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May 11, 2021 10 min read

Micheal Phelps is widely regarded as one of the best swimmers in the entire history of the Olympic Games.

He’s trained in the background for a long time, and when he finally broke into the public eye he snatched up dozens of gold medals and took everyone’s breath away. His body is well-suited to swimming, which plays into his success, but his real secret to success is how hard he worked in the gym and in the pool every day.

His workout was intense and his diet was pretty extreme, but if you’re going to aim for becoming the best of the best, then you’re going to have to push yourself further than the rest. If you think you’re up to it, then read on, because we’ve cracked his secrets wide open for you.

Michael Phelps in a swimming pool.

The Man Himself

Micheal Fred Phelps II is who we’re examining today. He was an American competitive swimmer, and because he was able to compete in so many different water races, he quickly became the single most decorated Olympian ever.

He currently holds the record when it comes to total medals held at 28 medals. He also holds an impressive record for the total number of gold medals held and total Olympic medals won in individual events. He’s arguably the most successful Olympic athlete to ever compete.

Some people will argue that his winnings are so high because swimming events are unique in how many different offerings there are for athletes. You do have to consider how hard it is to be the Jack of All Trades. Usually, competitors will specialize, but Phelps branched out and dominated in nearly every single event.

In Rio, Beijing, and Athens he crushed the competition for over a decade, and that’s no mean feat. He had to train nearly every day, and he had to practice effectively in several different styles. You have to take into consideration his bombastic results as well.

He was competing more often than most athletes and sweeping the competition in style. During the Beijing Olympics, he didn’t just compete and win a few races to bump his numbers up. He totally crushed by winning every single race he participated in and broke a world record in every single case.

He was a once-in-a-lifetime success story, we’d be shocked if another Phelps cropped up soon to dethrone his loud and flashy achievements. After his success in the 2008 Summer Olympics, he branched his success out even further by starting the Michael Phelps Foundation.

This is an organization that prides itself on bringing the joy and athleticism of swimming to people all over the world.

How Did He Do It?

Becoming the most decorated Olympian ever doesn’t come cheap. He had to grind often and he had to grind hard to get there. His workouts were punishing and, obviously, not everyone could keep up with a routine like this. Arguably, not even Phelps could keep it up since he’s no longer competing.

Keeping up an extreme workout routine is hard on your body, sure you get used to a certain amount of punishment, but after a while, your ambition outpaces your ability. especially in a sport like swimming.

Swimming is a difficult thing to do, our bodies have a certain amount of buoyancy to them, and we’ve puzzled out a lot of tricks to propel ourselves through the water, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty mechanics of the activity, we’re simply just built to have a harder time in the water than other animals.

Water-dwelling mammals have fins and blowholes and the ability to hold their breath for hours at a time. Pair this with their eyes that are suited for sight in the depths of the sea and their musculature, and you’ll see pretty quickly that humans aren’t meant for watersports the same way other animals are.

Keeping all that in mind, Michael Phelps dove headfirst into his training and he was relentless with it. When we look at Michael Phelps and his workout routine, we see a man that’s not afraid to push himself to the limits. He clearly had a love for the sport and a drive for competition that other people simply couldn’t muster.

His workout routine reflects his results. You don’t become an unmatched champion by half-assing it, so be prepared to see something pretty extreme.

Male swimmer underwater in a swimming pool

The Underwater Portion

Starting with Michael Phelps’ warm-up the sticker shock should already be setting in. This warm-up of his looks a lot like a full poolside workout for your average dude. He’d break it up into four different segments to make sure he’s fully warming up every inch of his body.

Since he spends so much time in the pool he needs to make sure that his warm-up is comprehensive and effective at priming his body for the work ahead.

Section 1

  • Swim: 800 meters
  • Kick: 600
  • Pull: 400
  • Drill: 200

Section 2

  • Fast Twitch 25-meter strokes 
  • 50 meters x 6 sets
  • Freestyle Warm-up
  • Sidekick for 3 minutes
  • Butterfly drill
  • Pull buoy

Section 3

  • Individual medley twice
  • 20×100 in 1:15 min
  • 25 m fly

Section 4

  • 50 m freestyle
  • 25 m fly
  • 500 strokes: 50 kicks, 50 drill

The Main Course

After all of that, he’s finally ready for the real deal. His body is limber from head to toe and it’s time to get the real pulse-pounding work done. His main workout is broken up into two lengthy segments of time.

He focused on endurance and specializing his muscle in all of the swimming, sprinting, and contortion he needs to fight through during all of the high-intensity competitions he was prepping his body for during the height of his career.

Section 1

  • 2000 timed kick stroke: with the kickboard
  • 4×100 IM drill
  • Pulling Set
  • 10×200 in 3 minutes
  • Speed Sets x 4
  • 24×25 fly, three times: 1 Warm-up, 1 no breath, and 1 sprint
  • Out of the pool core workouts, typically 500 sit-ups or bicycle crunches
  • Static stretches
  • Free Swim cool down

Section 2

After a short break, he’d move into the intense second half of his workout. Micheal Phelps would spend hours at a time in the pool banging out these workouts. He was able to do workouts like this, especially during his height because it was his full-time job to punish his body like this.

If you’re thinking of working your way up to something like this, you should consider breaking this workout into smaller pieces and trying them throughout the week. Most of us don’t have three to four hours a day to methodically work our way through a multi-phase workout.

  • 800 mixer on 10:30
  • 4×150 kick on 2:30 (50 strokes, 50 free, 50 strokes)
  • 400 pull with a buoy on 5:00 (breathe 3,5,7,9 per 100)
  • 200 stroke on 3:00
  • 10×50 in 45 min (2-25 kick/25 drills 2-25 free/25 stroke)
  • 4×50 in 1:30
  • 1×50 in 1:20
  • 1×50 in 1:10
  • 1×50 in 1:00
  • Long swim 100-200-300 pull (lung busters)
  • 400 choice kick
  • 300-200-100 IM drills
  • Speed & Endurance Training
  • Vertical kicking, Underwater kicking, Training paddles, snorkel, kick
  • board, Sculling, Sled Push, Sled Reverse Fly

Weightlifting Is Key

Michael Phelps doesn’t just spend his workouts in the pool. He also makes sure to hit the weights. At least three times a week he’ll make his way to the weight room and work in plenty of exercises aremeant to add on a little bit more muscle mass to give him an edge and keep his body flexible enough to continue swimming at peak performance.

Since he’s not aiming for massive biceps or bulging pecs, he tends to keep the weight low and the reps high. This grants him the kind of endurance he needs to make it through the entirety of the Olympics competing as often as he does.

His dumbbell routine was designed to get his chest, arms, shoulders, and back into an excellent shape. These are the muscles that are going to be pulling him through the water at the great speeds he needs to break all of the records he ended up smashing his way through in Beijing.

It’s simple but effective, and it’s the kind of exercise that a normal person could expect to pull off if they wanted to emulate his workout:

  • Standing dumbbell press: 10-16 x 3 sets
  • Dumbbell front raise: 10-16 x 3 sets
  • Dumbbell lateral shoulder raise: 10-16 x 3 sets

Other Compound Exercises

While he would work his way through his dumbbell exercises, he’d also do some weighted calisthenics. These are great exercises for the general population as well. Doing bodyweight exercises is one of the best ways to ensure you’re working your muscles in a natural fashion while working several muscles at the same time.

The core of these weighted exercises is to strengthen your body in ways that are natural and healthy.These will build your endurance and keep your physique slim, which is important for swimmers that need to fight against the resistance and drag that water will provide.

  • Weighted Pull-ups: 7 - 10 x 3 sets 
  • Weighted Push-ups: 15-20 x 3 sets

Michael Phelps’ daily routine is very much like other swimmers’ routine – many hours spent in the pool, with added dry training, which largely involved weight training, isometrics, and HIIT.

The Dolphin Diet

Micheal Phelps’s diet is incredibly unique among athletes and other celebrities that focus on the aesthetics and performance of their bodies. We often see that their diets involve half a dozen meals throughout the day. Their diets all consist of high protein meals, lots of leafy greens, and keeping away from carbs.

Micheal Phelps’s workouts are almost entirely high-intensity full-body exercises. He’s always burning an insane amount of energy every single day, and his diet during the height of his Olympic career is reflected by this. His diet would consist of massive amounts of calories every day.

When we look at the nutrition facts on our food, they assume we’re living relatively active lives and our bodies are asking for around 2,000 calories. Micheal Phelps? Well, he was eating 4 to 5 times as much food during the Olympics. He was also pretty scattershot with the foods he was getting his calories from.

The Olympian would be routinely eating an entire pizza all to himself, scarfing down massive bowls of pasta, and pounding energy drinks. He’s quoted saying that often he’d get about 1,000 calories from energy drinks alone. He was able to eat whatever he wanted to because he kept his nose to the grindstone, though. 

His breakfasts would be massive to match the energy demands of his Olympic training. He’d start with something like three full fried egg sandwiches, a 5-egg omelet, a full serving of French toast, and chocolate chip pancakes. That’s enough food for about two or three people, but when Phelps was hitting the gym the hardest, he would need all of that just to get his day started.

His lunch and dinner during his training would consist of at least a pound of food. He’d usually slam back a pound of pasta at lunch and dinner, and that was just one of his many entrees. His pound of pasta would come with a couple of sandwiches and this is usually where the full pizzas would come into play.

donuts laid out in the form of olympic rings

Post-Olympic Diet

When Michael Phelps retired from the high-profile competition of the Olympics, he drastically reduced his workouts and, by extension, his diet. Even though your body is so complex, it’s still a pretty simple machine that needs inputs that relate to its outputs.

Your diet is always going to be intimately related to your workouts because you need fuel to power your mind and your muscles, and you need building material to restore your battered muscles to their peak performance. Looking at his breakfast again is probably the most obvious example of this shift.

Post-Olympics Phelps is eating a similar spread but in a much more manageable volume. He’d still seek out lots of carbs and protein because he’s still working out regularly, but he opts for cleaner meals and smaller servings. Post-Olympics Phelps is eating a bowl of oatmeal, a much smaller omelet with a little bit of ham and cheese, plenty of fresh fruit, and a little bit of coffee to give his mind a jolt.

This change extends out to his other meals. Gone are the days of solo large pizzas and multi-pound pasta dishes. His lunch and dinner is still robust, sure, but he’s more likely to reach for whole grains in his bread and pasta choices, his servings are much closer to a regular athlete, and his proteins tend to be more lean, like grilled chicken and fish, rather than steaks and several burgers a week.

You can’t overstate how important it is to get all of your vitamins and minerals in throughout your day. Leafy green vegetables with lots of fiber, iron, and vitamins are going to be your best friend, and Michael Phelps swears by them as well.  You’re going to be wrestling with hunger all day if you can’t find a way to suppress it.

A diet high in protein helps, but you can’t always depend on almonds and grilled chicken to get the job done. You should be adding in salads and things like steamed or grilled broccoli. The fiber in these foods serves to take up room in your stomach and keep your brain from tormenting you all day long.

Matching Michael

Micheal Phelps is an extreme example of what it takes to get fit. His stamina, his build, and his daily life are all so far outside of the normal that most people aren’t going to be able to achieve these kinds of results. Think about his success in the Olympics.

There are more people on this planet than we can possibly imagine, and out of all of those folks, past, and present, he stands alone as the single best swimmer in history. His wingspan alone sets him aside from most people (6’ 7” which is a few inches longer than his above average height), so you’re going to need to adjust your expectations if you’re going to attempt this workout and diet.

Your dietary needs and your ability to perform are going to be dependent on the amount of time you have available to yourself. Just looking at it from a sheer numbers perspective, most people on the planet aren’t going to be able to keep up with this, it took Phelps years to get to that point, and even he didn’t keep it up for long.

It takes a toll, it takes a lot of time, and if you’re not prepared to do it right then you’re probably going to end up doing more harm than good in the long run.