Adam Peaty is the Usain Bolt of the swimming pool. The 24-year-old reigning Olympic and world champion isn’t just the fastest breaststroke swimmer in the world, over both 50m and 100m; he has set all of the top 14 times ever recorded in the 100m and has not been beaten over that distance for five years.
At the World Championships last year he became the first man to swim the 100m breaststroke in under 57 seconds. But while his swim technique is perfected through hours of tough training in the pool, his Marvel superhero physique – complete with 15in biceps, a 46in chest and just 6% body fat – is honed through hard yards in the gym. This is how he does it…
RSNG What is the main focus of your gym training? ADAM PEATY, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALLIST ‘As a swimmer, my gym work adds a dimension of strength and power that we don’t really get in the pool. Getting that in the gym is extremely important for us and being fuelled correctly for that is vital.’
‘I spend about two sessions a week in the gym, and add 2-3 sessions on the astroturf for some strength endurance work – burpees and press-ups and little sprints. So it is 20 hours in the pool and 10 hours in the gym. For every hour we do in the pool, we do half an hour in the gym to complement it.’
‘My main focus is really on explosive strength and power to match what I do in the pool. So when I’m in the gym I only do three to four reps – at most five – for maybe three to four sets. It is all about short, sharp powerful lifts.’
Chin-ups are a great all-rounder for swimmers – it builds your back muscles, biceps, triceps and muscles in the forearms
RSNG What does your typical gym regime look like? AP ‘We have different aspects to it but on a normal day it is about 90 minutes long with a focus on one big lift, like a squat or bench, and the rest is more about injury-prevention and core exercises and other strength stuff.’
‘Chin-ups are a great all-rounder for swimmers – it builds your back muscles, biceps, triceps and muscles in the forearms. I like deadlifts, leg presses, sledge pushes and lunges, as well as press-ups, machine rows and cable pulls.’
‘My personal best for the squat is 160kg; for trap bar deadlift it is 200kg; for bench it is 135kg; and I do pull-ups with 60kg plates. But people can get too focused on weights when it is better to focus on technique. Good technique will help with the longevity of building muscle, so get your technique right first and then build up the weight from there.’
RSNG How do you build a rock-solid core to power you through the pool? AP ‘I do crunches, sit-ups, side flexions, medicine ball throws and weighted machine exercises. I do most of my core exercises weighted, off-balance or off a platform for an extra challenge.’
‘I never really do it on the ground with just bodyweight. I normally have 20-30kg weight plates on me. I also do a lot of stretching at home. We are in the pool and gym so much, which means we can get injured, so it keeps injuries at bay.’
RSNG Do you do any cardio work outside the pool? AP ‘I enjoy WattBike and aerobic stuff. In winter we did a ladder set and a pyramid set – 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, 1 minute 30 on, 20 seconds off, and that climbs to 6 minutes of effort and back down again. It was pretty brutal.’
People think they need huge calories to put muscle on but that is a huge misconception
RSNG What is your biggest nutritional tip for guys who want to build muscle? AP ‘You want lean, functional muscle so you have to fuel correctly. If you eat too much you will put on fat and build bulk so it’s about being careful what you eat. People think they need a huge amount of calories to put muscle on but that is a huge misconception. If you eat empty calories you are just gaining fat really.’
‘If you want to build lean muscle, it is better to stick with your normal healthy nutrition but just increase the protein levels to support your muscle growth. My nutrition is mainly protein-based to support muscle performance. But I always have a lot of veg on my plate to support my immune system and to fill me up with fibre so I don’t overeat on bad stuff.’
RSNG Have you always liked to learn from elite athletes? AP ‘When I was younger Instagram and Facebook were not around and connections were harder to make so I relied on Google for information on swimmers. I’d search for what Michael Phelps did in training or what Ian Thorpe ate and it was a big help in learning how to reach the top.’
RSNG Finally, how do you manage to drag yourself out of bed for early training sessions? AP ‘It doesn’t get any easier. You just have to force yourself out of bed. Within 1-2 minutes of waking up, I am normally quite awake. The trick is to get up straight away. But you have to motivate yourself before each session.’
‘It has become easier now as I know what I want from this sport and the next Olympics is definitely my big motivation.’ For a taste of what Peaty gets up to in the gym watch his [gold-medal workout](says Peaty, who shows you more in his gold-medal workout, then do the moves below…
WHAT NEXT? Want to get ripped like Peaty? The try his three favourite strength-building moves as part of your own whole-body, muscle-building workout (but check with your doc and use a PT if you are new to the gym, or these individual exercises, to ensure that you use correct form).
ADAM PEATY’S TOP THREE STRENGTH EXERCISES Squats: 5 reps, 3-4 sets
‘They work my quads and glutes – two very important muscles for breaststroke as that’s where most of my power comes from.’
Bench press/dumbbell press: 5 reps, 3-4 sets
‘They improve my strength across my chest and biceps which is needed to catch the water efficiently and effectively.’
Chin-ups: 5-10 reps, 3-4 sets (Peaty adds weight plates using a weight belt) ‘This is about improving my strength in my upper body but connecting the front torso muscles with my back muscles which play an important part in catching the water.’
*Science in Sport ambassador Adam Peaty was supporting the launch of PROTEIN20 - a low sugar, high protein bar available from £2.50 at *Science in Sport.
Photos: Tom Watkins/Science in Sport
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.