Why Do Swimmers Slap Themselves?

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When watching a swim meet, you may notice that some swimmers slap themselves before their race.

At times, it can look quite odd and painful. The area they slap turns red.

Is this body slapping due to superstition? Or simply for show? We all know most swimmers are interesting characters, but why are they slapping themselves?

Swimmers have several reasons for slapping themselves. In this article, we will look at the various reasons and benefits including:

cesar cielo slap
Sprinter Cesar Cielo helped make the chest slap famous.

Muscle Warm Up

Most athletes have their own personalized warm ups. These routines get muscles warmed up to enhance performance and avoid injury.

The act of slapping increases blood flow in certain muscle areas. Swimmers may use a closed fist or an open hand when slapping.

For swimmers, the pectorals, shoulders, biceps, and triceps are important for their performance, so those muscles will often be the first slapped. Those are also the muscles that are most easily slapped.

After slapping across their chest, shoulders, and then up and down their arms, legs are next. Swimmers slap their thighs and hamstrings to increase the blood flow to their lower extremities.

Getting the maximum blood flow to all areas helps activate muscle groups to get them sufficiently warmed up and ready to perform. 

Mental Preparation

The act of slapping absolutely has a mental aspect to it too. It works because swimmers believe that it works.

Swimmers may find themselves standing behind their blocks for quite a while. To stave away pressure and any thoughts of doubts, slapping helps keep them mentally active and ready for their race.

Slapping keep swimmers calm knowing the act is part of their muscle warming up and the process is doing them good. It is part of a complete routine.

Slapping may also be so embedded into a swimmer’s routine that they believe it has to be done to swim at their best.


There is a third reason swimmers slap themselves is to psych out their competition.

Similarly to how soccer goalkeepers wave their arms and look to fill a goal before a penalty is taken against them, the act of swimmers slapping their bodies intimidates competitors. It gives them a psychological edge before the race even begins. 

Imagine getting ready for your race next to someone who is physically abusing themselves. How would you feel about racing that person? If you are even thinking about someone else, that means you are not thinking about your own race.

Loud slapping is used as a display of threatening behavior. Certain swimmers are known for their intimidation tactics. While it is impossible to measure if slapping success rates on intimidation, it sure does seem to work…

Just be sure to slap yourself and not your competition!

Why Do Swimmers Splash Water On Themselves Before Starting A Race?

A swimmer is about to get themselves surrounded by water when they dive into the pool, yet they either grab a water bottle and pour the contents on themselves or squat down to throw water all over their face and bodies. 

It does seem a little strange, just like divers who shower straight after each dive (side note: they do this to stay warm).

Splashing is typically done as part of a swimmer’s pre-race routine. It jolts their internal system which helps get them mentally prepared. 

Additionally, the pool water temperature is cold at swim meets. FINA has a strict regulation that pool temperatures during competitions must be 79°F. Getting a little wet can help lower the shock of diving into the water.

Why Do Swimmers Have Dark Circles On Their Bodies?

The dark circles on a swimmer’s back come from the process known as cupping therapy.

Cupping has roots in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. The practice has benefits to assist in recovery. It does this by increasing blood circulation and helping muscles relax.

The darker the circle left by the cup, the poorer the blood circulation was in that area.

Phelps Cupping
Michael Phelps with marks from cupping.


Warm up, mental preparation, and initiation are all reasons swimmers slap themselves.

Warm up is a crucial preparation for any swimmer to get their muscles ready and blood flowing. By slapping their muscles, it can optimize performance and help to prevent injuries. 

Slapping can help to prepare mentally too. If it is part of a pre-race routine, it will stave off any nerves.

In effort to get any edge possible, swimmers use intimidation tactics. Slapping muscles makes a considerable amount of noise to psych out the competition. Not to mention you will look borderline crazy when doing it (crazy fast… we hope).

Overall, swimmers use slapping for several reasons. Try it at your next swim meet!

*Get the most out of your next swim with our Athlete Approved Guide to Lap Swimming Equipment! Equip yourself for success with our ultimate swim gear guide.*

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