American swimmer Michael Andrew is a swimming phenom who broke onto the scene at a very young age, turning pro at just 14 years old. He has developed into an incredible athlete, throwing down some of the fastest times in the world and even winning Olympic gold!
Michael has taken a bit of a non-traditional approach to his swimming career. From his insane age group performances to his unique training strategy to his diet, Michael has kept the swimming community on its toes for years.
Let’s take a look at how Michael Andrew became such an incredible swimmer!
The Early Years
Michael was born in South Dakota to South African parents. He played soccer and basketball growing up, but started swimming at age 7, and says the pool is where his heart is. So much so, that his family ended up renovating an old building and starting a swim club!
When Michael was a teenager, he moved to Kansas with his family, and they built a 25-meter, 2-lane lap pool in the backyard! At this point Michael quit club swimming, opting to have his dad coach him solo instead.
In 2019, Michael and his family left Kansas — and that epic backyard pool — to move to San Diego, California. And he hasn’t looked back!
Age Group Swimming
As an age group swimmer, Michael was incredible to watch. He broke more than 100 national age group records and won numerous medals at Junior World Championships from 2015 to 2017.
Michael credits homeschooling for allowing him to train the way he needed to swim those world-topping times. His schedule was flexible, so he could sleep in, go to school in his pajamas, and train at pretty much any time. Plus, with all the travel he did for swim meets, he didn’t get behind on homework like he did with regular school.
While many age group swimmers dream of swimming in college, Michael had different plans.
In 2013, at just 14 years old, Michael signed his first endorsement deal and turned pro. He was one of the youngest swimmers ever to go pro. Many people in the swimming community thought his decision was crazy! But it felt right.
Taking that first sponsorship deal meant Michael couldn’t compete at the high school or NCAA level due to eligibility rules. At the time, athletes weren’t allowed to make money from sponsorships for the duration of their high school or college swimming careers.
Plus, Michael thought that spending 4 years swimming short course yards in college wasn’t as helpful as focusing on long course and short course meters — which are used in international competition.
Choosing to take a different path to pro swimming wasn’t the first time Michael went against the grain. He trains differently, too, using Ultra-Short Race Pace Training, or USRPT.
The premise of USRPT is to get rid of so-called “junk yardage” to focus on swimming only at race pace. This type of training optimizes speed and power, and helps the body get used to swimming at top speeds, so race day is that much easier.
In 2009, Michael and his dad met Dr. Brent Rushall, the creator of USRPT. They were enthralled by the training method and decided to try it for themselves. And they haven’t looked back!
Related: What is USRPT?
Instead of swimming 10 to 12,000 meters a day, Michael swims a focused 2,500 or 3,000, working on hitting his goal times on every set.
In addition to his pool training, Michael hits the gym 2 to 3 times a week to lift weights. But strength training hasn’t always been a huge focus in his routine. Swimming has always been the star.
Because the way he trains is so unique, it has pretty much ruled out Michael ever swimming with a group. He’s stuck solo! And if you’ve ever trained by yourself, you know how tough it can be. But Michael doesn’t mind.
When he’s not swimming, you might find Michael surfing or cycling. And I gotta say, there’s nothing better than catching a few waves as your cross training!
All that swimming and surfing makes Michael very hungry! But he doesn’t fuel up like most elite swimmers. He sticks to the Keto diet, which is famous for extremely low carb intake.
Instead of downing pounds of pasta like Michael Phelps did back in the day, Michael focuses on keeping his fat intake high, so his body pulls energy from fat rather than carbs.
Some studies show eating Keto can help improve recovery time and brain function. And it seems to work great for Michael, keeping him full and fueled for every workout.
From diet to training and everything in between, Michael has been sharing his life on YouTube since 2014. He gives us an inside look at the life of an elite athlete. He films his workouts, sharing his splits for each set and how he felt. He answers fan questions and shares advice to help fellow swimmers improve. Sometimes he’ll feature other pro swimmers, too!
Michael’s YouTube presence quickly made him a fan favorite — we felt like we knew him, like he was just another kid on our swim team. So he had lots of supporters in the stands at meets around the world!
Going for Gold
Now back to the swimming. In 2016, Michael competed in US Olympic Trials, and just barely missed qualifying for the Olympic team. He touched 4th in the 100-meter breaststroke, missing out on an Olympic berth by just .64 seconds, in a 59.62.
While the outcome of Trials was disappointing, it was back to the drawing board for Michael.
Over the next few years, Michael established himself as a mainstay in international competition. At 2016 Short Course Worlds, Michael won gold in the 100-meter IM. And at 2017 Junior Worlds, he broke the Junior World Records in the 50 free, 50 fly and 50 backstroke. He snagged gold in the 50 free at 2018 Pan Pacs, and helped the US win a few relay medals at 2018 and 2019 World Championships.
He kept focused on his training, with his sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
When the Olympics were postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael used the extra time to refine his strategy and get faster. And that work paid off.
At US Olympic Trials in 2021, Michael showed up in a big way. He made the Olympic team in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke, 200 IM and 50 freestyle. He’s the first American swimmer to qualify for an individual breaststroke event plus another event that isn’t the individual medley.
His speed was on full display, but one thing that caught everyone’s eye was his 200 IM. In the final, Michael was way ahead of world record pace for the first 150, but when it came time for the freestyle leg, he struggled to keep the momentum going, barely maintaining his lead. Even Michael Phelps commented on it while he was calling races with Rowdy Gaines!
Michael knows this is one of his weaknesses…he’s known for having the fastest 200 IM in the world, but the slowest freestyle split. But hey, he still made the team, and was ready to give it his all in Tokyo.
He finished just off the podium in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke. And, as was expected, his last 50 in the 200 IM was his downfall. Despite his best efforts, Michael finished 5th overall.
He still came home with a gold medal, though. Michael swam the breaststroke leg in the men’s 4×100 medley relay, helping the US break the world record, and maintaining America’s winning streak in the event.
All in all, it was a pretty successful first Olympics! But Michael was ready to get back to the drawing board to start training for the next Games.
Mental Training & Goal Setting
This focus and dedication to his goals is what sets Michael apart from the rest.
Michael writes down his goal times and puts them somewhere he can see them every day. He is all about setting attainable goals and creating a strategy to achieve them. Once he has those goals in mind, he visualizes achieving them and works hard in practice every day.
Michael has said that the most valuable part of training is when the going gets tough. Those last few reps in a set, when you’re struggling and you feel your muscles burning. That’s when you need to push through and keep going. That’s where you make gains and get better.
He also leans on his family and other swimming mentors for advice and guidance. When he’s struggling with motivation, Michael says he takes time to reflect on why he started swimming in the first place. Why he loves this sport so much.
He reminds himself that swimming doesn’t define him. His times, or the number of medals he has aren’t the most important thing about him. Wise words that all of us can take to heart!
Michael Andrew may take an unusual approach to his training, but he knows what works best for him and stays focused. And he’s certainly killing it in the pool! He understands that being an elite swimmer is a long, grueling journey, but if you work hard and stay humble, you’ll go far.
What do you think about Michael’s swimming career? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let us know which pro swimmer we should feature next!