Katie Ledecky Reveals the Rituals That Helped Her Snatch 4 Medals at the Tokyo Olympics

The record-breaking three-time Olympic swimmer breaks down her physical and mental strategies for success.

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The day prior to make-or-break races, including those at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Katie Ledecky takes part in a ritual that gets her in the right headspace to compete — and it involves a lot of body hair.

"We have a bit of a shaving party," the 24-year-old swimmer tells Shape with a laugh. "I mean, we shave regularly like everyone else, but for the big competitions, we'll even shave our arms, and some people shave their backs. I don't do that, but I do my legs and my arms."

This thorough de-fuzzing tradition may seem a bit silly to an outsider, but Ledecky explains it signals to the brain that it's go-time. "We all do that to feel good in the water, reduce drag, and feel smooth and silky and just really good in the pool," says Ledecky, who uses a BIC Soleil Sensitive Advanced Razor (Buy It, $6, amazon.com) to get the job done. "When you dive into the pool after doing that, you just know that it's time to race and be at your very best."

It may not be entirely mental, either. A 1989 study of 18 collegiate swimmers found that the athletes with hair removed from their arms, legs, and exposed torso experienced significantly less drag when pushing off underwater than their unshaven counterparts. Plus, a 1992 study of five competitive swimmers discovered that shaving off body hair increased their distance per stroke by 5 percent. (

Of course, Ledecky doesn't bank solely on a smooth-as-a-seal feel to boost her medal count, which currently stands at 10 Olympic and 18 World Championship medals; the swimmer has a holistic toolkit that sets her up for record-breaking success.For example, scoring enough sleep each day, either by heading to bed early or taking mid-day catnaps, is a crucial component of her recovery process— so much so that Ledecky says she wears an Oura Ring (Buy It, $299, goop.com) to make sure she's getting enough shut-eye. At training camps and meets, the swimmer says she also receives treatments from massage therapists and makes use of massage guns and Normatec compression equipment, which is designed to increase circulation and minimize muscle fatigue. And after every practice and before it's time to hit the hay, Ledecky says she takes a shower to wind down. (Wait, should you take a cold or warm shower after a workout?)

"We feel like we're doing every little thing we can to be at our very best, from the shave and the work that we've put in over the past fives years, to the recovery, the sleep, and the nutrition. All of that really adds up for performance," says Ledecky. "And you know, if you take one piece out, you don't know how it might affect your performance, so I try to stick to a pretty good routine with all those things."

A balanced workout regimen is just as important. Each week, Ledecky swims 10 separate times, with Sunday being her only full-fledged rest day. Three days a week, she'll also squeeze in a strength training workout in the gym, powering through squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, pull-ups, and more to build muscle and power in her arms, legs, and core. "It's pretty full-body because that's what swimming is," explains Ledecky. "I think core strength is incredibly important in swimming — it's that connecting piece between your arms and legs. So we work on strength and we work on power because you have to have that power coming out of the starting blocks and on all of the turns, as well as a good jump."

In the hours leading up to a competition, Ledecky gets her body warmed up with some easy swimming, kicking and pulling practice, and heart-rate work — a routine that looks pretty similar regardless of the event she's racing, she explains. The pace work she completesright before an event, though, depends on the distance she'll be swimming, whether it's 200 meters or 1,500, she says. "Those pace times are a little different for each race, so it's just important to hit those in warm up to remind yourself what that pace feels like so that when you hit the water for the race, you know what pace to settle into," says Ledecky.

And by the looks of it, Ledecky's tried-and-true strategiespaid off at the Tokyo Games, where she clinched two silvers and two golds — one of which she bagged in the Olympics' first-ever women's 1,500-meter freestyle race. (FTR, that's roughly a mile-long swim.) "It was really cool to know that we were making history as the first to compete in that event at the Olympics, and Team USA wanted to start on a really great note in that event and it couldn't have gone any better," says Ledecky, who medaled alongside teammate Erica Sullivan, who took home silver.

After the initial high wears off and she spends some well-deserved time with friends and family on the East Coast, Ledecky says she plans on getting back to the grind and designing her roadmap to earn a spot in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. "It's never a guarantee that you'll make the team or anything like that, so I know it'll take a lot of hard work and a lot of build-up to get to that point," she explains. But with three Olympics under her belt and a so-far dependable game plan, Ledecky's future is looking bright — and silky smooth too.

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