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Practising what you preach – What does it take to complete the Tour De France?

Dr. Mark Gillett is a consultant in sport and exercise science and medicine, as well as the Chief Medical Officer for the Premier League. In addition to this, he is currently training to take part in the Tour 21, a unique cycling challenge that sees a team of amateur riders complete all twenty-one stages of the Tour de France in July. Here, he discusses how he’s using Hytro BFR to optimise his training.

Mark Gillett, Chief Medical Officer for the Premier League, wearing Hytro whilst performing bike flush

‘First, I need to apologise to all the athletes I’ve worked with over the years. As a practitioner, it is easy to tell an athlete what to do. Now that I’m on the other side of things, however, and training for the Tour 21, it really emphasises how tough it is to be an athlete. 


I’ve always been someone who’s active. Throughout my life, I’ve exercised on most days. But given the size of the challenge ahead of me, my training load has now increased greatly. To make sure I’m prepared for the challenge this July, I’m doing five-to-eight sessions on the bike each week. Two to three of those are done outside, lasting up to five hours at a time. I also do at least one weekly strength and conditioning session to look after my legs.  


It can be monotonous, to get up and go every day. It affects those around you, your job, and what you do in your spare time. Challenges such as these cannot be underestimated. 


Mark Gillett, Chief Medical Officer for the Premier League, wearing his Tour 21 for Leukaemia shirt


Even with such training, I’m still uncertain if I’ll be able to complete the challenge. The same goes for all the other riders. Together, we’re raising money for Cure Leukemia – more than £1,000,000. Each rider must raise in excess of £30,000, so the financial challenge comes on top of the physical challenge. 


To give myself the best chance of success, I’m not only increasing my training load, but also refining my recovery strategy. That then underpins my training and allows me to get more out of every session.  


As a practitioner, I believe that recovery is an aspect commonly misunderstood by my patients. Inadequate recovery is often the reason that my patients get injured. It’s therefore a mistake that I’m desperate not to make myself. 


To enhance my recovery, I’ve made two key changes to my routine. The first is nutrition: I’ve begun to eat more while I’m riding. Second, I’ve incorporated Hytro BFR into my schedule as soon as I return from a ride. Using both active and passive BFR has proven beneficial. It begins in the first few minutes after a ride, when I’m standing in my kitchen with a cup of tea and a snack. I put on the Hytro BFR Recovery Shorts and my recovery begins. After up to five hours in the saddle, I never feel like doing anything onerous, so Hytro BFR has proven hugely useful. 


Mark Gillett, Chief Medical Officer for the Premier League, training for hir Tour 21 in aid of Leukaemia


I first came across BFR many years ago in my role as a team doctor and performance director in football. We began to use it as a way of helping players in their early stages of rehabilitation. As they were compromised, they were unable to lift as much or run as much as usual, so we found that BFR helped them to get gains they’d otherwise be unable to achieve. I’d explain what was going on as simply as possible: how the modality reduced oxygen supply to the working muscle, which made the muscle work harder at a lower level of activity. I’d tell them that it may initially feel uncomfortable, but that it’s a very safe concept that they’d get used to. 


Back then, I was using inflated cuffs to administer BFR. Since Hytro has come on the scene, however, it has become much easier to administer BFR. Previously, it was complicated, cumbersome, and required supervision. Now, thanks to Hytro, athletes can self-administer with Hytro’s simple-to-use, safe and durable garments. 


BFR isn’t just for rehabilitation and recovery, either. In strength and conditioning we often talk about minimum doses: how can we ensure that an athlete’s muscles are optimised with strength training without fatiguing them? BFR is an excellent tool in helping to achieve that. Such versatility is just one reason that BFR is used so widely in elite sport these days. Most Premier League clubs are now benefiting from it, especially when it comes to rehabilitation from knee injuries and enhancing functional movements.  


Over the next decade, I can see BFR being used to a much greater extent in a more mainstream population. There’s real potential for hospitals to use it in day-to-day patient treatment. I can also see it being used on an increasingly international basis. 


Mark Gillett, Chief Medical Officer for the Premier League, wearing Hytro whilst performing bike flush


That’s exactly why I’m using Hytro BFR to help me complete my own Tour de France. From my work in elite sport, I know that great athletes have a relentless ability to deliver time after time. They have consistency and dedication across training and competition. I’m hoping that I can take a thing or two from such great athletes. I’ve got an enormous challenge ahead of me. But with an enhanced recovery plan, a detailed training programme, and the support of all those who have backed me, I know that I can approach this challenge in the best position possible.’ 


Dr Mark Gillett will continue to use Hytro BFR to prepare himself for the Tour 21. Any donations to his challenge are greatly appreciated. You can find out more, and donate to the cause, by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/markjgillett 


To read more about how Hytro BFR is used within elite sport, visit our Pro Sport area.

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