It's a casual look, one common for 20-something college males, but on occasion, like yesterday at the Ohio State Grand Prix, it's the perfect reflection of his laid-back side.
Not everything in Phelps' life can be performed with maximum intensity all the time, and it's a difficult concept for some people to understand. They want to see him break a world record with every swim, and want him to win every race he enters, which would be neither realistic nor productive in the long run.
Phelps is having the kind of meet this week in which results, in the end, aren't super important. He swam three finals in 45 minutes last night, finishing fourth in the 100-meter breaststroke, second in the 200 freestyle, then winning the 100 butterfly.
He summed up his results with a bemused shrug.
"It's pretty much like a practice, just working out hard," Phelps said.
He's been training like a beast in recent weeks, swimming 15,000 meters each day, and his body is, admittedly, a little weary.
"I wanted at least one win today," Phelps said, fidgeting with his Tigers cap. "I left just about everything I had in the pool for that race. Going [51.90] isn't a bad time considering I pretty much took a bite out of the wall."
Phelps' Club Wolverine teammate, Peter Vanderkaay, nipped him at the wall in the 200 freestyle (1:46.87), an event in which Phelps holds the world record. But Vanderkaay, who has been fighting a flu-like illness in his training for the last month, didn't assign any significance to the result.
"In the long run, this doesn't mean anything," Vanderkaay said.
All around, it was that kind of meet - competitive races, but with a focus mostly on training. Towson's Katie Hoff won the 100 butterfly, an event she rarely swims, and the 800 freestyle. Her time in the 800 (8:19.70) was impressive because she was faster on the back half than on the first, a term swimmers call negative splits.
"I'm very pleased with today," Hoff said. "I wanted to go faster than I did in Missouri, so I'm a little disappointed, but I felt good during the whole race.
"The 100 fly was kind of a surprise because I've had problems with that event. It's really helped my 400 [individual medley], though, to do it."
Hoff may not have known it, but there was another piece of news to feel good about. The U.S. Olympic Committee announced yesterday that it has named Paul Yetter, Hoff's coach at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the Developmental Coach of the Year.
Since joining the staff at NBAC, Yetter has coached eight different swimmers to 60 No. 1 national age group rankings. Four of those athletes and five relay teams have set 47 national age group records.
Hoff, Yetter's crowning achievement, is one of only two swimmers (Phelps being the other) who has posted a qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Trials in every single event (13).