James Fox |

‘It was a once-in-a-career opportunity to try something new’

GB rower James Fox on how restyling his training programme thanks to COVID restrictions has made him fitter than ever

I have had two major injuries over the course of my rowing career. In 2010, my first year of university, I fractured two vertebrae in my lower back in a car crash and, in 2017, I had surgery on my hip to reattach the labrum to the socket after years of wear and tear finally came to a head.

These two injuries, alongside some other smaller niggles and quirks, have shaped the way I train now and have pushed both myself and our coaches and support staff into thinking outside of the box when it comes to creating my training programme.

When I tell people that I haven’t sat on a rowing machine for four years it is mostly greeted with a look of disbelief and something along the lines of ‘how did you get away with that?’. Rowing machines are nobody’s favourite part of rowing, but they are a fantastic training tool and there is no doubt that I’m missing out by not being able to use one. When I came back from rehab after my surgery and I couldn’t hold the right positions anymore, we had to look at other options. Let me assure you, I haven’t managed to escape the 2k/5k testing rigmarole. I’m very much still under the microscope!

When we went into a national lockdown and the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed, our coach made it clear that those athletes who would be most successful, post-COVID, would be the ones who used the break to get better, and not feel sorry for themselves and become stagnant.

In my case it was a once-in-a-career opportunity to try something new. I have been rowing since I was 11 and lifting weights since I was 16, so a decade and a half later, I’m as strong as I’ll ever be. I have a decent grasp of how to make a boat go fast, but I was heavier than I wanted to be and too uncomfortable to get any sort of consistent training on land.

“I will never be the next Bradley Wiggins mountain-goat type”

It wasn’t exactly by choice, but over the lockdown from March to September I didn’t have another option, so I did every minute of my aerobic training out on my road bike hacking up and down the Chilterns.

I also dropped the amount of weights sessions I did per week from three to one and added in a circuit, similar to the ones I used to do as a teenager in Peterborough. By the time I came back to Caversham when the restrictions were eased, I had lost 10kg of bulk and I’m now the fittest I have ever been.

Needless to say, I will never be the next Bradley Wiggins mountain-goat type, but road cycling remains a large part of my programme even now we are back into the swing of things. My programme is certainly unorthodox, but it works.

I’d fully encourage people to step back and look at how they could make their programme more functional, varied, practical or even just more enjoyable, especially if you’re a bit broken or looking to address some weaknesses like me. It may be a bit of a leap of faith but try something new – keep your body guessing.

Photo: Adam Heybeard

The Road to Tokyo

Hear more from James Fox in British Rowing’s documentary The Road to Tokyo which follows the GB Rowing Team and tells the athletes’ stories as they strive for selection for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. All three episodes are available free here.