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Rory Gibbs talks rowing, the Olympics and BFR Training

“ If I can come back to training with a couple of cm increase in muscle mass, in a reduced time, remove the pains in my knee and align my posture better then I will improve my all-round performance – it’s a no brainer!”

Can you give us a brief history of your sporting career and how you got to where you are now?

I began my sporting career at Millfield school where I initially played rugby. I was pretty fast and I went to nationals for the 100, 200 and 500 meters. I was definitely a winger! Then from when I was 12, I got a condition in my knee which meant that I kept getting injured and rugby just wasn’t working out for me anymore.

I had done some rowing at Millfield but only really started at Oxford Brookes Boat Club in the 2012/2013 season. I was considered a novice at the time which now no one would be able to do because the standard is so high. I did 7 seasons there. I decided to do a masters and take rowing as seriously as I could which eventually got me into the senior GB team.

What would you say has been the most important thing to get to this stage in your rowing career?

Rowing is a difficult sport both mentally and physically, so you need to have that drive to get up and get out there. I would say that Oxford Brookes and the standard there is what drove me to be as strong, competitive and determined as I am now.
<h5>How did you find out that you were in the national team and what was the big difference once you joined?</h5>
I found out last summer just after the final trials.

We got invited to some seat racing/testing which went well. In regards to the difference in training, it all depends on where you trained previously. At Brookes for instance, there is such a competitive environment that it prepares you well for the high standards of the GB national team.

However, the pressure of knowing that you’re going up against the best guys in the country is undeniable. If you mess up here, a bad result can be the end of your career and then it’s game over for this Olympiad.

How has it felt to go from being selected to race in the Olympics a few months away… to having that selection scrapped and having to wait a whole year?

This was a fun day! We had Olympic trials which consist of testing in fours and pairs over 3 days. A few days later we were brought into Caversham (the GB training centre) and had a surreal meeting outside on the steps. Jurgen (the senior men’s coach) selected the Olympic team even though the crew can change right up until the day that you race.

For me when he called my name out, I was chuffed because I felt I had justified it and I knew my name was coming. However, if I am honest, I didn’t actually enjoy the whole experience because I knew that a lot of people close to me had put in a lot of effort and weren’t going to be there. I’m not going to get emotional but that is how I felt. It was horrible to be there and know that they had fallen short.

A couple of days later we were training back at home and at this time the Olympics were still going ahead. It was obviously a very surreal and novel experience. The Olympics were then postponed and the following day we were told by the director of sport that the selection had been scrapped and even though that was the right thing to do it was a huge blow…

As soon as that news came out I got ill straight away… all of the pressure that had built over the last few months and the enormity of the news… my body just let go knowing that it wasn’t going to happen.

What does the training consist of for you and the rest of the GB team at the moment? Has it been strange adapting to training from home? How are you all keeping motivated?

I took me 4 weeks at least to build back up to normal training again due to being ill. I feel like I lost a lot of motivation. For someone who hasn’t been to the Olympics before it was hard to gather my thoughts and find the motivation to go again for something in 16 months’ time.

However, after a bit of reflection, I think that the Olympics now will be a really special moment in history due to everything’s that happened. The training that we are doing at the moment is not as intense and we are currently doing less mileage, a weights session, ergo session and an optional training session each day. We are still sending in ergo scores and some people have even been getting personal bests during this time which is crazy!

I am really lucky because I have made a gym in my garage, although it does get really hot and sweaty and doesn’t have more than 125kg of weights in it. Not that I could lift that much anyway!

One of my drawbacks/limitations is that I am not the best at stretching and doing the important bits around the hard work. I am quite fortunate that I am pretty robust, but in the last few months, I have had some issues with my left knee because my left quad is 3 cm smaller than my right.

The physio here at GB added occlusion training to my training regime. Owing to lockdown, I have been doing a lot more than before and I’m really enjoying it!

My left leg is definitely getting stronger, I did my first back squat in over a year and my knee isn’t hurting anymore.

“Rowing is a difficult sport both mentally and physically, so you need to have that drive to get up and get out there.”

It’s great to hear that you’ve been experimenting with BFR Training, and the fact that it’s being implemented successfully with Olympic athletes is really cool. What first led you to try BFR Training?

I had first found out about occlusion training about 3 years ago at Oxford Brookes High-Performance Centre. I didn’t need it too much at the time, but it was used to build the muscle that I was lacking. However, being in the national team with that workload and intensity, you really need to make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be. So now I’m doing 3 or 4 sessions a week for 40 mins each.

How would you describe the feeling of BFR?

It’s a great feeling because you know it’s working and you know it’s stressing the muscle. It’s definitely hard but anything that works well is tough. It’s a nice pain knowing that you’re improving.

For me, the biggest hassle when I use BFR cuffs is the long strap that I have to roll into my all in one (Lycra) that gets in the way when I’m training. It sounds like the Hytro stuff doesn’t have that issue though so I am excited to get my hands on it!

Inspire | Rory Gibbs

Do you see BFR Training as something that you will want to have in your arsenal moving forward?

Yes definitely! If I can come back to training with a couple of cm increase in muscle mass, in a reduced time, remove the pains in my knee and align my posture better then I will improve my all-round performance – it’s a no brainer!

Overall, one of the things that I find the most surprising is that if I have done it before an ergo it feels like it helps …like I have woken up the legs. They feel a bit stronger.

Thanks so much for speaking with us Rory, we’re excited to catch up with you on your journey and will check in on you in a few months’ time to see how things are going!

Not at all, I’m excited to be a part of your journey – one thing that I really want to add before I go, my overriding feeling on occlusion training, in general, is that it is a massive opportunity to find more gains and speed that my competitors aren’t able to.

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