Phelps vs. Hackett: Two All-Time Greats Go At It In Practice

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

Most swimmers who grew up in Canada remember the lucky day that the SwimNews magazine showed up to their doorstep.

This was in the days before the wi-fi, the interweb, and the Insta-Face-Googa-Twit-Chat, and the only way us young swimmers got our news, rankings and gossip was courtesy of Nick Thierry and his magazine.

Every two months swimmers across the country would sit with baited breath waiting for it to show up.

This is probably why so many years after it ceased publication that I cannot part ways with my tattered, sometimes cover-less collection. Names of faster swimmers were underlined and targeted, and my own name was highlighted whenever it popped up (top ranked NAG’er both as a 12 and 14 year old–woopwoop!).

Flipping through some of them recently I stumbled upon through the September/October 2003 issue (which is available online here as well).

Inside the mag was a feature put together by coach Justin Finney, who in May of 2003 was invited to give a talk at the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association meeting held in the Gold Coast.

Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, was also invited to speak, and brought his young charge along.

As a result, two titans of the sport, Grant Hackett and Michael Phelps, were able to spend 5 days going head to head at the Miami Swim Club (where Hackett was training under coach Dennis Cotterell).

At the time both were absolutely killing it internationally.

Hackett had taken over the reigns of distance king from Kieren Perkins at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Phelps was gearing up for his first attempt at winning 8 gold medals at the Athens Games the following year.

For 5 days the two swimmers, who both held the world record in the 200m freestyle at different points, went head-to-head in a freestyle-centric battle royale.

Here are three of the swimming workouts, as well as the results that the respective swimmers each put down in the process:

Round #1 – Friday, May 2

[6000m total, long course meters, main focus on walls and breakouts]

Warm Up:

1500m as–

  • 500 Swim
  • 400 Pull
  • 300 Kick
  • 200 Drill
  • 100 Swim (fast off the walls)


6 x 200 freestyle pull with paddles

  • 2 @ 2:30
  • 2 @ 2:25
  • 2 @ 2:20

Main Set

200 easy

8×50 @ 1:10

  • 2 – Under water sprints
  • 2 – 20 m Explosions

200 easy

8×50 @ 1:10

  • All – 20 m Explosions

200 easy

8×50 @ 1:10

  • 2 – Power Drill/Head up Fly
  • 2 – 20 m Explosions

200 easy w/fins

2 x (50 underwater kick with swim fins)

100 swim easy

3×50 Power drill w/sponge belt – 20 m Explosions

150 easy

50 all-out freestyle with fins

  • Phelps = 21.1
  • Hackett = 21.2

300 easy swim

Round #2 – Saturday May 3 (AM)

[6000m total, long course meters]


  • 800 swim choice with every 4th 50 kick
  • 600 pull Free/Free/Free/Back/Free/Breast by 50
  • 400 IM – 50 Drill/50 stroke count
  • 4×50 Explosions

Main Set:

5 rounds of–

  • 6×50 m Free pace work @:50 (push)
  • 3x100m easy choice @ 1:30
  • :30 seconds rest after 100’s

Hackett & Phelps averaged 25.5’s throughout.

Warm Down:

  • 3 x 100m choice @ 1:30
  • 300m Pull w. swim paddles
  • 400m choice w. fins

Round #3: Monday, May 5

[6,000m, long course meters]

Warm Up:

800 Swim as — 4 times through [150m free swim, 50m drill]


  • 4 x 150 as kick/drill/stroke count by 50
  • 4 x 50 [20m explosions]

Main Set:

  • A. 800 Pull + 4 x 200 Descend 1-4 @ 2:45
  • B. 600 Swim tempo + 4 x 150 Descend 1-4 @ 2:00
  • C. 400 Swim tempo + 4 x 100 Descend 1-4 @ 1:30
  • D. 200 Swim tempo + 4 x 50 Descend 1-4 @ 0:50


A. 800 Pull

  • Hackett: 8:48
  • Phelps: 8:55

4 x 200 Descend 1-4 @ 2:45

  • Hackett: 2:16.2/2:12.0/2:06.3/1:56.6
  • Phelps: 2:16.2/2:12.0/2:06.5/1:56.8

B. 600 Swim Tempo

  • Hackett: 6:41.0
  • Phelps: 6:59.6

4 x 150 Descend 1-4 @ 2:00

  • Hackett: 1:43.6/1:38.5/1:36.5/1:24.3
  • Phelps: 1:43.6/1:38.5/1:36.4/1:26.3

C. 400 Swim Tempo

  • Hackett: 4:28.1
  • Phelps: 4:41.9

4×100 Descend 1-4 @ 1:30

  • Hackett: 1:08.0/1:04.8/1:01.2/55.2
  • Phelps: 1:08.0/1:04.4/1:01.9/55.9

D. 200 Swim Tempo

  • Hackett: 2:10.8
  • Phelps: 2:15.4

4×50 Descend 1-4 @ 0:50 (both swimmers did butterfly for the 50’s)

  • Hackett: 31.5/30.2/28.4/26.9
  • Phelps: 31.5/30.2/28.4/25.7


400m swim choice

In Summary

It’s pretty insane to see how fast these type of caliber athletes can go in practice.

When asked about similarities between the two athletes at the time, Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman had this to say…

They both enjoy training, it’s not an ordeal for them. They are both really aware of what’s going on in practice in relation to their times, speed, where everyone is, and, most importantly, where they are in training compared to their goals.

While most of us will never swim close to as fast as these superstars of the sport, the lessons are still there: train with focus, take pride in the process, and enjoy yo’self.

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DYD Coach
5 years ago

Pretty beastly stuff. Interesting that Hackett dominated the longer tempo swims, while Phelps descended the first 3 swims only to be a touch slower on #4. Gamesmanship by both?
Thanks for posting the workouts.

Lp Man
5 years ago

When I first read this article, I thought it was going to talk about a drunken and enraged Hackett attacking Phelps. Good thing I read beyond that

Reply to  Lp Man
5 years ago

Now THAT would be quite the story.

Lp Man
Reply to  Bfunk
5 years ago

Or how about this for a story “Hackett works out with Phelps, then gets drunk and runs down the street naked and punches kangaroos in the face…then gives an insincere public apology”?

Joel Lin
5 years ago

Pretty good. Pretaay pretaaaay good.

5 years ago

Far from the truth. Was apart of the training squad. Inaccurate information.

Reply to  Swimmer
5 years ago

What was inaccurate?

Reply to  Bfunk
5 years ago

I was there bud. In the pool with both of them doing the sets. Why would Grant do fly beside Michael…….. Some of those sets were correct. Others not.

5 years ago

I’m actually more interested in the time intervals than the results. Not sure if those were Hackett or Phelps’ normal intervals but I would expect more 1:15 base LCM than 1:20 or slower for interval training.

5 years ago

Whata hell is Hack doing helping Phelps..Jesus…LOL.
Old Grant boy still got some speed. Hackett known as a great trainer

Reply to  Stephen
5 years ago

This was done 13 years ago….

5 years ago

This is prob the best article ive ever seen on this site…Thanks Swimswam
Judging by the comments over the past 3 months on here….Mr Phelps has to deal with a truckload of pressure at these upcoming trials as well as his age. Grant couldn’t go with the youngsters at the Oz trials ….so it’ll be very interesting viewing come tomorrow and beyond. I suspect Mr Phelps will have something amazing for us. Even if it’s not in all his swims.

Reply to  Stephen
5 years ago

This practice was done in 2003. No time recently

Reply to  Stephen
5 years ago

Learn to read.

5 years ago

I remember reading about this in Phelps’s book. He said that the entire Australian media packed the stands at the pool they were training at just to watch the workouts.

Reply to  Chase
5 years ago

Also wrong. There was no media there watching. It’s just another day of training for people.

Reply to  Swimmer
5 years ago

MP mentions in his book that the stands were packed with people.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

They weren’t. The only people there were parents of the swimmers. Like every other night of training.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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