“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:
- What Michael eats.
- How he has incorporated some gym workout in his training regimen.
- 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:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands.
- Lift the medicine ball over your right shoulder.
- Then, chop down across your body by moving the medicine ball towards the ground outside of your left foot.
- Return to the starting position.
- Do 3 sets with 10 repetitions for each side.
How you can do “straight woodchoper”
- Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your knees, but your feet remains flat on the floor.
- Hold the medicine ball directly above your head.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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