Paralympic 100m Champion Jonnie Peacock On Upping Your Game

(Image credit: unknown)

6th September 2012, 21.29pm. The atmosphere of the Olympic Park in London is beyond electric. Eighty thousand people are screaming one young athlete’s name so loudly that he has to request silence just so his race can start. Standing next to him are the nine fastest amputee sprinters on Earth. In the next few seconds, he has the chance to become a sporting legend. Will he take that chance, or will his name be forgotten? He takes his marks.

14 years previously. A five-year-old boy lies in a coma. He has contracted meningitis, and it’s so serious that his mother has been told to say goodbye to him. Doctors inform her that chances of survival for most children are slim at best. This boy’s not most children. He pulls through – although his right leg has to be amputated at the knee due to blood poisoning.

6th September 2012, 21.30pm. A pistol blast shatters the hush as Team GB’s spectators let out a roar of support. Exactly 10.90 seconds later, the roars have turned into mass hysteria. Britain’s Jonnie Peacock has just become the fastest Paralympian in history.

Peacock was 16 when he took up athletics in 2009. He achieved a gold medal at the pinnacle of the sport just three years later. While many gold medallists start training before puberty hits and spend decades working towards their goal, Peacock didn’t even have to wait one whole four-year cycle to reach the top. Maybe that should be expected from a guy who describes himself as ‘generally pretty crazy’. Even so, the pressure of standing on that starting line must have been unimaginably daunting. ‘It was just such a nice feeling – you would think it was intimidating but it really wasn’t,’ says Peacock. ‘It was just happiness, enjoyment.’

Despite the work required, Peacock makes it sound casual and unplanned. ‘I’ll be honest – the way I see it, I’m lucky how it all worked out for me.’ He attributes his success to quality coaching early on from Hayley Ginn, his first sprint instructor. ‘She didn’t break me or go too hard too early, which meant I started getting faster until British Athletics took notice and linked me up with Dan Pfaff, one of the best sprint coaches in the world. He then took me down from 11.5sec for 100m to 10.8sec in a year.’

Maybe the informality of his success comes from his easygoing approach to everyday life. Before realising his talent, Peacock worked as a mechanic and whenever a new guy elevated a car to do some repairs, he would always place his fake leg in the gap and start screaming when the car was lowered back down. Even if he never made it as a jokester mechanic or sprinter, we both agree he could easily be a mob boss or a pimp with a name like Jonnie Peacock. Or a wicked Long John Silver-esque pirate.

To go with his natural athleticism and humour, Peacock has a dedicated approach to sprinting covering all angles – training, nutrition and the mental side – and he’s happy to share it with anyone who wants to improve their performance. Here’s his advice.

Performance anxiety

‘No matter how nervous you are before your event, once it’s finished you’re going to want to do it again,’ says Peacock. ‘I say enjoy the moment of being nervous. There’s a reason you’re doing what you’re doing, so remind yourself of that. Both anxiety and physical pain are only there for a very limited time, but the success of pushing through it will be there for the rest of your life.’


Growing up with a serious disability, Peacock is naturally a master of positive thinking. ‘If you can’t do one thing, change the focus to what you can do and do it to the best of your ability,’ he says. ‘For example, if I can’t sprint because of injury, I’ll try to improve my weightlifting skill in the gym instead.’


If you’re trying to lose fat, says Peacock, a crash diet just won’t work. ‘Start off by taking only a little bit out here and there, and then slowly take out more as you progress. People have a tendency to go all out straight away and just cut everything. Don’t push yourself beyond your initial capabilities or it’ll never work – be patient. The same goes for the gym.’

Gym technique

‘Your body naturally cheats when lifting. It will always try to find an easier way of doing something,’ says Peacock, whose strength coach stopped him deadlifting because of bad form. ‘If your weightlifting technique is bad and you’re cheating with your reps, you’ll be working muscles in an irrelevant way that doesn’t even benefit your performance.’

Peacock also points out that the sprinting is about moving your whole body as explosively as possible - so don’t bother with isolation exercises if you want to get quicker. Instead, focus on compound and explosive strength-based sets such as snatches and deadlifts. Do sets of no more than six heavy reps with plenty of rest between sets.


‘You’re chucking energy all over the place when you sprint. Having a strong core focuses that energy in one straight direction by pulling your body into a good position and keeping it there,’ says Peacock. Start calisthenics circuits if you want to train for sprinting – Peacock does a bodyweight circuit of between five and ten exercises for ten reps each, with no rest between moves. He rests for about two minutes in between sets and repeats the circuit three times. Exercises such as weighted press-ups and pull-ups activate your abs more efficiently than any other exercise so be sure to include them in your own circuit.


‘The worst thing you can do when trying to run fast is to tense up and go crazy,’ says Peacock. ‘Relax and remember that past 50m, you can’t go any faster. The aim is to hold on to the speed you’ve already built.’

Jonnie Peacock spoke to MF on behalf of Sainsbury's Active Kids 2015. Here's what he had to say about the initiative: ‘Active Kids is so important. Since 2005, £150million of equipment has been donated to schools. When I was in school we had a finite amount of sports equipment and unfortunately that meant we couldn’t do certain events. Sainsbury are rectifying that and giving kids the ability to do more sport. The 5th of May is the last date for the collection of vouchers, so get them in fast!’ 


Sam Razvi wrote for Men’s Fitness UK (which predated and then shared a website with Coach) between 2011 and 2016.