Michael Phelps' Greek physique

In the Body Issue, the swimmer opens up about his decision to get back in the water

Originally Published: June 30, 2014
By Morty Ain | ESPN The Magazine

This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2014. Subscribe today!

Yeah, whatever, a Speedo doesn't really hide that much anyway.

It was a good little break. I'm not returning for any reason other than I enjoy being back in the water. I think the biggest thing that I'm enjoying so much is that it's on my own terms.

I grew up and matured. I never had a lot of time for myself when I was competing. So for me, just having these months doing whatever I wanted to do -- there was a lot of time for me to think. Nobody could tell me I should be doing this or that. If I wanted to go work out, I'd go work out. If I wanted to sleep until 2, I could sleep until 2. It was probably good and probably bad at times.

I was absolutely terrible at golf.

I pushed a lot of people away. If I didn't want to talk to someone, I wouldn't talk to them. I was shutting people out of my life and just sort of taking responsibility for my own actions. I think that was something that helped me not only then, but also will help me in the long run and will help me become a better person.

Oh, I was fat. I got fat and out of shape. It was hard because I had always eaten whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I would always be like, "All right, I'll go work out," and I would never ever go. Sure enough, 25 pounds later, I was still saying the same thing. That was just part of my learning process.

It was easy once I started working out again. I got out of the shower one day and I'm like: "Wow. What am I doing?" It was all over after that. I lost 25 pounds in probably six weeks -- just working out two hours a day, eating healthy -- it shed right off.

I was born this way for a reason. My arms are double-jointed. I have stubby legs -- I'm 6-4 and have a 30-inch inseam. It's worked in the past, and hopefully it will work again.

I don't recover nearly as fast as I used to. It's one of the reasons I have to change what I put into my body. It's not the 18-year-old body it was before. That's one of the things I was able to find out when I was sitting on my butt doing absolutely nothing for a year and a half.

If I have the slightest bit of pain, I make sure it gets taken care of right away. The biggest thing I really have to be conscious of now is not overdoing it and hurting myself. I can't push my body to that max where I'm going to regret the pain in the future.

It was brutal. I lived in an altitude tent for probably the last two years of my career before 2012. It was like a gigantic tube contraption that would go over my bed. I was sleeping at, the most would be about 9,000 feet. It was not fun.

Training at altitude, you get twice the work done in half the time. It's not the most enjoyable thing to go through, but I know it's going to help me get to where I need to be faster. So for three weeks here [in Colorado], we're getting six weeks of work done. As much as I don't like coming up here, I know it's going to help me in the long run to get back to where I want to.

I was born this way for a reason. My arms are double-jointed.

I always wanted to be 6-6. That just always seemed like a cool height to be, for some reason.

Pullups are one of my favorites. The most pullups I've ever done is probably 32. And it's harder because my arms are so long, so I'm pulling so much more up.

I don't think there's really anything that you can't do. The first time you doubt yourself, you might as well just give up there because you're already saying you're done, you're finished.

Once you do the same exercise for so long, it just gets kind of annoying and boring. The other day we started kicking [in the water] with mesh bags -- tiny mesh bags on our feet that would come from right at my ankle and it would drag three to four inches off the bottom of my foot. It's just like a different way to challenge our legs; it's a ton more resistance.

Oh god, no. There's no shot [I could run a marathon]. My knees would absolutely give out. We do run, but very, very minimal just because I have had so many problems anytime we did start running. It's just not even worth it.

I couldn't care less what anybody else is doing. I'm the kind of person that doesn't care what it is or who I'm racing. I've always done it for me. It's always what I want to do and how fast I want to swim. There have always been goals that I've wanted to achieve and times that I've wanted to hit. That's just always how it's been.

Michael PhelpsCarlos Serrao

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