The Real Reason Olympic Swimmers Slap Themselves Before A Race

Olympic viewers have noticed many puzzling athlete behaviors as the Tokyo games continue this summer. Like divers showering after every dive — CBS 8 notes this ritual can relax muscles and keep cramps at bay in between rounds, in case you were wondering.

Another odd practice you may have noticed happens among swimmers, who slap themselves before a race. There is a method behind this madness, according to Matt Barbini, USA Swimming's director of performance, who told Today, "Some athletes and coaches believe that increases blood flow to the muscles that you slap. So you'll see people go up and down their arms and across their chest."

This explains why during a quick, pre-race warm up, swimmers are slapping their bodies. Indeed, NPR confirms the practice assists in getting a swimmer's blood flowing before a race. But there is another important reason swimmers slap themselves before diving in the pool in attempt to finish at the top of their heat, and it has nothing to do with physical gain.

Swimmers may slap themselves to keep calm under pressure

As Barbini also told Today about self-slapping, "What I believe to be the more predominant reasons are more psychological and routine based. So a lot of times, especially at major meets where they do an introduction, athletes have to stand behind the blocks for quite a while after they're out on the deck before the race actually starts and having a procedure and a routine that you go through during that time is really helpful mentally so you're not just standing there letting the nerves get to you, having a step-by-step process of how you get ready for your race."

Swimming World Magazine is on board with this theory, noting slapping may help get a swimmer going for a race — lending credence to the argument that the slapping offers more of a psychological benefit to athletes.

No matter the reason swimmers slap themselves, Twitter finds the practice odd, with several people tweeting comments like this one: "Whenever I see the Olympic swimmers slapping themselves all I can think of is Spongebob and Patrick slapping themselves."

But someone else had a new theory about why swimmers may engage in self-slapping, tweeting, "One of the olympics swimmers is apparently famous for intentionally slapping her thighs really loud before races to intimidate the other athletes and I can't stop thinking about how dolphins clap their teeth together as a threat display."