How Adam Peaty Changed Sprint Breaststroke

adam-peaty-world-record-100br-rio
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

By Alec Scott, Swimming World College Intern.

Adam Peaty burst onto the international swimming scene with a stunning 57.82 world record at the British championships in April 2015. He backed that performance up with world titles in the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia. And then he announced himself to the world in Rio, winning Olympic gold in the 100 meter breaststroke in a ridiculous new world record of 57.13.

Outside of the record-breaking swims the thing about Peaty that has enamored coaches and swimmers everywhere is that he has changed the way we look at sprint breaststroke race strategy and technique. Peaty swims with a stroke rate that his competitors simply cannot match and he does it without losing efficiency.

In the Olympic final, Peaty crushed the competition winning the race by over one and a half seconds. Blowing away the competition is significant enough but the manner in which Peaty accomplished this makes it even more incredible. Peaty took 21 strokes going out and 25 coming back. Compare that to silver medalist Cameron van der Burgh who took 18 strokes going out and 23 coming back and bronze medalist Cody Miller who took 18 strokes going out and 22 coming back. These stats are even more compelling because Peaty also has a height advantage over the other medalists, Peaty is 6’3”, while van der Burgh is 6’0” and Miller is 5’11”. Despite being the taller athlete, Peaty is still able to take more strokes and maintain a higher stroke-rate than his nearest competitors without compromising his line.

Peaty’s ability to maintain stroke rate is unprecedented, even compared to the other medalists. He starts each 50 of his gold medal-winning swim with a 60 rate (cycles per minute), and then he only drops off to 55 rate at the end of each 50. Van der Burgh, the former world record holder in the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke, is also known for a fast rate but he starts the race with a 58 rate and has already dropped off to 45 by the end of the first 50. Van der Burgh builds his rate the second 50 and finishes the race at 55 rate but he is also sacrificing more efficiency than Peaty. Miller also builds his rate, starting at about 50, dropping off to 45 rate at the turn and then finishing the race at 48 rate— still not even close to Peaty. The other medalists are also sacrificing efficiency to increase rate the last 15 meters of the race whereas Peaty is remarkably able to hold both his rate and maintain efficiency through the wall.

Peaty’s unique ability to maintain an extremely high stroke-rate is probably not replicable by most other elite swimmers. He blows away the best people in the world in the last 25 meters. Peaty truly is one of the “freak” athletes in our sport. Look no further than this insane plyo-push-up courtesy of his Instagram.

Since he burst onto the scene with his first world record in April 2015, Adam Peaty has forced coaches and swimmers everywhere to re-examine the way we coach and swim sprint breaststroke. He’s already taken the 100 meter breaststroke to a level few would have thought possible before his meteoric rise, and at just 21 years old, he might only be getting started.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

33 comments

  1. Kristie Wisniewski

    If he ever cleans his start up he will be even faster which is insane!!!

    • avatar
      Louise Williams

      I agree. Adam is my nephew and I’m very proud of him and all he has achieved with the guidance of his coach Mel Marshall. Adam is a perfectionist in all that he does and he knows he has to improve his starts. Adam is not content to rest on his laurels but will work to become stronger and faster. Just how fast can he go?

    • Greg Straton

      We need to be doing that

  2. Emanuele Calderone

    how adam peaty changed swimming world. 😀 such a super talented athlete!

  3. avatar
    David Rieder

    Very interesting stuff here, Alec. The gap between Peaty and his rivals is bigger than in any other event right now, and each time he has broken the 100 breast WR I’ve found myself just stunned that it was possible. Also agree with you that he’s a physical freak that will likely not be matched in that category for some time.

  4. Jim Grisham

    Hey Peaty…get off the lane line!

  5. Glen Boddy

    Mantis Dingjan
    Now you’re a lazy sprinter, rating is everything!!

  6. Mark Bull

    Clinton Camilleri

  7. 梁家豪

    Mandel See

  8. avatar

    I didn’t know that stroke-rate in breast stroke couldn’t be increased or maintained if desired. I always thought breast was the easiest stroke to manipulate the stroke rate.

  9. Allen Hoang

    American breaststrokers are taught to glide for “free speed.” Of course, there’s no such thing as free speed in swimming outside of the dive and turn.

    • avatar

      Definitely true for good swimmers in 100 meters.

    • Kristie Wisniewski

      You are correct. But we will start copying him. At least the smart ones will.

  10. Max Moreira

    JuanJose…mirá esto…

  11. Wawa Elbos

    Salah Zahra legend

  12. Liz Wells

    Ashley Seeto

  13. Craig Morgan

    “winning Olympic gold in the 100 meter breaststroke in a ridiculous new world record of 57.13.”
    ‘Ridiculous’ is the right word to use. Absolutely ridiculous!

  14. avatar

    I have always believed to be a great sprint breaststroker you needed to be 5’10” to 6″, as most taller breaststrokers have slower foot speed. It has always been about foot speed. And most sprint breaststrokers slow down because the muscles that pull the legs up to the butt get tired.

    Adam Peaty just doesn’t slow down his foot speed, for some one that tall it is amazing.

    Until coaches find out the drills that give Peaty his amazing foot speed and endurance they will not get there by just copying his stroke.

    • avatar
      JJ

      The drills arent difficult. Sprint leg whips, plyometrics, lunges and squats. Do HIIT sessions with all the above to develop your quads. The difference for most isnt preparation or even technique, its his stroke rate and high level of, the rest of the world still ascribes to the shoot kick and glide, he immediately begins his next stroke with little glide and his kick is also cross between whip and fly down and is a brilliant style of kick.