Michelle Kwan’s Exercise Routine Is Still Pretty Intense

Michelle Kwan, in addition to being a world champion figure skater and two-time Olympic medalist, was the subject of a school paper I wrote about a “woman I admired.” I was in the fourth grade at the time, and Michelle was on the cusp of winning a bronze medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. While doing research for the paper, I learned that Michelle is the third child of two immigrants from Hong Kong. Her mother, Estella Kwan, woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day to get Michelle to the rink by 5 a.m. so she could practice before school. This grueling morning routine, shared by Michelle and her mother, was instrumental in shaping a girl who would eventually become the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.

Michelle recently partnered with Proctor & Gamble for the latest installment of its “Thank You, Mom” campaign ahead of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a twist of poetic serendipity, I got to catch up with Michelle 15 years after I first wrote about her to discuss what her morning routine looks like now, as well as the impact her mother has had on her life and career. Read on to hear Michelle describe all of the above in her own words; scroll to the bottom to watch the short film it inspired.

I exercise in the morning at least five or six days a week, sometimes seven. It’s instilled in me and I love it. It makes me feel energized. I can’t wait until the evening to exercise or I get too tired, plus I don’t like having it hang over me throughout day. I usually rotate between pilates on the reformer or hot yoga or core power. When I’m traveling, I do my own routine — a combination of yoga, skating moves I can do on the floor, plyometrics, planks and stretching.

Yoga helps clear my mind. It helps me maintain a sense of mental ease throughout the day, so when I’m stuck in traffic, or I get in an argument, or something chaotic happens at work, I’m able to take a step back to pause and reflect before I react. That’s why I practice so much: for the safety of others [laughs].

Photo by David Madison via Getty Images.

I still skate occasionally, too. Not as much as I’d like, but it’s so much fun when I do. I forget how hard it is, though. There’s a difference between being in shape and being in ice skating shape. There’s a certain kind of rhythm you can only master with consistent practice.

I love eggs, so I usually make myself an omelet for breakfast. Lately I’ve been doing eggs, some other protein on the side and fruit, like berries or something. I’ve also been doing a lot of ginger lemon shots. I really want to try making them myself, but right now I get them from Pressed Juicery. Sometimes I drink coffee, sometimes I don’t. Yesterday I drank, like, six cups. I never drink it black. I need milk and I need sugar. I’m a sucker for soy lattes.

It shocks people when I say I’m an introvert. I talk, I engage, I introduce myself, but it takes a lot out of me. After periods of high-energy socializing when I’m going to functions or doing interviews, I need to recharge. Tomorrow, I’m planning to spend a lot of time alone. I’ll probably go to yoga. Knowing I need and deserve that respite was such an important thing for me to learn.

There’s so much stuff I wish I could tell my younger self, like to stop getting hung up on doubts and insecurities and to be present and keep chasing my dreams. You don’t always have to know what’s next. You don’t need to have everything mapped out. As an athlete, you instinctively try to control every situation, everything you possibly can, because every move and every breathe and every step is calculated. I remember visualizing my skating routine over and over again before I went to bed. Controlling things was part of my job, you know?

That’s why I’m so grateful for my mom. She was always there for me, through the whole experience, driving me to the rink early in the morning, staying up until 2 a.m. to make my costumes, and providing for me despite our lack of financial resources. Nothing was going to stop her from helping me. I could have said I wanted to be an astronaut, and she would have been like, okay, let’s do this.

Photo by Edith Young.

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  • Emily M

    I did a “person I admire” report on Michelle Kwan when I was in 4th grade too!!! We actually had to pick two people, and my other person was Jacques Cousteau. But I focused wayyyy more on Michelle because #badasslady. How awesome that you were able to interview her!!!

  • I completely relate and agree to your exercise in the AM routine!

  • Finally someone who doesn’t drink their coffee or tea black/as it is.

    Also, Hong Kong pride holla!!!

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • old_inside

    When I was in high school I worked out at the University gym in my neighborhood. Michelle was often there at the same time as me and one day we ended up stretching on a mat next to each other. I was so intimidated and inspired by her, my heart was racing! She was just doing her own thing, of course – head down and so focused. I will never forget it.

    Thanks for sharing this!! Can’t watch that commercial right now because it is 100% guaranteed to make me cry.

  • CayC

    I did a “person I admire” report on her too. I had a biography of her (thanks, Scholastic Book Fair!) that came with a replica of the necklace she used to wear, and I wore it every day in the fourth grade, until it fell apart.

    Also, speaking as a former figure skater – her free skate at 2004 US Nationals is one of the single most stunning things I have ever witnessed. We don’t have moments like that in the sport anymore, with the crazy technicalities of the new judging system taking away the sheer joy of a gorgeous program (I’d argue that only Kim Yu-Na has come close). It’s definitely worth a watch, whether or not you truly know the sport.

    • Andrea Raymer

      I definitely had that same biography from the Book Fair!

    • rachel

      oh man I wanted that book (okay, that necklace) SO BADLY as a kid!

  • Bmo

    did this interview make anyone else cry a little bit??

    • Anya Prokhorkina

      Yes, I’m bawling when she talks about her mom

  • H

    This woman is amazing but I most definitely think you guys should have a disclaimer about Proctor and Gamble being utterly evil. If you don’t speak up, you are in cahoots. 2017 has come to this when it comes to the urgency of using our voices to nourish a social conscience.

    • Kubla

      What is evil about them?

      • H

        Hey! It is up to you to decide. Have a browse. But large corporations play a big role in deforestation. They pledge not to use palm oil, but we’re still waiting. Child labour. The death of orangutans in Indonesia. This doesn’t need to be about sensationalism though: the real issue with companies like Procter and Gamble is that the nature of capitalism at the moment protects amoral corporations and does nothing to ignite the social conscience of citizens, which creates a dangerous power imbalance in terms of our power to monitor, question or challenge the manifestation of their ethics: amoral at best and in reality, absolutely filthy. Few CEOs at that level are in it for the love. But have a nosey. Check out Avaaz if you are interested in individuals’ potential on this planet x

  • I’ve watched that video a few times and it’s so incredible! Kudos to her and her mom for such dedication to the sport- 4.30 am – WOW!


  • Cristina

    Oh God bless, I told myself not to watch the video and I watched the video and now I’m crying buckets.
    Also, MK looks amaze.

  • Martha Pietruszewski

    I’m so glad you go to relive your childhood dreams!! (this is not sarcastic I am genuinely happy)

  • Kattigans

    I loved Michelle Kwan when I was a kid. I vividly remember watching her on TV and just being in awe