Why Do Swimmers Do That? Specific Swimmer Habits Explained

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s probably been several times where you’ve asked yourself “why are swimmers doing that?” I know that I’ve heard my family and even random people out in restaurants asking questions about the things swimmers do at the pool. So let’s clear some things up!

Why wear goggles under the swim cap?

Every swimmer has a different preference. Some believe that their goggles are less likely to fall off or fill with water if they are beneath the cap. This is a legit concern for swimmers because if the goggles fill with water in a race they will be unable to see, which would put them at a great disadvantage. At the peak level, every hundredth counts. Katie Ledecky is one that likes to wear her goggles under her cap. Some athletes also like to wear their goggles out to the blocks and some don’t. Those who wear their goggles out may be doing that to narrow their focus or because they have prescription goggles (like Aussie Mack Horton).

Why do swimmers splash water on themselves before a race?

Olympic champion Mack Horton makers a splash poolside

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia)

They either squat down to throw water on themselves or they will take a water bottle and pour it on themselves. Announcers have said it’s to keep the suits in place, but it could be any number of reasons. If a swimmer does that then it’s usually part of their pre-race routine and it’s something that gets them ready to race. The water can lock a suit on a swimmer’s body, but it can also be done to jolt a swimmer’s body into race ready condition. It is believed that the shock of the initial dive into the water will then be less of a shock.

What are the red circles sometimes seen on swimmers’ bodies?

These are the result of “cupping.” There have been many articles on this, but cupping is nothing new in the sport. It’s a form of recovery that pulls the skin away from the muscle, encouraging circulation for rapid recuperation.

Why wear the giant coats behind the blocks?


Drexel teammates proudly sport their parkas. Photo Courtesy: Megan Clark

Almost every swimmer who walks out to the blocks is wearing a heavy winter coat and sometimes two layers. They may even wear gloves. This is all to keep the athlete warm and his or her muscles loose and ready to go. The looser a swimmer is, the better they will swim, because they will already be warmed up. Their temperature will then be better as they swim and their range of motion will be greater because they will be looser. Cold muscles are stiff muscles, and stiff muscles are not fast muscles!

Why do athletes slap and hit themselves before a race?

Also part of an athlete’s race routine, it’s something that gets an athlete ready to go. Male swimmers sometimes slap themselves red, especially on their pectorals. Women will also do this or use a closed fist instead. This slapping increases blood flow in the muscles which is helpful to the “warmup” process.

Why do some flyers “look around” in their races?

If done correctly and timed perfectly, a swimmer can incorporate the “look” in their race without losing the rhythm and flow of their butterfly. This quick look is to either side to see where his or her competitors are. Most think it’s unnecessary to look around in fly, but some swimmers, such as Chad Le Clos, couldn’t help but look at Michael Phelps all the time.


  1. avatar
    Elaine Kepler

    I enjoyed being more informed on the habits of swimmers. Nicely written.

  2. avatar

    This page has everything, that I have been looking for since the start of the 2016 Olympics.

  3. avatar

    Great article! Nicely written and gave me everything I was looking for.

  4. avatar

    I want to know why they check the starting block when they come out. Thanks for the article.

    • avatar

      Me too!

    • avatar
      Mimi Ward

      They check the starting block to wipe it down if too wet, or to adjust the back foot brace for the track start and/or just part of their routine

    • avatar

      Sometimes starting blocks are adjustable. Also checking to see if they are wet

    • avatar

      Checking so they know they won’t slide back

  5. avatar
    Leland Unruh

    You left out the part about cupping being, at best, utter pseudoscience.

    • avatar

      You have to experience cupping to understand why it works. I have had a sharp neck pain for years after a few cupping sessions the pain is gone !!

      • avatar

        Cupping does not “work.” It has been studied to death, and it does nothing. Most disease is self-limiting. Your neck got better because it got better. The fact that it happened (according to you) after cupping is post hoc reasoning and placebo, nothing more.

      • avatar
        A B

        That’s correlation, not causation. Probably your sharp neck pain, like most such things that happen to us through life, would have disappeared regardless. Cupping is nothing but a ridiculous fad.

    • avatar

      I had severe neck problems everyday for 15 years, tried everything…physiotherapy, sports medicine, massage, stretches, acupuncture, spine lengthening, alternative medicine, you name it. I did scraping and cupping once, and it fixed my neck 90% after 30 minutes. Sometimes we call something pseudoscience only because we don’t understand how it works.

  6. avatar
    Joyce Hull

    Thanks for the great information!

  7. avatar

    Very interesting article but
    Why do the USA women swimmers all wear different bathing suits rather than 1 design

    • avatar

      As you get to the point where you wear a tech suit, brand matters. Swimmers choose the brand and style that fits them best. Manufacturers don’t make one design that is the same across the board.

  8. avatar

    Horrible article with fake replies in the comment section.

    • avatar

      Do you have a correction?

  9. avatar
    A B

    Most of those quirks are little more than ritualistic, superstitious actions. Such things are very common in the sports world, both with the elite and with the masses. If you are looking for a rational explanation, forget it.

  10. avatar

    Cool, I feel “in the know” since I already knew all those things. 🙂

  11. avatar

    Why do swimmers fart in the pool and then bite the bubbles?

    • avatar

      Prolly because it’s vegan.

  12. avatar


  13. Mike Mcgowan

    Phsyc up getting into the groove. When I swim I have chk list to.

    • Abby Douglas

      Lyndsi Jo Wilson the good ole slap my whole body behind the block ?

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