professional swimmer doing butterfly

It is not easy to be a professional in any sport – and swimming is no exception. While there is common ground among amateur and professional swimmers (read training, techniques, determination, etc.), pro swimmers have their own secret sauce to deliver exceptional performance. Some of their tips or habits may sound ordinary, but they have the power to make an impact in the long run, especially when winning or losing is only a matter of a few seconds or milliseconds. Read on to find out about the unique habits of some inspiring professional swimmers.

Michael Phelps (USA)

Michael Phelps is considered to be the gold standard in swimming and has accumulated more Olympic medals than any other athlete in history. The retired swimmer was hardcore in the pool but used his own principles to stay motivated during his career. Known as “Baltimore bullet,” Phelps believed in high-intensity training via the weight room. During his gym time, he would consistently listen to music to get his adrenaline flowing.

“If you want to be the best, you have to do things that others aren’t willing to do,” said Phelps. His best place was the weight room, and he believed in establishing a consistent rhythm for workouts. Phelps was also a proponent of positive thinking. His personal motto was that the more you dream, the further you’ll go.

Phelps believed in learning from his mistakes while keeping his goals close to his heart. In the end, it was the combination of weight training, positive thinking, and goal setting that kept him at the top for many years.

Ian Thorpe (Australia)

When it comes to raw talent, there are very few swimmers that are as gifted as Ian Thorpe. Thorpe is known by many as the most successful swimmer in Australian history. Between 1998 and 2004, he went on a rampage in the pool by winning 11 world championship titles and five Olympic gold medals.

“Always do things that you enjoy away from swimming,” said Thorpe. He would make time to enjoy other personal activities that didn’t have anything to do with the sport. The Sydney native believed in preparing differently for each event by making adjustments to keep his competitive edge. Unlike other swimmers, Thorpe had a more logical approach to competing. He said he was comfortable in knowing that he might fail.

Thorpe also used visualization to push himself further. “When I was a kid I used to imagine within my body there were all these mini people and the people in my goggles were the control room. They were kind of like lemmings and they used to power everything in my body. I was always whipping them to make them work harder,” Thorpe said.

Katie Ledecky (USA)

Katie Ledecky is known as one of the greatest female swimmers in history. Ledecky has an impressive resume of seven Olympic gold medals and 19 world championship titles. This long-distance swimmer sticks to aerobic and low-intensity training.

She believes in maintaining a support team at all times while competing. “I’m lucky to have a family that loves me whether I swim well or swim poorly,” said Ledecky. The American swimmer doesn’t let external or irrelevant things take her mind away from swimming. She acknowledges her failures while learning from every misstep. She says “The bad days always have something good that comes out from them.”


You may be someone who just started your swimming journey, like Missy Franklin from the documentary Touch the Wall (playing on Prime Video). Or, you may be a veteran like Kara Lynn Joyce who wants to regain your earlier momentum. Either way, you have a lot to learn in terms of the unique characteristics that differentiate professional swimmers from others. Simple things like positive thinking, having a good support team and acknowledging failures can go a long way in improving your performance at the pool.