Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More (#494)

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Trying to do something that no one’s ever done before, you really have to approach it in every single different way possible than ever has been done before. There is no blueprint for it.”
— Michael Phelps

“Just be you and feel comfortable in that.”
— Grant Hackett

Michael Phelps (@michaelphelps) is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time. He captured 28 medals, including a record-setting 23 gold medals, and set 39 world records over the course of his career. Michael utilized his performance bonus for winning eight gold medals in 2008 to establish the Michael Phelps Foundation, which promotes water safety, healthy living (physical and mental), and the pursuit of dreams. The foundation’s signature program—IM—is a learn-to-swim, healthy living, and goal-setting curriculum based on the principles and tools Michael utilized in his swimming career and is available through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Special Olympics International. His advocacy for water safety and mental health has earned him the recognition of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (Champion of Youth), American Image Awards (Humanitarian Award), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Special Recognition Award), the Ruderman Family Foundation (Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion), and PR Week (Health Influencer 50 and 2020 Communicator of the Year), among others.

Michael served as an executive producer and featured talent in the HBO documentary The Weight of Gold, which explores the mental health challenges Olympic athletes often face. In addition, he has published two autobiographies, No Limits: The Will to Succeed and Beneath the Surface, which were New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, and one children’s book, How to Train with a T-Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals.

Grant Hackett (@grant__hackett) represented and captained Australia in swimming at the Olympic Games. He collected a total of 58 medals over the course of his swimming career—with 26 gold at Olympic, Commonwealth, and World Championships levels—along with 16 world records. He remained unbeaten for 11 years in his pet event, the 1500m freestyle. Grant also received prestigious honors such as the Order of Australia, Centenary Medal, and Australian Sports Medal. Grant is a member of the Sports Australia Hall of Fame and International Swimming Hall of Fame.

His qualifications include an executive master of business administration with first-class honors, a diploma of business law, and a diploma of financial services. Grant is the CEO of Generation Life, an Australia-based investment firm managing more than $1.3 billion.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#494: Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with the man who taught me how to swim in my 30s? Listen to my conversation with Total Immersion Swimming’s Terry Laughlin, in which we discussed how his technique taught me to swim effortlessly in 10 days when every other method had failed, embracing the counterintuitive, drills and exercises for reluctant beginners, and the secret to mastering new skills even in later adulthood.

#276: Terry Laughlin, The Master Who Changed My Life


  • Connect with Michael Phelps:

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  • Connect with Grant Hackett:



  • Grant starts us off by recounting why his 1,500-meter freestyle race at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens was the most painful of his career — even though he walked away with a gold medal for his trouble. [07:56]
  • When it comes to suffering for a race, Michael concurs that he’s been luckier than Grant (though this might be chalked up to preparation). But they both have an obsession with studying — and training to beat — the numbers. Is this common in their corner of athleticism? [14:47]
  • How did Michael and Grant come to meet and eventually train together? What did each see in the other as admirable and innovative? [18:59]
  • It’s common for Grant and Michael to train 30 to 40 hours per week, and Michael even trained more than 540 days straight to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. How do they keep from burning out? [26:07]
  • What does Michael do to treat his body like a Ferrari and keep it performing at its best, and how does Grant ensure he’s getting optimal sleep? [32:29]
  • Why might a competitive swimmer want to avoid hiking regularly? [39:04]
  • Far from being thwarted by critical remarks, Michael uses them as fuel to excel even harder. What kind of “fuel” did Ian Thorpe provide for Michael at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing? Did relying on this kind of fuel generate anger, or did it channel it from somewhere it already existed? What is Michael’s relationship with anger now that he’s no longer competing, and how does he manage it — especially during the pandemic? [40:22]
  • Michael opens up about the first time he experienced depression and how he came to understand and accept that he needed help. What made this experience particularly scary, and what has he learned about coping with episodes of depression since then? [47:44]
  • Books that have helped Michael get in touch with his spiritual side, and how his kids remind him to treasure the simple things in life. [55:50]
  • What have the dark times looked like for Grant, and what has he taken away from them? [1:00:54]
  • Rules and strategies that have helped Grant nurture his mental health. [1:06:13]
  • Does Grant see a therapist regularly? How does he know when it’s time to check in, and what does the format look like? [1:10:06]
  • Does Michael check in with a therapist regularly? How does writing down his feelings help him process what he’s going through? [1:17:15]
  • Michael talks about his feelings surrounding involvement in <em>The Weight of Gold</em>, an HBO sports documentary exploring the mental health challenges that Olympic athletes often face — and why he’s grateful it came out during the COVID pandemic. [1:22:07]
  • Books and resources Grant has found conducive toward maintaining mental health (and Michael chimes in with a few he’s thought of since I asked him). [1:28:22]
  • What would Michael and Grant’s billboards say? [1:42:10]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:46:55]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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6 Replies to “Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett — Two Legends on Competing, Overcoming Adversity, Must-Read Books, and Much More (#494)”

  1. Great interview. And thanks for linking to one of my articles in the resources (the YourSwimLog article detailing Grant and Phelps training together back in 2003).

    I had the opportunity to train with Hackett back in 1999 as he was coming up on the international stage. He spent a week with us in Vancouver. I was no slouch in the water, but training against him (he was putting up 200 freestyle reps in training that would have won gold at our Nationals) was…well… dispiriting.

    It was also great to hear a less polished version of Michael Phelps. It’s been fascinating to see how vulnerable he has allowed himself to be in recent years. Great takeaways for young athletes, coaches, and parents.

  2. Loved how interviewing two people turned out – felt more like being a fly on the wall during a great conversation with vs. a traditional interview (which I like!) Seem to really hit your stride these days – must be some kind of mastery that happens at the 500th podcast!

  3. Amazing interview, on my second listen + reading through the episode links.
    I’m always amazed by the following:
    Feeling like i’m in the same room as the conversation is taking place, like a fireside chat.
    The way you let the ‘leash’ out on the conversation and always skillfully bring in back around (whilst ready with the next follow up question), most answers leave me flumaxed but you always have a follow up question that I just never see coming).
    Lastly, I love that you never know what is coming up, the ‘interviews/conversations always surprise, whoever it is i’m always left feeling wow that wasn’t expecting that – this last episode delivered that in spades.
    Been a fan of the show since the beginning (and also you books and blogs before that), really appreaciate all the work that goes in to making this happen, please keep it going.

    Can’t wait to see what happens for the 500th episode 🙂

  4. Great interview. And thanks for linking to one of my articles in the resources (the YourSwimLog article detailing Grant and Phelps training together back in 2003

  5. I finally got around to listening to these legends of the pool while I was out running snow covered trails.

    Thank you for this one, Tim. So much to glean from this episode and so much to share regarding mental health.