What Does Michael Phelps Do Before a Race?

Three male swimmers in a race

Michael Phelps retired from competition in 2012 as the most successful Olympic athlete to date. Phelps won 22 Olympic medals, including 18 gold medals, according to USA Swimming. Phelps established a race-day routine that prepared him mentally and physically for each event during his long and record-setting swimming career.


In 2012, Phelps told KidsHealth.org that he began his race day with a simple breakfast, eating foods such as fruit, oatmeal and a bagel with cream cheese. His goal, he said, was to eat light. He avoided protein and loaded up on carbohydrates, “because it’s easier for me to use that as energy,” he said.


Phelps found various ways to relax during meets and on race days. During the 2004 Olympics he psyched himself up by watching “Miracle,” a movie about the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. During the 2008 Olympics, in which he won eight gold medals, he watched a documentary, “Planet Earth.” In the competitor’s ready room immediately before a race Phelps performed a meditative relaxation exercise. Phelps told the “New York Times” that he visualized himself swimming perfectly and also imagined a variety of possible difficulties “so I’m ready for anything that comes my way.”

At the Pool

On race days, Phelps arrived at the pool in time to begin stretching two hours before each event. Phelps began his routine by stretching his arms, then worked his way down his body until he reached his ankles. After 30 minutes, Phelps entered the pool for 45 minutes of warm-up swimming. His warm-up included swims of 800, 600, 400 and 200 meters, a swim-kick-pull drill, then a few 25-meter sprints. He then changed from his warm-up outfit to his skintight racing swimsuit -- a task that took 20 minutes.


Phelps escaped into music approximately 20 minutes before each race, usually selecting hip hop and rap, or occasionally techno. His hit list included tunes by Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy and Jay-Z. Phelps told “Time” magazine the music helped him “get focused” for the upcoming race.

Starting Block Routine

Phelps performed a set routine in the final minutes before his races. He stood behind his assigned starting block four minutes before the race. When his name was announced he stepped onto, then off of the block. He swung his arms three times, stepped back up on the block and assumed his starting position.