There’s no debate that Michael Phelps is the best swimmer of all time. During the height of his career, he was incredible to watch, delivering some of the most memorable moments in sports history.

But beyond watching his races for the excitement, we can learn a lot from Michael’s stroke. We’re breaking down his freestyle technique and sharing tips you can apply to your own swimming!

Body Position

Michael’s body position is stellar. He keeps his hips high in the water and his eyes look straight down, allowing him to move through the water like a torpedo! Take a page out of Michael’s book and keep your head in line to avoid sinking hips!

Related: How Michael Phelps Became the Greatest Swimmer of All Time

As he rotates from his hips, his fingertips reach straight forward, setting him up for a strong catch. 

High Elbow Catch & Recovery

To be as powerful as Michael is in the water, arm positioning and catch both have to be on point. When you watch Michael swim, his elbow is always above his hand, both above and below the water. 

Related: How to Swim the 400IM like Michael Phelps & Katinka Hosszú

High elbow recovery (when his arm is above the water) sets his hand up to enter the water right in front of his shoulder. In turn, this puts his arm in proper position to initiate Early Vertical Forearm catch.

Related: The 5 Most Common Freestyle Mistakes

Many people swim with straight arms, which pushes water down and puts extra stress on the shoulders. EVF, on the other hand, maximizes the amount of water you pull with each stroke. It turns your hand and arm into one giant paddle, pushing water behind you and driving your body forward. 

Breathing & the “Gallop”

If you watch race footage, you’ll likely notice that Michael breathes to one side and has a bit of a “gallop,” or up and down motion, in his stroke. While breathing to one side is a great way to establish a rhythm, it can be detrimental if you end up bobbing up and down too much.

Related: The Greatest Swimming Race of All Time

Remember: In swimming, you want to reduce drag and move through the water as smoothly as possible. When you add in a gallop, you’re adding extra, unnecessary resistance. Work on maintaining balance and rhythm without bobbing, especially as you get tired. 

Underwater Dolphin Kick

Michael is known for his incredible underwater dolphin kick. He often took a few more kicks than his competitors off of each wall — which in many cases was the push he needed to win a gold medal.

Related: How Much Money Professional Swimmers Really Make

His streamline is always tight and he emphasizes both the up and down phases of the kick — many swimmers neglect the “up” kick in favor of the more powerful “down” kick.

Related: How to Swim Freestyle with Perfect Technique

To improve your own underwater dolphin kick, the key is to practice. Every turn is an opportunity to work on your dolphin kick! Learn more about improving your underwater dolphin kick >

Drills & Dryland

Michael’s training incorporated a lot of drills, underwater kicking, vertical kicking and sculling to ensure his stroke was balanced and powerful. Check out these freestyle drills >

Related: Analyzing Katie Ledecky’s Freestyle Technique

In the gym, Michael worked on building stroke-specific strength and power, using rings, sleds and suspension cables in his workouts. During his peak, he was hitting the gym at least 3 times per week.

Though Michael Phelps isn’t competing anymore, we can learn a lot from watching old races. He is the best in the world after all! What technique tips have you learned from Olympians? Share in the comments!

For more technique tips, workouts and coaching, download the MySwimPro app! Try our ELITE subscription free for 30 days.



  1. I really enjoy all the helpful information you are providing. Have you ever done analysis of Mark Spitz? Even though Mark was a long time ago, It might be good to see a comparison from 1972 as far as how things have changed since then. I met Mark in 1992 in Guam and he was working with some swimmers on their way to the olympics that year. One of the things that Mark emphasized to a younger group of swimmers was the ability to find the still water while on the pull stroke, he demonstrated this to the group by going across the 25 meter pool on 3 strokes. I was totally amazed. I think you should consider having Mark for some interviews etc.
    Thanks so much for your efforts,keep up the good work.
    Keith Blake.

  2. Can you explain how to teach someone to breathe with their head turning to the side rather than coming up from the water and then turning?

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