15 Mins With… GB Rower & 5K Indoor WR Holder Tom George


Tom George is an Olympic bronze medallist and Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race veteran.

He’s also the current 5,000m indoor rowing world record holder – one of the most brutal tests of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness in any sport.

Here he discusses emptying the tank, rowing-specific strength training, and learning to love pushing through the pain barrier.

After I broke the world record for the 5,000m indoor row [with a time of 14 mins and 53.9 secs] in February, it was the worst I have ever felt. I was just lying on the floor, trying to get as much air in as possible. It hurt like hell. Pain was shooting through my legs and my lungs. I couldn’t move. But you want to do these challenges for yourself – and you want to show you can be a key part of a crew.

The 5k erg test is actually part of my normal training programme for the Olympics and the [Oxford-Cambridge] Boat Race. But ultimately indoor training is just a tool to help us perform on the water at the Olympics [bronze, 2020], the World Championships [bronze, 2018 and 2019], and the European Championships [silver, 2019; gold, 2021].

When I was younger I played rugby, but I saw rowing as a way to complement my fitness and strength training. Without really trying, I got quite a lot better. I never really thought I would break records. But I always knew that I was good at suffering.

In a typical week we complete 220-240km of rowing, indoors and outside. The longest session is 28km. The shortest session is 12km, but with some intensity work and intervals. You mix in things like that so you get comfortable with being in painful places.

I do three gym sessions a week. Power cleans are very specific to the movement of rowing. Then I do deadlifts and squats, and bench pulls and bench presses to balance it out. We also do a lot of explosive jumping on force plates.

Indoor rowing is very similar to outdoor rowing in terms of the movement and the technique. On the water there are other factors, like how you’re moving your hands, and slide speeds, but in terms of muscle usage it is quite similar.

A common misconception about rowing is that it’s a pulling sport. It’s very much a pushing sport, focusing on your legs. The arms do very little compared to your legs.

With rowing I like the way it is you versus you, and you versus the water. Your body will scream at you and tell you no, but if you can get through it, you feel totally free. I know it sounds weird but there is something comforting about beating the pain. Anything worth doing, you usually have to suffer for.

Tom George is the indoor 5,000m world record holder and an Olympic bronze medallist. Follow him on Instagram @tomgeorge1994

Words: Mark Bailey


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