Sam Blythe’s Blog

Building Training Momentum

It has been a while since I have written anything meaningful down in a full blog, and as I look back now it has been a pretty rough 2 or 3 years in terms of rowing performance since I was peaking in 2016. This is of course all relative, but for a good few years I’ve known my performances had been on the decline.

Whilst it is widely accepted that after a peak our results will eventually start to drop off, the point at which this happens depends on several factors. These include how long we have been rowing and what our fitness levels were at the start point. For example, if you are relatively new to the sport then beginner are easier to come by as opposed to someone who has been rowing 20 years where gains are marginal and require huge effort and sacrifice to see improvements.

A few years ago I wasn’t ready to start my decline. Everyone has a story to tell, but looking back to the moment I turned 40, things started to head in that direction and most of the reasons seemed unavoidable. I may have been getting older, but I was completely motivated and on the brink of WR age group performances with no reason for that to change. It was seemingly at that point though that my past career (rugby) and lack of any real regard for protecting my body that things started to break down (back and arms primarily). After a period of hope/denial, doing my best to fight the situation and trying to build initial momentum, this eventually resulted in extended durations of doctor enforced rest from rowing, and ultimately surgery. I had reached a point during an interval session that I actually couldn’t row. As strange as it sounds, that was a positive for me at the time as it was a chance to draw a line in the sand to work forwards from. I obviously kept myself fit and in good condition throughout, (cycling, weights and general conditioning) knowing that when I had fully rehabilitated and healed I would have a strong body again to push forward with. 

Well, that didn’t happen quite as I thought. I got back to 70-80% health fairly well which is a trait I have had most of my competitive life, but things really started to stutter then. My training performances were very up and down with frequent negative reactions to rowing and one injury leading to another, or a reccurrence of a previous one. I did manage to put a short training spell together at the end of last year to give myself a chance of competing, but this turned out to be a false dawn with the outcomes mixed. This proved neither mentally or physically good for me as, despite doing my best at the time, I hadn’t really given a true account of myself. It left me with more questions than answers and given my style of leadership is through actions and results, I became increasingly frustrated as I just couldn’t see a clear path to achieve this. Something had to change.


Something had to change.

What did I need to do then?

I finally accepted that I had to change something. I faced the choice of throwing in the towel or remaining patient and finding a way to approach things differently. I guess there was only ever one outcome here so went with the latter, knowing at some point I’d be faced with the same choice again if I didn’t. 

Genuinly accepting where I was at was crucial and my starting point. It wasn’t acceptance that I was finished, more that I wasn’t what I used to be and that could be where I ended up. That is the hardest thing for anyone, but I knew it was the only way for me to build some momentum, albeit on a different path. My challenges changed daily and I hoped that trying to row more often, with less volume, intensity and pressure would help me get back my consistency. I know that being fit, active and healthy is the most important thing so putting less pressure on myself to perform could in the end aid my performance. 

I had to step out of my comfort zone in a different way, leave any ego at the door and employ a different type of mental strength, removing any self-doubt and resentment to where I was at because of what had gone before. In the last few months, I pledged to myself to row at least 5km per day, as part of my overall training. However uncomfortable things were, I figured I could muddle through 5000m. It didn’t have to be fast, nor in one sitting, and I have since found many inventive ways to hit 5 km during a session and rowing wasn’t the main focus very often. They have not all been straight forward, but I have stuck to it and I can feel a little momentum behind me now. I am not symptom-free, but I feel more confident and happy on the machine again. The exact reasons for that I will never quite know as there are many balls in play, but I’m in a better place now and performances are definitely heading in the right direction.

There are continually aspects of lifestyle and training to work on and only time will tell where this journey leads. Training feels important to me again, but it is more important because other aspects are under control. I have started to make progress and that is a better feeling than continual frustration and resentment. I’m not there yet but are we ever actually there….?

Whatever your challenges are, never give up. Change, modify or do whatever it is to keep things going and slowly you will start to feel the momentum shifting. You may not know when that shift will happen, but it will happen at some point if you keep going. Giving up, on the other hand, leaves you exactly where you are now.

Happy Rowing.

Wattbike Vs BikeErg

I have been injured for the last 9-12 months or so to the point where I had to find an alternative means of testing and pushing myself as I’ve been unable to use the rowing machine. For the most part that has come in the form of the Wattbike (WB), an indoor static bike, and weight training. This is a fantastic piece of gym equipment and offers a huge range of session options that hopefully keeps me in decent shape when the time comes I am able to re-introduce the rower to my training.  My aim and targets, medium and long term, are very much still rower focused when my body allows.

A few weeks ago now I took delivery of the latest piece of equipment that Concept 2 has produced. It is called the Bike Erg (BE) and operates using the same flywheel system as both the Ski Erg and the rowing machine. It sounded an intriguing prospect for many reasons, not least because I was interested to see how it matched up, and differs from, the WB. In the last few weeks 75% of my sessions have been on the BE and I have mixed their style up so as to get a balanced opinion on it.

The two bikes are able to produce a similar amount of power (recorded in watts) as one another, but the feel of this process is very different between the bikes. I feel the WB is more like cycling on the road whereas the BE is not so much like cycling. You could liken the WB to a sports car, quickly up to speed and very smooth. The BE, more of a grind, like a powerful 4 x 4 that would be great using its power to tow a trailer. Petrol Vs Diesel perhaps. Both very powerful for different purposes.

When you are on the bikes, particularly a short interval session, the WB is far easier to get up to speed than the BE. It’s almost instant. This does mean on the short sessions the watts are higher on the WB, but both leave you with a savage leg burn. As a rule, I have found that the output (watts) is far more even the further distance you cover. To make an even better direct comparison you would have to compare a timed session rather than distance session (below) as the pace/km is about 20s faster on a WB for the same output in watts on the BE.

Both of these machines can be a brutal workout and as an experience can’t really be compared. I’m not sure spending time on one would necessarily help the other, similar to cross-training to improve rowing. Whatever it is you want to improve is the activity you need to spend nearly all your training time on. Sounds obvious, but diversifying may help training stimulation and interest, but sticking to the piece of equipment you want to improve on is the way to go….more so the closer to your limits you get.

At less than £1000, the BE is less than half the price so there is an issue here definitely. I would say if you hadn’t ever been on a WB then the BE would be the best bike you could own, certainly at that price point. Both are also easy to use, however, the WB offers far greater feedback which would be useful to a more experienced rider.  If you are aiming to train hard then both can deliver that for sure, but in a way, you will only understand by trying both. In my opinion, the BE is more brutal, it takes no prisoners and Concept 2 really have created a rowing machine, and all the fear that holds, in a bike format! Here are 2 opposing style sessions for a quick comparison of the two bikes. The first is an identical interval session (most other things equal) I did on the respective bikes on following days this weekend and the second is a comparable effort distance session.

1 – 400m x 12 (rest 90s

WB – about 24s per rep (ave pace 59s/km) and an average of 774w.








BE – about 33s per rep (ave pace 1m 23s/km) and an average of 596 w.

This highlights the higher output and faster pace on the WB. Both hurt a lot, but I was in real trouble on the BE. Maybe that was because it was several seconds longer, but it was horrible.

2 –

30km Wattbike
332 watts, 40m 21s, (ave pace 1.20.7/km)

30km Bike Erg
321 watts, 51m 28s, (ave pace 1.42.9/km)

Similar feeling effort on these two sessions, albeit a nicer experience on the WB.

I will shortly be releasing a cycling plan that can be adapted to both bikes, but to put it bluntly both will keep you very fit. I think when the dust settles the two bikes will end up in different commercial sectors. In my opinion at this point, however, the Wattbike would be a more comfortable and luxurious way to die than the Bike Erg!!!


***This comparison/blog is based on my own experiences***





Setting new goals…

Creating a monster.

With my enforced hiatus from indoor rowing set to continue for a while yet, I found myself in danger of becoming frustrated and losing my way a bit so I needed a new focus until I could make a sensible return to rowing. Whilst all my main goals ultimately remain erg related I have poured my physical efforts into improving my indoor cycling on the Wattbike. These are great machines and can be every much as brutal on the body, albeit in a different kind of way, but I hope that on my return the carry over to rowing will have been beneficial. I am still able to weight train more and more effectively again as my back injury continues to improve after careful treatment and monitoring. So there are loads of positives in my training at the moment despite several challenges and limitations.

I’ve set my sites on making myself a ‘monster’ on the bike in a world where I am fast realising there are some real monsters! I use this term lightly of course, but I am seeing consistent improvements through structured training and hard work. In my session this morning I was able to not only ride further than before, but also cruise at a pace that only a number of weeks ago would have felt nearer my maximum. Sessions don’t often feel that much easier as we simply push harder, but it does mean results improve along the way making motivation to hurt yourself more appealing.

I am not totally sure how long this focus will last as it will depend on how my body responds to treatment, but whilst on this journey I am using the time to develop a training plan on the bike that will use many of my principles from my FM Rowing plans. These will be aimed at the general fitness and health enthusiast, but can be adapted whether you are a beginner or an athlete. My first thoughts were that heart rates on the bike are lower than on a rower and I was able to hold a conversation during a perceived higher intensity session. Now as I have progressed however, I am finding my lactate tolerance is increasing allowing me to keep pushing harder and my heart rate is starting to hit higher numbers.

I would encourage you all to trust your own journey. Training and life will never always be straight forward and there will always be new challenges and opportunities there for us if we are prepared to tackle them with a positive approach. Our mindset is more powerful than we believe.

To keep up to date with all my training away from rowing, follow me on instagram @samblythe.

Training and Injury

Dealing with injury.

There are many things that motivate me to write my next blog and at times it isn’t always following a positive experience. I think the clue is within the title here and I’m hoping I am able to turn a frustrating situation into a positive.

As is the case with any athlete, or recreational exerciser, it is very likely that at some point they will have to deal with injury. Some more than others depending on many factors, but I am sure you can all relate to it in some way. There are also many variables here of course and every individual will have their own way of dealing with it from complete rest to working through it at all costs and ignoring symptoms.

Over the course of my professional career you may be able to guess which camp I fell into as I have had multiple injuries and operations, maybe not more than average, but certainly my fair share. As a younger man I had no real regard for my body and in many ways that trait has been hard to shake off as I have got older.  My approach to their rehab is not necessarily the advice I would give to others in the same situation as I have trained relentlessly for the last 25 years and am dealing with a very real addiction. I will continue to exercise in any way I can until I am unable to do so. My compromise is that I will alter things if necessary, but I will never rest. This has obviously got me a fairly long way, but has also put me in several difficult situations.

Most of us have had some sort of back complaint in our lives and I  am no exception here, but have always seen and felt the symptoms early enough to be able to manage things. Well a few months ago I had a few back twinges, nothing out of the ordinary. I followed this with a few long drives which seemed to be the start of my decline now that I look back on it all. It was bearable (drugs are amazing things!) so I continued to row for the next 6 or 7 weeks until 12 days ago where I simply couldn’t pull a single stroke without pain on the drive and extension. What also was apparent that training through the injury initially had developed a painful left elbow issue where I was obviously compromising my rowing technique. With race season fast approaching this wasn’t great timing and very frustrating for me, although technically I promised myself and a few people close to me that I wouldn’t be racing for a while and It seems that I will end up being true to my word now!  However in the scheme of life this was really not important and I needed to find some positives and refocus myself.

I have an MRI scan pending in a few days to give an exact diagnosis and I will continue on my treatment plan. Mentally and physically I have stepped away from the rower and am fortunate to able to swap it for time on the Wattbike which, in the absence or rowing, is an excellent replacement and gives me no obvious pain other than a savage leg burn during nearly every session!! I am working at a high enough intensity and building up a resistance on it that will hopefully ensure I don’t lose too much rowing power if and when I am able to return.  In addition I am still able to do weights for conditioning, although the pool of exercises currently possible is shrinking somewhat !

I know my way of dealing with things is far from conventional and I have consequently left myself in a difficult place so my mindset had to change. I now look forward to my sessions and progressing on a different piece of kit believing that this enforced time away from rowing, however long or short, can ultimately bring me back hungrier than ever to make progress. So the next time you are in a rowing session and wishing it away because it is too painful, remember when the option is taken away from you that you will more than likely want it back.


Weight training for indoor rowing

Weight training for indoor rowing


I am very often asked about weight training and its effectiveness for improving indoor rowing times. To answer this correctly, in my opinion, I need to know more about the individual asking the question as it is rarely a one size fits all scenario. It is a really grey area as there have been very fast rowers who have never lifted a weight and there have been very fast rowers who include plenty in their training schedule, and many combinations in between.

There are generally 2 categories of people asking the question. The first are those who have a very limited exposure to weight training in their life and they have started to plateau with their rowing times. They want to know if becoming stronger will give them a further boost in improving their times. The second type are those who have a longer history with weight training and want to know if they are doing too many weights sessions or the wrong type which are potentially getting in the way of progression.

I personally fit into the second category, where for the most part of my adult life I have probably lifted weights 5 times per week – with varying goals. For me to incorporate those levels into my rowing schedule was too much and never allowed me to be fresh enough to progress my rowing. So I slowly lowered the frequency and have settled on 2 sessions per week. I briefly flirted with 3 again, but it was clear to me that upset the training harmony so 2 it was. One of my sessions is more strength based – higher weight, lower reps and longer rest. The other session is more conditioning based – lower weight, higher reps and less rest. I always train with compound movements and both sessions will utilise my whole body including pushing movements that are not necessarily used in rowing, but give your body an overall balance. This system has allowed me to keep the vast majority of my strength, stay in decent shape whilst not impacting my rowing negatively. This feels perfect for me at this stage.

Those who fit in to category 1 would almost certainly benefit from being stronger. However this isn’t an overnight process and needs guidance and structure to achieve, choosing the correct exercises best suited to those muscles used in rowing is very important although with no previous experience this may be preceded with a period of conditioning so your body adapts. Then ideally training would be periodised so that strength was a priority at set times and rowing was very much secondary. Clearly rowing is still a good idea, but excelling on the rower at these times will be unlikely. These gains are best achieved in the off season then the frequency and volume of weight training would decrease as rowing performance becomes more of a priority. Hopefully at this point the increases in strength can be felt resulting in further gains on the rowing machine.



To summarise, and in simple terms, the longer your history and experience with strength training, the less the need for them to help improve your rowing times and potentially they may hinder your progress. Conversely if weights are a new thing then, if done correctly, they may really help you progress. In either category, I am speaking in general terms and it would also need to be considered the distance the individual was training for. Raw strength for a 500m is more relevant than that for a marathon. However, as with most things, it comes down to priorities and consistency is the best approach.


Happy rowing.



Head, Heart and Gut.

Most decisions we make are a combination , sub consciously or consciously, of head, heart and gut. Well it seems I’ve had a weekend long battle with these three. I have trained very well this week. It has been very hard, but I have hit some very good numbers. However, of late I have not been enjoying longer rows particularly so yesterday I decided to do an interval based Half Marathon ladder session. It broke the session into decreasing bite sized chunks which got faster, but would hopefully allow me to stay more interested and hit a session with plenty of volume.

It was a nice day so I set the rowing machine up outside with the following session.

6000m R18
5000m R20
4000m R22
3000m R24
2000m R26
1097m R28.

(rest 2m 30s between intervals).

It was mid morning and I felt OK so off I went. (I put my HR on, but kept it covered to look at afterwards). The first two intervals were not deathly, although I did feel more tired than I should have done the further they went on and I was very hot, but mentally after 2 reps in this session you are past half way so cracked on (revealing the HR after did show my HR was high). Well not far into the 4km R22 it was definitely taking a fair bit more out of me than it should have so I was starting to consider my options. Heart wanted to continue, but my head and gut said stop and bank the relative quality up to that point. I compromised by adding a split to my target for a while, but that had little bearing on how I felt and mentally I then questioned the point of it. So I stopped half way through that R22 as the clock ticked on.

This is where the mental battles began! I finally decided to switch the monitor off and do the other half of the session the following morning if I felt fresher, but it had definitely not sat well with me that I didn’t finish there and then.
I woke up this morning feeling tired, but surely 10km would be fine so I set the monitor for the remaining metres and got started. Very soon into the first interval I realised I didnt feel great still so swapped it for a Watt Bike interval session. Got that done, but there was still a part of me that wasn’t happy the original session was not complete! A few hours later and my eldest daughter offered to look after the other kids so I could train again and I was determined to get the job done however I felt. Well I managed it, the numbers were not special as such, but completing this was about way more than numbers after 24 hours wrestling with my head, heart and gut.

Whether it should have been as big a part of my weekend as it was is another debate, but these things are never straight forward and now at least after it I can stop thinking what is the right thing to do and put this session to bed.

Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness for Rowing Performance.

‘It’s OK for you, you are mentally strong’.

‘It’s OK for you, you are good at rowing – you love it’!

I have heard people say these things to me on many occasions. Whether they are true or not is a different story, but what is certainly true is that we are not born with these qualities. They are developed over time with effort, discipline and personal experiences.

In rowing terms mental toughness is often attached to those individuals who keep going when things get tough and where others would perhaps give in. I think it is widely accepted that rowing performance is at least as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, if the brain starts to give in then the body will nearly always follow. A positive (and realistic) mental approach will not guarantee success, but a negative one will almost always lead to a struggle and this is something that we are in control of. I have had many days where I have had a double session scheduled and the morning felt terrible so I feared the evening, yet it went well. This has taught me that there are so many variables in how we feel and perform that we must aim for a mindset where we take each session as it comes. Work with facts and not emotions.

Why do we feel we need to stop?

Putting the handle down (HD or stopping) is common terminology in the rowing community. Some people are more guilty than others, but we are all human so I think it is a situation and subsequent feeling we can all relate to at some point. Generally after an HD we feel angry and wish we had carried on as the pain of giving in is mentally far harder to deal with than the short term pain at the time of the physical effort. Nearly always this is NOT because of the pain that we are in, but because of the perceived pain that lies ahead. It happens far less in training sessions than it does in a time trial when we see our target time drift away as things get tough and the doubts set in. Yet we have been in as much, or more pain, in many training sessions before. The danger of stopping is that will slowly become a habit and more acceptable in the long term

The desire to stop also happens more as our individual performances improve and we near our capacity. The margins we are chasing become finer, meaning the greater the mental and physical effort that is required from us to hit our targets. With improvement and experience also comes greater expectations from ourselves and/or others. With so many variables (energy, mood, nutrition, sleep, hormones, hydration, time of day, health) these fine margins are easily effected so the need for mental toughness grows to ensure those and those greater expectations don’t seem further away.

So what should we do to start to overcome this?

The biggest factor (not easy at all) is to try and work with facts at the time and not your emotions of what you perceive to lie ahead. Be mindful. The pain will rarely be as bad as we imagine and when it does hit, you are close enough to the end by then for us to embrace it and get across the line. There is a critical point (often half way, but not always) where the finish line goes from seemingly miles away to within our reach. This is the first point to aim for when we start to struggle as getting to that point changes our outlook. If the desire to put the handle down is still too big then rather than stop, just back off the pace for a short while. Count strokes in groups of 10 then reassess, even take it a stroke at a time if necessary. These tactics will have a far greater effect on recovery than you think and will also get you mentally and physically closer to the finish.

What happens if we still get the same mental block repeatedly?

If you have applied all the above then quite simply you must at some point carry on when you want to stop. Nobody else can do this bit for you. Even if it means slowing down to below your target. This builds belief for the next time that you can get through also and perhaps at a faster pace. Toughing it out through the hard sessions is in fact building our future performances and the sessions we struggle in are far more important than the straight forward ones for building our physical and mental strength.

Mental strength comes in many forms, from having the discipline and consistency to train when it feels like the last thing we want to do, to not stopping at those vital times when we desperately want to. One thing for sure is that becoming mentally strong doesn’t happen overnight, but takes time to build. We also must recognise that many of these mental hurdles that present themselves will not go away no matter how experienced we get, it is a case of learning how to best deal with them. The good news is that you can make a start with your very next session.

Happy rowing.


Keep Going at Rowing…Sam’s 5 Top Tips

I was recently asked my opinion on the very general topic of ‘Top Tips’ for rowing. Rather than focus on issues related to the use of the machine or technique, I instead focussed on a lifestyle approach to answering the very pertinent question ‘What are the things that are going to contribute to motivation, progress and sustainability when it comes to rowing?’. Essentially  ‘How will you keep going?’.

1.The most important thing for me is consistency. Sporadic, short term goal focussed training won’t equate to much in terms of long term overall progress. Initially of course if you’re new to the sport, short term gains can be massive . Over time however the margins dwindle and it can get difficult to stay patient and consistent with your journey. Dip in and out like a yoyo dieter and your results won’t be sustained and you also won’t progress further. Find a level of training that is sustainable and enjoy the effort and discipline required to execute it.

2. Be clear about the reason you’re rowing. This will be the ultimate motivation for keeping going. What’s your end goal? It could be to get faster, be as competitive as you can, improve general fitness, relieve stress, or a whole host of other personal motivators. Whenever motivation starts to waver look beyond what’s difficult in the moment and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on all the things that were important to you in the moment you decided to give this a go. You’ll likely find that although something is telling you it’s easier not to train right now, there was a really good reason you decided to row, so commit to it wholeheartedly and train regardless (blog – What’s Your Goal).

3. Deal with adversity. Acknowledge and accept that the journey will not always be smooth. Some days are far harder than others for no apparent reason. It’s these days more so than the easier ones, that contribute to growth both personally and athletically. Insightful athletes train smart and know that progress comes in many forms. In my experience training gains come and go in waves . Giving up when things are more difficult simply delays the next wave of progress even further. Surf the urge to give up and you will be rewarded far sooner (blog – Catching a Wave).

4. Aim to complement exercise with a healthy lifestyle. The two go hand in hand and addressing both will multiply your chances of success. Prepare in advance for your sessions, recovery and nutrition. Sleep more, hydrate better. The more we want something, the more perceived sacrifices we will need to make. In time those sacrifices bring reward and no longer seem such a big ask. Lifestyle changes are fundamental to success.
5.Have a structure or follow a training plan. Be accountable to, and motivated by yourself and others. Random, unstructured, mood dependent training is less rewarding and by no means yields the same results. It’s like taking the scenic route in the dark. Know yo
ur destination, plan your route and stay patient with your j
ourney (blog-The Importance of a Training Plan).

Margins, expectations and perspective.

I actually wrote some of this short blog in reverse as I started to get some clarity on a very mixed morning. I am not sure what purpose it will serve other than knowing that on this occasion it’s intended to make me feel better! I’ve had a great weeks training. Hard but good, and although there are probably a handful of reasons why my session didn’t go to plan,  the overriding harsh reality is that today the margins just felt too fine.

As we progress in our training and over time get faster, many people think rowing gets easier. It doesn’t. The margins get smaller and the effort required to improve gets much greater. I’m now in a place where I know what I can achieve and what I’m currently training for, but the margins I’m working with mean that timing is fundamental to success. Mind and body need to align. I thought that today was the day, but only a very short way into a time trial reality hit and I realised it wasn’t to be.

The reason TT’s can be so hard mentally is because we have an element of expectation, usually as a combined result of factors such as past performances, certain personality traits and what we perceive others expect from us (the latter to a lesser extent in my case). This creates added pressure, often taking the anticipation, stress and expectation past the point of being productive. If at any point we have the thought that our target isn’t achievable like I did today, we leap ahead in our thinking to the end of the session where we perceive failure in all it’s ugly glory, with every negative emotion that goes with it. So we decide to stop…because what’s the point? May as well feel crap without the effort! Without those expectations however, we’re much more able to carry on regardless, step into the unknown and see what lies ahead. The vast majority of these processes are subconscious.

When I stopped I was angry, really angry. Something which I rarely am because it doesn’t work for me. A quick check in with my inner sports psychologist simply told me ‘Do not dwell’. That was going to be hard.  In many ways harder than the training I have completed this week! The easiest option would have been to walk inside and sulk for the rest of the day, but that wouldn’t be fair on my family. So instead I attempted to move on and jumped on my trusty alternative, the Wattbike and dispatched myself accordingly with a 6 x 5000m (rest 2m) session. That made me feel a little better, because as punishing as it sounds I actually find it very rewarding.


Being passionate and caring about things as much as we do most of the time drives us forward, but caring too much can really hurt when things don’t fall into place.  Nobody died today and this effort will clearly keep for another day. I know this. It’s important to me yes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s very much a #firstworldproblem. When I walked back into the house and my son Zach said ‘I love you Dad’ I was instantly reminded of what really matters. That’s what’s important. That’s persepctive…I will live to train another day.perspective-blog-2

Where is Your Comfort Zone?

sams-comfort-zone-blogObviously there are multiple answers to this question, but most of you reading this will relate to it in a training capacity. Sessions we’re familiar with or find easier to complete are definitely in our ‘comfort zone’, whereas those we find physically or mentally demanding are clearly outside it. From my own perspective I’m learning a whole new answer to this question.

Before I started any form of rowing coaching I was your regular competitor. Although there’s plenty to dislike about racing in my opinion, it was effectively my comfort zone. I have often wondered why I do it to myself , but up until recently carried on regardless. Competing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s what I do. Putting myself in these positions has over the years not only become the norm, it’s also become what people expect. More recently as my coaching role has developed I have participated in events on more than one level,  as a coach, a cox AND as a competitor aiming for the podium.  All within the same event! This isn’t an impossible task but it does involve the need to divide attention and also gives a very different feel to race day. On these occasions, making my way home, I have  often wondered whether I could have been any better at any, if not all of the roles I tried to fulfill during the day. I’m yet to reach a conclusion on that one.


Up until this point despite the task of multiple ‘hats’ being a large one, there’s always an element of comfort in knowing that I’d compete…the bit that I do…the bit that I know well. Last week however, I was able to try something new. To step outside my comfort zone, which is ironically the opposite to a lot of people’s! The British Rowing Indoor Championships (BRIC)  took place at the Olympic Velodrome and  I had initially planned to race when I entered well in advance of the date.   A few months prior however I took the decision not to compete until after Christmas. It felt like time to change tack. Largely as a means to encourage growth and personal development. I was asked the question many times before, during and after the event as to why I wasn’t racing when there was essentially a medal for the taking. My answer – My focus is currently elsewhere in relation to rowing and as I always like to be totally prepared for an event I didn’t feel like this was the right time.  That isn’t to say things will ever be perfect on the day, but I always aim to give myself the best chance. The real test for me was to show up and tolerate the discomfort of not doing what I usually do as a way of being able to maintain my focus on the other goals I have in relation to the sport. I recently chose not to compete at the Welsh Indoor Championships for similar reasons but wasn’t exposed in the same way as I wasn’t able to be there on the day. BRIC was my first opportunity to stay away from the race floor, focus on coaching and generally enjoy the day.

When I arrived I realised, unknowingly, that I had stepped firmly out of my comfort zone.  No race environment and prep to fall back on, no nerves or apprehension, but still the lure of a medal. Thankfully my category was early in the schedule and my race came and went without temptation lingering for too long. Once I’d surfed that temporary urge from there on in I focussed on enjoying the races, seeing so many people take themselves outside of their own comfort zones, with many experiencing the unique race environment for the first time. The day was a great success and ended  with a night out in London of the highest quality.  The indoor rowing community really are a great bunch.

Was I glad I did it this way? Well I definitely didn’t miss the race build up! I’m proud I stuck to my plan and stayed true to the journey I have currently put myself on, but perhaps there’s a part of me that was left wondering what might have been (that ‘familiar’ part of me). Either way I have a deeper understanding of myself which is great from a personal development perspective. I’ve now experienced all three scenarios: competing, coaching and competing, and just coaching.


When I honestly reflect on my experiences, I don’t think I’d agree that progress (in performance terms) is purely to be found outside of comfort zones. From a personal development perspective however what seems to be the case, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that once something becomes routine it’s probably time to look beyond.  What I’ve also found after avoiding taking this step for quite some time is that often that place beyond isn’t nearly as daunting as you first think. One thing’s for sure if we want to change and make improvements in our life we need to find the courage to take that first.  There’s a whole lot to experience out there.