5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

No matter where you are at in your own swimming career you can always use the advice from those who have come before us, who have conquered the mountain.

This brief, but powerful reading list for competitive swimmers has books that cover motivation, goals, habit-formation, skill-building, and injury prevention. In other words, it covers a lot of ground.

Let’s do this:

1. “No Limits” Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps’ autobiography, “No Limits: The Will to Succeed” highlights Phelps 1.0; from when he was a toddler splashing around in pools in North Baltimore to his performance at the Beijing Olympics.

Each chapter of “No Limits” highlights a different quality and race from his epic week at the Olympics in 2008 (perseverance, commitment, etc).

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

Phelps covers a lot of ground, from growing up without a father, dealing with bullies as a kid, to competing with some of the best swimmers of all time (Ian Thorpe, Hackett, Pieter Van Den Hoogenband).

There are more than a handful of memorable quotes that will help you get you fired up to crush it at the pool or the gym.

Below is just one of the highlighted passages from the dog-eared pages of my own copy of “No Limits“:

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

Why swimmers should read it: Swimming is lucky to have the greatest Olympian of all time. While very few of us will approach the burning hot success that Phelps reached, his story, and that of being willing to do more than the next person, resonates both in the pool and in life.


2. “Become a Supple Leopard” – Kelly Starrett

If you are a swimmer, there is a 99.99% chance that you have had some serious shoulder discomfort at some point.

When I came back to the sport after a long break, and some scars both in my shoulders but also in my mind from all the injuries, I vowed that I would do whatever it would take to stay -injury-free moving forward.

This book, which I stumbled upon via South African sprinter Roland Schoeman’s Twitter, has been my go-to guide since then for injury prevention.

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

Written in a casual, engaging style Dr. Kelly Starrett breaks down the importance of posture and function in a way that is easy to understand and conceptualize.

From cleaning out your shoulders, to improve your squats, deadlifts, flexibility and basically anything else connected to swim performance, Dr. Starrett breaks it down for you in easily digestible, actionable steps.

The print book is pricey (I bought mine at a local bookstore for something like $50) but ultimately worth it when it comes to quickly bookmarking various pages and being able to flip back and forth quickly.

Why swimmers should read it: High-performance athletes should know their bodies and be proactive in staying healthy and injury-free. This book is your FAQ and repair guide all in one.


3. “Age is Just a Number” – Dara Torres

Torres did something that at the time seemed inconceivable, and still does, and that is qualify for her fifth Olympic team at the age of 41, becoming both the oldest US swimmer in history, and the first to qualify for 5 Games.

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

For many of us we have goals that others (or even ourselves) think impossible, or too challenging.

Reading how Torres was able to have such longevity, and at such a high level, in a sport that focuses exclusively on youth lends some powerful perspective on what actually is possible in our lives.

Why swimmers should read it: You’ll experience doubters and lots of self-doubt in your life—Dara’s story will help you put things into perspective and remind you that anything is possible.


4. “The Little Book of Talent” – Daniel Coyle

While this book isn’t specifically about swimmers and the sport it is about something we all constantly fret about— “How do I get better in the pool?”

A lot of the time books like this will be 350-page snoozers that cite lots of theory but don’t provide much in the way of instruction or actionable steps to move forward with.

This book gives you 52 things you can start doing today to max out your abilities in the water.

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

Here are two of my favorite tips:

  • Spend a few minutes each day ingraining the skill you want (#2). Ever heard of the expression, “monkey see, monkey do”? You may have heard it in a negative context (as in, your friend does something dumb, so you do it too). But it applies in a positive context as well—by spending time daily watching the swimmers you want to emulate you begin to internalize their movements. Slowly but surely these movements begin to replicate themselves in your own training. Watch Nathan Adrian’s start a dozen times a day and you will internalize the movement. Or Katie Ledecky’s powerful galloping freestyle.
  • Break every move into chunks (#15). How often have you set yourself a big goal in the pool only to end up feeling overwhelmed by all of the work that is now before you? The very awesomeness of the goal can leave us discouraged and feeling as though we have no idea where to start. This particular strategy advocates something so simple, and yet so effective: master your swimming through divide and conquer.

The big thing about this book is that you can skim through it at a reasonably fast clip, grab a handful of strategies and get to work immediately.

Why swimmers should read it: Skill-acquisition shouldn’t be a mystery. It’s not something that just happens to you. When you understand that there is a fundamental set of rules behind how skill and talent is developed in the pool you are better prepared to take action. This book helps show you how in an easy to read format.


5. “Dominate the Pool” – Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Hey, that’s me!

It would be kinda rude not to include my own mental training skills guide in this little list, so here goes.

It’s also free when you purchase a copy of YourSwimBook, a log book that has been created specifically for competitive swimmers who are serious about wanting to kick a whole ton of butt-butt in the pool.

5 Essential Books for Competitive Swimmers

There are 76-pages of highlights, but here are a couple of my favorite:

  • A goal setting strategy that is proven to work. I’ve yet to meet a swimmer that doesn’t have a goal in the water. The difference is all in the approach, and fortunately research into goal setting has shown us a method that works twice as well as the way that most swimmers take on their goals.
  • Champions are made in practice. Our training habits and how consistent we are in practice is what ultimately dictates how we are going to perform at the big meet. It’s not enough to say that we are going to work hard each day at practice—we need to show up with a plan, with good habits, and with intention. From learning how to master the process to building a strategy that is unique to you “Dominate the Pool” helps you plot a path from the swimmer you are to the swimmer you wanna be.

Why swimmers should read it: Things like habit formation, self-talk and our goals shouldn’t be left to their own devices. When we take the wheel with these aspects of our training some fairly awesome things begin to happen—we experience the rush of progress and improvement, the control that comes with building the swimmer we want to become, and learn to understand how our mindset is the deciding factor in how successful we decide to be.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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