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An Olympic Fencer Reveals His Secret Training Weapon

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MILES CHAMLEY-WATSON grunts through his eighth pullup rep, then lowers his six-foot-four frame back to the floor. Hands on his knees, he catches his breath, then flips the bird and grins.“F*** you guys.” Moments later, he’s doing a Copenhagen plank, a devastating side exercise that requires you to place one leg on a bench while the other hovers in midair. After 20 seconds, he collapses to the floor. “I need a Guinness,” he says half seriously.

It’s quintessential Chamley-Watson, cracking jokes and making quips to hide his quiet intensity. Truth is, the 34-year-old Red Bull athlete is going hard during this three-round-circuit strength workout in the Men’s Health gym in Manhattan partly because he knows exactly what’s at stake: In three months, he’ll be part of America’s best hope for a team fencing gold at the Paris Olympics. But he needs to have fun, too.“I’m zoned in,” the two-time fencing world champ says after a set of dumbbell bench presses. “But I always talk shit.”

His origin story is another example of his class-clown energy masking his drive. He wasn’t a star student growing up and was troubled by ADHD. In fact, he was kicked out of several schools before the age of ten “for just being stupid,” he says. At his next stop, the Dwight School in New York City, he was placed in an after-school program meant to help get him on track. He was forced to pick a sport and given three options: tennis, badminton, or fencing. He picked fencing. “Swords are fun,” Chamley-Watson says. “But then I was like, ‘Wait, I can stab people and not get in trouble? This is awesome. This could be my purpose.’”

Christiaan Felber

Chamley-Watson was a natural, using his massive 80-inch wingspan and lightning speed to strike opponents from a distance. After just four weeks, he won his first competition. Six years later, he earned a full scholarship to Penn State, where he’d capture two team NCAA championship crowns. He says fencing is his Ritalin, and he likens the sport to a combination of boxing and chess. By 2016, he was helping the U. S. win Olympic team bronze in the foil (the most common fencing style, with a light sword and a small “attack” target area) in Rio de Janeiro. He even has a fencing move named after him: When you wrap your arm around the back of your head to strike an opponent on the side, you’re doing the “Chamley-Watson.” A knee injury prevented him from competing in the Tokyo Olympics, so the medal pressure will be high as he returns for what may be his final Games.

miles chamleywatson

Christiaan Felber

After the bench press, he grabs a70-pound dumbbell and explosively reps out ten rows, then twists his face into another grin. His success in fencing has opened doors to modeling for Todd Snyder and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as fashion design. “My life has gotten so much bigger than fencing,” he says. “I’m still learning to juggle all of that as well.”

Chamley-Watson says his workouts lend a consistency to each day and help him stay mentally positive and sharp. He trains five days a week, mixing in circuit training, lifting, and plyometric sessions. Nearly every week ends with a maintenance session on Friday.

During this hour-long workout, he’s focused only on finishing his reps—and cracking more jokes. “Working out gives you clarity. Going to the gym is free therapy. I can’t start my day without going to the gym,” he says. “Yeah, everyone gets miserable in the mornings—but just do it.”

Plank Like an Olympian

Try this plank-heavy core circuit built from Chamley-Watson’s favorite ab moves. Do 8 to 12 reps of each move. Complete 3 rounds.

Plank Leg Raise

Setup in elbow-plank position. Raise your foot off the floor, keeping your leg straight. Lower and re-peat on the other side. That’s 1 rep.

Side-Plank Leg Raise

Set up in a side plank, right elbow on the floor. Keeping your leg straight, raise your left leg as high as possible. Lower. That’s 1 rep.

Hanging Knee Raise

Hang from a pullup bar, legs straight. Keeping your legs glued together, squeeze your abs and raise your right knee toward your left elbow. Lower and repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep.

miles chamleywatson

Christaan Felber


Between Intervals

Go-to Post-Workout Meal?
“Korean barbecue. It’s so good for you. It’s beef, rice, and kimchi, which is good for your digestive system.”

Hype Anthem?
“‘Till I Collapse,’ by Eminem. Hard to beat it.”

Biggest Training Challenge?
“During the season, it’s so hard to gauge whether you push yourself or not. I need to not go to the gym, but I can’t not go to the gym.”

Dream Workout Partner?
“Bruce Lee. I was gonna say a girl, but I’m gonna upset some people.”

A version of this story appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Men’s Health.

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