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July 6, 2021

Podcast 130: Olympic Rower Tom George Talks High Strain, Red Recoveries, Breaking 5:40

Fewer than a dozen people have broken 5:40 in rowing’s 2,000-meter test. Olympian Tom George is one of them.

By Will Ahmed

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Tom George accomplished the historic feat during lockdown, while training on a rowing machine in his parents’ shed. A year later, his sights are firmly set on winning gold for Great Britain in Tokyo.

He joins Mike Lombardi on the WHOOP Podcast to detail his journey to the top of his sport, what type of mindset was needed to make rowing history, and how he balances recovery with his intense strain (he regularly puts up strains of 20+ while training).

Additionally, Tom shares his thoughts on nutrition and why eating what makes you happy is just as important as eating what is good for your body.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!

 

Olympic Rower Tom George Podcast Quotes and Highlights

2:36 – Making Rowing History. Tom is one of the only people ever to row 2,000 meters in 5 minutes and 40 seconds or less. “What an amazing feat of physiology,” Mike says. “I think for just an average man, I think someone would be excited to just go under 7 minutes.”

4:20 – Extraordinary Feat, Ordinary Location. Tom broke 5:40 while training in isolation. “I moved back to my parents house and was training in a shed at the bottom of the driveway by myself. It was pretty cool. It was kind of raw and weird. There was a lawnmower next to me which maybe took away from this elite athlete vibe of it. But you make of it what you can. It was cool to be able to use that time to answer a lot of questions for myself and prove that I was in a position to push on into the rescheduled Olympics.”

5:28 – Breaking 5:40. Tom details how he broke 5:40 and the mentality needed to accomplish the feat. “I feel like it’s important to familiarize yourself with that pain. You seek comfort in that. You know where your edge is and you know how it should feel.” Tom said he decided not to tell anyone he would pursue the 5:40 mark, not wanting to add pressure or expectations to the attempt.

9:59 – Staying Calm in the Moment. “With 750 meters to go, I was filled with adrenaline. I said, ‘Okay, stay calm, stay calm. Don’t go too hard now because you can still ruin this in this period.’ I got to 500 to go, and I describe this to people and it sounds ridiculous, but it was so calming. It was like time was slowed down, I thought, ‘I’m going to do this here. This isn’t really a question anymore. There’s enough adrenaline in me. This isn’t really hurting anymore.’ If I look back on it, I don’t think about it being a painful situation to be in.”

11:09 – Completing the Task. “I don’t really remember the last 10 strokes of it that well because it was a wave of, ‘Wow. OK.’ Then it was like, ‘OK, I’m still in my shed. I’m still here. I’m still just this bloke who did something cool,’ but it doesn’t mean anything in terms of the ultimate goal of winning the Olympics, but it’s an important stepping stone and I need to take stock of that and enjoy this moment. … I view it as I did what I was meant to do because of the training I put in in the first place, but I did have to overcome that mental hurdle to get there.”

14:50 – Accountability to Teammates. “To win the Olympic Games, you’ve got to be able to do some pretty incredible things with your teammates, but you also need to be able to rely on your teammates to do those things with you. You want to know that you’ve been through exactly what you’ve been through to get to that point.”

19:50 – Strain and Sleep. “My strain is regularly above 20. I’ll go weeks with it above 20,” Tom says. “The recovery is hard to work out. Ultimately, it’s hours of sleep that is the most important factor.” Tom notes that WHOOP has also taught him to spend more time in bed. “I never really understood or realized that you spent quite a lot of time awake at night,” he says.

25:56 – Nutrition. “You want to obviously eat healthy, but you don’t want to eat stuff you don’t enjoy or like because then you’re not going to be happy. Your training will be impacted by that. It’s a balance … if you’re burning calories you can afford yourself an ice cream. Have a healthy meal and then you can treat yourself afterwards. Those calories from treating yourself afterwards aren’t going to make a difference to your overall performance. You can afford yourself little cheats here and there that will make your life more enjoyable.”

31:49 – Managing Red Recoveries. “You’ve got to block it out,” Tom says of getting a red recovery. “The show goes on, and if you’re not willing to train hard, someone else is and they’re getting a leg up on you. [WHOOP] informs me and it informs my training, but it’s not going to stop me from training and putting in the best that I can.” Tom says he gets a lot of red recoveries with the high strain he regularly takes on, and adds that he recently set his personal best time on a red recovery.

36:33 – Recovery. Tom says acupuncture and dry needling increases his recovery score by about 12%.

43:53 – Olympic Protocols. “It’s not going to be a normal Olympics and we’re very aware of that,” Tom says. “But to some extent you just have to block out that noise a bit. You can listen to it and let it affect you, or you can [accept it].” Tom details some of the restrictions athletes will have during the Olympics. “It’s something every athlete is going to have to deal with.”

47:23 – Future Plans. “I think [I’ll] probably carry on,” Tom says of his rowing career, but added he won’t fully know until after the Olympics. “I want to get through this Olympics first and make that decision ultimately. Everyone says when you cross that finish line, you know. Either you’re fully at peace and you say, ‘I did what I want to do, now it’s time to go in a different direction,’ or you say, ‘Let’s do it again. Here we go.’ I want to wait and see.”

48:06 – Training for Tokyo. “These last 18 to 24 months have been phenomenally intense. The bubble aspect has added to that obviously. When I was training at home, it became an obsession thinking, ‘Am I doing this better than my opposite man in the German 8 or the Australian 8 or the US 8?’ It’s been an intense amount of pressure that we’ve put on ourselves.”

Connect with Tom on Instagram.

 

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised $200 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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