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How to train like an Olympic champion with Adam Peaty


It was ten weeks out from Tokyo when we sat down with Adam Peaty. He was already a seasoned pro by that point, so there was no way the pandemic and the forced restrictions it brought with it were any match for his determination to be at his physical peak come July.

“It’s easy to win once”, Peaty says at the beginning of our From Paper to Podium podcast, “but it’s a hundred or a thousand times harder to win again and again and again.”

So how is he preparing? What do his workouts look like? How is he approaching things mentally? At what point does he up the ante to ensure he’s ready to perform on the world’s greatest stage?

A single glance at Peaty when he’s on the starting blocks before a race and you’ll see the physical specimen he is. He’s a self-confessed easygainer, a body type that responds quickly and positively to different training types. During lockdown, however, without the pool to maintain his aerobic conditioning, he found changes in body composition a legitimate concern.

“The ability to adapt very quickly is great, but if you don’t control it and you eat too much (if you’re in a calorie surplus or you haven’t got your macros right) you will just be fuelling muscle gain because there is no aerobic conditioning to keep it down. For me, aerobic conditioning keeps the muscle mass and muscle growth down, hence why I do gym before the swim because if I did it after the swim I would put on more muscle.”


Understanding who he is and how he works is one of the reasons for Peaty’s success as an athlete, and what epitomises his whole mindset is how he recognises how his body responds to a combination of cardio and resistance training on the same day.

“Effectively you’re telling the muscle to do two different things”, explains James Morton, Science in Sport’s Director of Performance Solutions. “If you want to really grow muscle, my recommendation would be to do your endurance training first and then perform your strength training in the afternoon. Then you can recover in the evening and let the muscle grow. But interestingly, he’s now doing it the opposite way, which dampens the strength training response. So effectively he’s trying to manage or restrict his muscle growth. This is top-level science and practical application. It’s quite smart what he’s doing.”

There’s not one athlete in the world today that would dispute the value of science in sport. But whether it’s the physical exertions of training or the meticulousness of nutrition, Peaty clearly believes that it must come with a healthy dose of practicality as well as self-awareness.

“I’m still discovering new ways to perform and new ways to make it easy on myself. You need to work honest and work smart. If I don’t believe [an exercise] is going to help me, I’ll say to Rob, my gym coach, let’s try something different. If you don’t believe in something it becomes ten times harder to do that exercise well.”


“What I’ve discovered now as an athlete is if I fuel really well the night before, I feel amazing in the morning, and that can carry me through two really hard sessions. There’s no set way or understanding of how to track your calories and how many calories you need because there’s so many changes that’ll affect your metabolism. But it’s really what your goal is and how you feel in the water. There’s so much science out there and so much data, which is great to digest and get your head stuck in, but you never ever take it away from how you feel, and how you feel is the most important factor.”

In Morton’s words, Peaty is a “born winner”, so it’s hard not to wonder which is the stronger force: his unbreakable will or his tenacious drive. But arguably neither would be as effective without the dynamic pragmatism that enables his incredible dominance.

“I think once it gets to a part where you’re not enjoying it and can’t see the end in sight, that’s where mental attrition will come in where it’s becoming harder than your actual training. Nutrition shouldn’t be harder than your training, I believe it should be a complement to your training. For me, I absolutely love sweet food, I’ve got a massive sweet tooth, so if that’s going to give me a performance benefit the next day because I’ve had a brownie and I feel good, even if that’s 300 calories … I could eat 300 calories clean and I feel miserable. I know it’s not a like for like but it’s about being in the right mental state.”


As if his training regime isn’t brutal enough, Peaty is a willing practitioner of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the energy expended for everything we do that doesn’t include sleeping, eating, or exercise. For James Morton, it’s another example of Peaty’s understanding of the science and putting it into practice. It’s hard to imagine Peaty doing anything that isn’t extremely exertive, but his mindfulness is an Olympic-sized swimming pool away from your conventional jock stereotype.

“10,000 steps a day is good for you mentally and physically – we all talk about how to get performance and how to get to this amazing place of fine-tuning your body, but we never really talk about these little things where we can help ourselves. You can do so many things to help you decompress and digest your day better than just sitting at home and flicking on the TV, which is so easy to do after a hard day.”

It’s easier to stay at the top of the mountain than to keep climbing it and, for Peaty, at this stage of his career, it’s about sustaining success. “The differences between winning and losing these days are so small, and they’re often not physical, the differences are mental,” Morton adds.

Peaty is honest and self-reflective. He has an astute awareness and understanding of his body. And he’s willing to try new things. But he’s not blinded by the science; he respects it, he’s guided by it, and he believes in it, he just doesn’t allow it to fog his goggles.

Listen to the full podcast here.



If the [swim] session starts at 8 o’clock, I’ll be in the gym sharp at 6.30am. So, I’ll get up at 6am, have a black coffee to keep my fast as there’s zero calories in a black coffee, and then I’d hit a session for about an hour and 15 minutes, so hardcore lifting session, some days up to 175kg squat for 2 or 3 reps, 5 sets. On the bench [press] it’ll be a similar kind of weight, so 135-140kg for 3 reps, 5 sets again.

Then around that we’ve got all the scapula stuff, which we call shoulder health and hip health, so all the exercises that will maintain us. Obviously if you strengthen your rotator cuff and all the muscles around there and the subscap [the area of the back under your shoulder blades] you’re going to have less chance of injury. So we do all that as well and then we do a little bit of core, so we’ll do 45-degree rows, machine rows, then some beach weights, as I call them.

We’ll go straight into a swim [after the gym], which could be a hard one, could be an easy one, but that’s where you need to fuel in between sessions. So, that’s strength straight into an anaerobic set.


Then I’d have the middle of the day to recover, so I’ll have a protein bar or shake, and then I’d get home and have my lunch and fuel again.


In the afternoon, another 5,000m swim. And, depending what time of year we’re in, if I need to lose weight off my legs … bear in mind I’ve done an hour and a half in the gym in the morning at 6.30am with extremely hard weights, a 5K anaerobic set and a 5K aerobic set to recover, so I’ve done a 10K swim … I’ll try and get up to 7,500-10,000 steps a day just to keep my muscle down, and the fat down.

Written By

Nick Burt

In a previous life Nick played American football professionally before becoming a secondary school teacher. Nowadays he works as a freelance copywriter where amongst other things he gets to write about his first love – sports. In his spare time, he lifts weights, plays and coaches baseball (which he calls his retirement sport), and travels with his wife to as many countries as he can.