Just Stop! 8 More Questions Swimmers Are Tired of Answering

Apr 15, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps holds a press conference at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, AZ. Phelps, 29, returns from a six-month suspension by USA Swimming after his arrest Sept. 30 when he was accused of driving under the influence. Phelps pleaded guilty to that charge in December was sentenced to 18 months supervised probation in lieu of one year in prison. The probation includes random drug and alcohol testing. Phelps also completed a 45-day treatment program in Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

Non-swimmers might think we’re elitist when we accidentally roll our eyes at their questions. We might think they are ignorant. If we’re elitist, we’re sorry. If non-swimmers are ignorant, I’m here to help! We do not expect a non-swimmer to know what 12x75s on 1:00 means or even how to move forward while keeping your face in the water. But we do want the general public to understand a few things about this testing sport.

1. You swim? So are you going to the Olympics?

I don’t know why people seem so shocked when we look offended by this question. USA Swimming is made up of 400,000 swimmers. The U.S. Olympic team is made up of about 50 athletes, depending on the year. These individuals did not “sign up” for the Olympics by January 1 in order to be placed on the roster. Swimmers put in ungodly hours, arduous workouts and mind-cramping focus endeavoring to place in the top two or top six (100, 200 freestyle events) at Olympic Trials…in the fastest country in the world. Making the United States Olympic Team is hard. Really, really hard. There’s actually a 99.98775 percent chance I did not make the Olympic team.

2. How do you “practice” swimming?

We swim back and forth in the pool. Our laps are divided into sets with a designated purpose (so we hope). There are hundreds of technicalities to keep us stimulated during each and every lap. Swimmers are masters of making marginal gains. Forever knowing we could be a fraction of a percentage better.

3. So you never shave your legs or you always shave your legs?

Leg shaving is saved for your “shave and taper” meet. The meet you train for all season long. In swimming, there are two season – one long course (50-meter, Olympic-sized pool….don’t believe all hotels when they brag about their “Olympic-sized,” 12-yard pool) and one short course (25-yard, only the U.S. does this course). So this means the devoted swimmer will shave his or her entire body twice each year. But we know girls typically are not OK with this and shave their legs closer to five times annually.

So does shaving actually make us faster? According to Allan Phillips from SwimmingScience.com:

Though the evidence behind shaving is sparse and not recently updated, there is little reason to believe that shaving would make anyone worse. If nothing else, the psychological gains from a shave can justify continued use of the practice.

Did we mention we’re obsessed with marginal gains? So if shaving is going to make the rest of our body feel more like a tech suit, we’re going to do it. Ask any swimmer what feels faster and they will undoubtedly tell you a silky smooth bod. And your sensory perception (feel for the water) is heightened when you shed a layer of fur. That’s science.

4. What is dryland?

A reasonable question, but swimmers need some way to distinguish workouts conducted on dry land from those churned out in the…wetlands.


Photo Courtesy: Andreas Roestenberg

5. Do you know Michael Phelps?

Let’s just all agree to say, “Yeah, he’s pretty cool.”

6. Why do swimmers shake out their muscles before they race?

To increase blood flow….and disguise the high likelihood that they have a nervous twitch without the deliberate muscle shakes.

7. So do you ever have time to have fun?

I remember a “school friend” (the non-swimmer friends you only have time to hang out with at school) legitimately concerned that I wasn’t meeting life’s fun quota. Yes, I do have fun! And I have fun during some moment of swim practice almost every day, I told my friend. Working out is not as miserable as we make it seem.

There are micro-goals achieved everyday in practice. When some technical advice is finally iterated into an understandable language, swimmers instantly feel the improvement. After practice, we’re rewarded with an endorphin rush that can make us feel like we’re levitating; a ridiculous sense of accomplishment from knowing we just completed a set (see #2) most people on Planet Earth would not dare to try (shoot, there’s the elitist). Yes, swimmers meet their fun quotas. Thank you, concerned general public.

8. Hairstylist asks with a pained face, “Ooh, why don’t you put conditioner on your hair before you swim?”

Because my rubber cap will slide off incessantly. Don’t worry about my hair. It’s no concern of yours…or mine.


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John McCormack
3 years ago

You’re really going to eat all that?

Jo Allan
3 years ago

So true!

Karyn Errico Maki
3 years ago

That was hilarious ?
In a good way!

David Houck
David Houck
3 years ago

Do you sweat during workouts?

Sarah Riddell
3 years ago

Zachariah Soltes

Tri Open Water
3 years ago

It’s amazing how many times this is asked!

Heather Thomas
3 years ago

My least favorite comment is: swimming laps isn’t a real workout! ?‍♀️ ?

Ste Ven En
3 years ago

Celeste Ly first 2 questions so true

3 years ago


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