.

  • Batman // Sep 21, 2008 at 3:01 PM

    this guy is the best swimmer i have seen in a long time. i have swam since i was about 5 or 6 and love it. i was in a club that was great. michael reminds me of a few guys i swam with. one of them threw a midince ball to his mate but threw it a lil to hard n broke his mates ankle. lol. bad luck 4 him eh.
    michael’s performance n achievements in beijing was amazing. 8 gold. thats impresive.
    how he eats all of that im not sure but he might n he might not. we might never no.

  • Nick // Sep 22, 2008 at 8:00 PM

    I’m coming for you phelps and your records.. Four years.. London.. Be there!

  • peter higgins // Nov 20, 2008 at 12:17 AM

    Doesn’t his height (usually the tallest) which means longer arms (oars) and larger hands (blades) and longer feet (propellors) give him an automatic advantage. Doesn’t the height also give him an edge on the length of the dive.

    There is also an equation for the maximum speed of a sailboat through water (1.34x the squareroot of the hull at LWL;low water level), and Phelps has mentioned that his torso is unusually long. O f course I don’t know if there can be any similarity here but at least for boats, length is a factor.

  • john h // Aug 8, 2009 at 11:34 PM


  • JC Mat // Feb 26, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Supurb article! Makes me have to ask if you know him personally, so do you?

  • bob // Jun 20, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    He’s a fantastic combination of 1 in a million natural genetics for swimming and 1 in a million work ethic.

  • Im aym // Jul 27, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    Thx man…, Great post!!…Gezzzzz!! he’s Fantastic!!…..

  • casey // Jan 19, 2011 at 5:00 AM

    i think michael phelps is rly hott and i tried hs diet and lost 15 in 1 week!!!!

  • Steve Clark // Jan 19, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    You fail to mention the effect of being submerged in cold water for five hours a day. This draws heat from your body, and calories are burnt to restore it. Being constantly cold destroys body fat. The original trekkers up everest had to eat pure lard/butter to counter the massive loss in weight they sustained from the cold weather.

    You sit in a cold pool, it draws heat energy from you. Even more so if you are swimming hard and raising your body temp.

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