Hitting the pool is a tranquil way to boost fitness and sink stress—at least, it is for ordinary men. Olympic gold medallist Adam Peaty takes a more combative approach. “I love the aggression of racing,” he says. “You have to be very composed when you’re swimming, but I use that composure in an angry way.”
If you’ve been following Peaty on Instagram during the lockdown, you will have seen him repping out parallette press-ups in a weighted vest, wearing all black and sporting a quarantine buzz cut. This militant aesthetic only serves to reinforce the brutality of his workouts.
This focused aggression has yielded exceptional results. As well as becoming the first male British swimmer to win the gold medal in the 100m breaststroke for 24 years at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Peaty has set 11 swimming world records. He became the first man to break the hallowed 58-second mark in the same event. Then he broke the 57-second mark.
“Adam has got reality distortion,” says coach and 2004 Olympian Mel Marshall. “He doesn’t see limits—he just sees opportunities.” Which comes in handy when Marshall floods his week with a staggering workload, both in the pool and on dry land.
Peaty swims a breathtaking 50km each week; 5km in the morning, 5km in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. But it’s far from a mind-numbing slog. “Tuesday afternoon is intense,” says Marshall.
“He does 40 25m reps—each one in 60 seconds. That’s 12 seconds of sprinting, 50-ish seconds of recovery, 40 times.” It may lack a barbell, but it’s an EMOM workout to make you wince. “His other high-intensity session is 20 100m reps: four reps at lactate threshold [30bpm below his maximum heart rate], with one recovery, then three reps at his VO max [10bpm below his maximum heart rate], with two recovery, and repeat.” And that’s just his pool work.
Peaty’s gym sessions dovetail with his water-based workouts. On Mondays, he follows up a kick-based pool session with an upper-body shift pumping iron. There’s a lot of core work, too. “On dry land, you have the ground to offer stability and provide leverage for movement,” says Marshall. “In the water, all of this comes from your core—it powers every stroke.”
By his own admission, Peaty is intensely competitive—fiercely, even. But it’s his ability to absorb the workload that sets him apart. “He recovers incredibly quickly and he adapts incredibly quickly,” says Marshall. Curiously, his coach feels that it’s the foundations laid in the gym early on that are ultimately responsible for his success.
“Starting young means he can take advantage of all of those hormones coursing through his body,” says Marshall. “And those benefits then continue. The man is a workhorse.” Which is bad news for those playing catch-up before the next Olympics.
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