Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 24 medals, 19 in which are gold. Michael Phelps is unprecedented and legendary in the swimming pool. Unbelievably, he is now in his 5th Olympic games having first entered the world stage water at a mere 15 years young! However, his unique body proportion and physique give him a significant advantage over his competitors. This article will examine how Michael Phelps’ physique gives him the edge over other Olympic swimmers.

Michael Phelps’s Unique Body + Anatomical Advantage

Michael Phelps is tall, standing at 6 feet 4 inches which is an ideal height for swimming. In addition, he has an unusually large wingspan in proportion to his height. (The average person has a wingspan equal to his or her height). Phelps’ wingspan is 6 feet 7 inches from tip to tip, 3 inches longer than his height! This unique feature give Phelps the ability to push through a larger volume of water with each stroke. He possesses an unusually long torso in proportion to his height equipped with short legs. If one were to compare Phelps’ body proportions to the average person, his upper body would be found to be the equivalent to a person measuring 6 feet 8 inches yet his lower body is proportionate to a person measuring under 6 feet (Siebert, 2014). This is advantageous for swimming as it allows his body to glide across the water like a canoe (Michaelis, 2008). His short legs provide significantly less resistance when paddling through the water. Along with his long torso, Phelps also has a very high lung capacity allowing him to load more oxygen with each breath.


Michael Phelps has a shoe size of 14, with the average shoe size for an adult male being 12, and unusually large hands. This allows his hands and feet to act like large paddles against the water. His ankles and knees are also unusually flexible. His ankles are able to dorsi and plantar flexion 15 degrees further than the ankles of  the average person further allowing his feet to act like flippers in the water. All of these unique features give Michael Phelps a significant advantage over his competitors (Siebert, 2014). Clearly, he was born to swim.

Phelps’ body also produces less than half of the lactic acid the average competitor produces. Lactic acid is a byproduct of anaerobic glycolysis produced when people physically exert themselves. Due to his body producing less than half of the lactic acid as the average competitor, Phelps is able to recover more rapidly after intense bouts of exercise. This trait allows Phelps to win medal after medal in consecutive swimming events. Phelps’s one of a kind body played a major role in making him the greatest swimmer of all time (Siebert, 2014).

His “In The Moment” + Inside Out Approach To Success

Although Phelps has an unfathomable anatomical advantage for swimming, it’s his powerful mindset and determination that ultimately drive him to success. Phelps sets his own standards and doesn’t compare himself to anyone else. He adopts an inside outapproach where he doesn’t compare his current or recent performances to past performances (much less to others). He believes in staying in the moment and doing his absolute best on that day. This takes a lot of pressure off of Phelps allowing him to stay calm and collected both during his training and when performing. Letting go of perfectionism allows him to focus plus embracing the process of swimming, training and not strictly the outcome of the competition.This has aided him to achieve optimal success and has made his athletic career fulfilling (Popomoronis, 2016).

Phelps’ mindset is a major contributing factor to his success in the pool. Ultimately, he achieves the greatest possible level of success based on a formula consisting of his unparalleled drive and gifted genetics. Phelps’ mindset is something that each of us can adopt and learn from. Whether we’re setting a goal of growing to realize our full potential or a gold medal in the Olympics, living “in the moment” will help us focus on our goals and becoming our best inside and out.

By Thomas Stuglik


Michaelis, V. (2008). Built to Swim, Michael Phelps found a focus and refuge in water. USA Today. Retrieved from

Popomoronis, T. (2016, July 7). How to Destroy Psychological Hurdles, Courtesy of Michael Phelps. Retrieved from
Siebert, V. (2014, April 25). Michael Phelps: The man who was built to be a swimmer. Retrieved from