Shifting goal posts – A fortnight with the GB Rowing team

We caught up with Henry Abrahamsour resident Sports Physiotherapist at the University of Bristol Sports Medicine Clinic, who has just got back from 2 weeks working with the GB Olympic Rowing Team helping them prepare for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Henry Abrahams SMC
Henry Abrahams, Sports Physiotherapist

For the athletes and support teams who were working towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the pandemic has really shifted the goalposts, not only with the games being delayed to 2021 but also through restrictions on travel and training. Alongside my role as a Physiotherapist based at the University of Bristol Sports Medicine Clinic, I am also lucky enough to work as a contractor with British Rowing, the National Governing Body for Rowing.  



The 2021 GB Rowing Team
The 2021 GB Rowing Team [Photo by Henry Abrahams]
Over the last couple of years, I have been involved with several training camps supporting the Senior Men’s Squad, providing physiotherapy for injury and performance gain, as they prepared for the Tokyo Games. This year, Rowing athletes training has been quite different. The biggest impact is that the athletes are now in the fifth year of what should be a four-year cycle, the ‘peak’ has shifted. Tadapt to the situation and keep going whilst maintaining the highest level of training, takes huge mental strength and commitment.  

A room with static rowing machines in
St George’s Park, Football Association Head Quarters [Photo by Henry Abrahams]
Another key change was the location of this training camp. In a normal Olympic year, after Christmas, the team would usually head off to Namibia for a block of altitude training, which enhances the way oxygen is delivered through the body, minimising recovery times and enhancing strength and endurance. This year, due to lockdown restrictions, the team headed to St Georges Park, the Football Association Head Quarters near Burton-upon-Trenta whole 50m above sea level to make use of the world-class training and performance facilities

With no ‘natural’ altitude on offer, the team adapted and, rather than miss out on the benefits of altitude training altogether, they brought the altitude to St. Georges Park with specialist equipment to simulate the lower levels of oxygen in the air that you normally experience in the mountains.  

Athletes using specialist breathing equipment for altitude training
Two GB Rowers on exercise bikes using specialist breathing equipment for altitude training [Photo by Henry Abrahams]
Alongside the ‘altitude’ sessions the athletes completed a more usual mix of ergo sessions (on static rowing machines) and Strength & Conditioning to push on their physiological capacity with the ultimate goal of making their boat go faster! 

Two GB rowers on static rowing machines
Ergo sessions [Photo by Henry Abrahams]
The camp ran super smoothly, thanks to huge effort from the teams at British Rowing and St. Georges Park. We were all covid tested prior to attending the camp and then became a bubble and followed strict protocols at all times 

As always when I’ve been involved with British Rowing, it was inspiring to be part of a high performing team of such driven individuals.  

The experience was a reminder of the huge value of being part of a team, and that we must adapt and keep moving towards our goals, making most of every opportunity. Something we can all relate to at the moment. 

Clinicians at the Sports Medicine Clinic, like Henry, offer expert and comprehensive sports medicine services to all whether you are a student, a member of staff at the University or the wider public community. The Clinic remains open, under the current restrictions, offering support in the form of virtual appointments. For more information visit the Sports Medicine Clinic webpage

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