Swimmer Tyler Clary competes in many of the same races as Olympians Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, and as the American record-holder in the 400-yard individual medley, he is a strong medal contender for the 2012 Summer Games in London. But what Clary does outside of the pool would surprise many and perhaps even worry a few.

Clary took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu four months ago to diversify his training.

“It’s fun and different from swimming but still applicable,” said Clary, the 2009 NCAA swimmer of the year at the University of Michigan. “My core has never been stronger, and I’m a lot calmer under fire. So it’s improving my mental state. It forces me to focus on small details because it’s like nothing I’ve done before. And that transfers to the water.”

Twice a week for about 90 minutes, Clary, who won a silver medal in the 200-meter backstroke at the world championships in December, heads to a Jiu-Jitsu gym in Fullerton, Calif. to train. His training is “tap based” so if he feels his body is at risk, he taps out. His instructors and teammates all understand his swimming goals and respect what he’s trying to accomplish in the pool.

“I had always been interested in mixed martial arts fighting,” said Clary (pictured in the white). “One night I was on a date and saw a gym and thought I would give it a try.”

Clary’s coach, Jon Urbanchek, was concerned at first. But Clary does not compete in Jiu-Jitu because of the high risk of injury, and after Urbanchek talked to instructors and watched several training sessions, he has loosened the reins on his rising star. And that should keep Clary happy, because it doesn’t sound like he's ready to give it up.

“It has been mentally addicting,” he said. “It’s like playing chess with your body.”