[Premium Content] An Interview With Cameron Nichol Of RowingWOD
Olympic athlete, doctor, and entrepreneur, Cameron Nichol has hit his stride—and he’s not even 30 yet. Casey Gillespie chats with the man behind RowingWOD, one of the fastest growing businesses in the fitness industry.
When did you start rowing?
In September 2005. I arrived at medical school, six and a half feet tall, about 185 pounds, and I was searching for a basketball club where I could play. Lo and behold, there was no basketball club near my medical school, so I decided to start rowing.
You were already in medical school when you started rowing?
Yes. I always wanted to be a doctor. I played all the different sports that my school offered—basketball, rugby, cricket, football. I picked up an oar when I was 18 simply because it looked hard and quite fun. It also meant that I got to escape the hustle and bustle of London on the river.Everyone Is An Athlete & Every Athlete Should RowClick To Tweet
How did you fit in all the elite-level rowing training while going to school? Most people can’t even hack medical school on its own.
It was hectic. I think I was primed for it at school because I did sports, music and all my academic stuff. I was pretty used to juggling things. If you try to throw a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump straight out. But if you slowly turn up the water one degree at a time, the frog won’t realize what is happening. That is how I evolved. I started rowing once or twice a week, and then one of my coaches planted a seed that set me into fighter mode. He said, “London 2012 is six years away. If you want that, you could train pretty hard and you might get to go.” And so I was like, “I’m in. Let’s do this.”
My first year I went from never rowing to competing at the Henley Royal Regatta, where we made the final. And then again the next year. So basically, 18 months after picking up an oar, I found myself on the Great Britain team where we entered 23 world championships. Fast-forward another 18 months after the Beijing Olympiad and I was invited to train with the full Olympic team for the 2012 games. Luckily, my medical school was amazing about the whole thing. They said to me, “If you would like to take some time away, just let us know what works.” Originally, I think in their heads they thought it would be training once a day. Then I sent them the timetable and they seemed shocked. But they were fantastic and supported me all the way through it.
Did you end up taking any time away?
Oh yeah, loads. I think I have the slowest-track medical degree ever. Training with the Olympic team was intense. I arrogantly thought, “I’ll train and continue on with › medicine and that will be fine.” Initially, I was managing to study full-time while still training about three hours a day. That was quite hard. But with Olympic training you’ve got to do two, three sessions a day, with a day off every three weeks. Then you go to training camp two weeks out of every six. You are also not allowed to train in your own time; you very much have to be part of the team and turn up at G.B. rowing headquarters. That was when I had to make the decision—do I stop medicine and pursue rowing full time, do I do medicine part time and pursue rowing full time, or do I just forget this rowing dream and get back to being a doctor? I chose option two, which was to try to juggle things. And I did it relatively successfully for a while. Then two years out from the Olympics, I made a decision to pause the medicine and row full time.I Love The Term Everyday Athlete Because Movement Is Such A Fundamental Part Of Who Ear Are As HumansClick To Tweet
Do you find it challenging being an athlete and a doctor and working with people who are unwell?
Interesting question. My philosophy is that everyone is an athlete and every athlete should row. I’ve seen so much crossover between people in the hospital, people that I have trained with in gyms, people that I coach and people that I row with at an elite level. It is the human body performing a task that we give it. And what I mean by that is, for instance, when I’m treating these sick, elderly people, they’re functional. The task they need to complete in order to stay alive, essentially, is to get up and down stairs, get out of a chair or get into bed. Then take that all the way to the other end of the spectrum where the Olympic athletes sit. Olympic rowers need to be able to get from the start line to the finish line as fast as possible. And at its most simplistic form, that is the human body adapting and training for a task. I feel really strongly that no matter how old you are, you have to be able to move because that’s one of the fundamental needs of a human body. And you need to move through your own appropriate task, whether that’s getting up out of a chair or putting a stick in the water and flinging it around in the water. Everyone’s united by movement.
It basically goes back to the idea that everyone is an Everyday Athlete.
Yeah, exactly. I love the term “Everyday Athlete” because movement is such a fundamental part of who we are as human beings. We’ve been moving for tens of thousands of years. I think that there’s a huge percentage of the population that is underactive and would benefit greatly from the knowledge that we are united by the fact that we all move.
When you were training as an elite athlete, how much time was spent rowing and how much time was spent on doing accessory exercises like flexibility and joint mobility?
Rowing is a unique sport in the sense that, compared to other competitive sports, it’s quite low-skill. Most of the world’s best athletes started their sport at the age of two or three, or, maybe if they were late, four or five. Whereas rowing you can start at quite a late age as it has a low skill and a high physiological demand. It’s a power endurance sport, so you can’t just be strong and you can’t just be fit, you’ve got to be able to create power and sustain that for like five to seven minutes. The training is very demanding and the mileage takes up most of your training time.
Getting miles under your belt makes up about 85-90% of your training. A pretty standard day is doing a 20K row in the morning and another 20k row in the afternoon. From a technical point of view, you want to make sure that you get a lot of strokes in because that helps improve your technique and efficiency. The accessory work we do tends to be around prehab and injury prevention. That, and I had to do quite a lot of core work to ensure that the force was dissipated from hands to feet and feet to hands efficiently. And then, obviously, because it’s a power endurance sport, lifting some weights is important. That tends to be rep ranges of fives, eights and those sorts of things. Never one-rep maxes.