Deliberate Practice with Helen Glover

Deliberate Practice with Helen Glover


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Helen Glover MBE is a British professional rower and a member of the Great Britain Rowing Team. Ranked the number 1 female rower in the world in 2015-16, she is a two-time Olympic champion, triple World champion, quintuple World Cup champion and quadruple European champion.  Helen has been an inspiration to many and her take on the things that have made her such a successful athlete, such as deliberate practice and a strong focus on technique, is extremely revealing.

Helen Glover Backstory

Helen Glover also has a remarkable personal story; from her selection via the World Class Start program, where she only met the height threshold for rowers by tiptoeing through the test, through an incredible unbeaten competitive run with partner Heather Stanning that harvested stacks of gold medals, to competing in the Tokyo Olympics while largely training at home as a mother of three young children.

The BBC documentary "Mother of all Comebacks" (BBC iPlayer, UK viewers only) follows Helen Glover's journey back into racing after retiring after winning gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics - covering every step of the way,  from regaining her fitness during the first pandemic lockdown in early 2020 to her Team GB selection for the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.  With new rowing partner Polly Swan (someone she had rowed with before the wildly successful pairing with Heather Stanning), Helen managed an amazing comeback to regain the European coxless pair title and then to finish 4th in the Tokyo Olympics.

In 2023, Helen announced her second Olympic comeback, with the aim of competing at the Paris games in 2024. She has said she wants to prove that mothers can reach the top, and compete at the very highest levels, saying: 'I want to be an elite athlete and a mum, not an elite athlete despite being a mum. I want to be able to do the two absolutely to the same ability as everybody else, without my being a mum being seen as a negative or leaving an asterisk beside my name. I want to be the very best and I truly think I can be better than ever.' Whilst in 2021 she said she was retiring for good, Helen said that this time, there is much more certainty surrounding the Olympics, without the ever-changing covid restrictions in 2021. This year, Helen has her sights set on the podium.

Helen Glover on deliberate practice

In 2018, before she'd committed to this comeback, Helen calculated during a training camp that in any given Olympiad, she took 4 million strokes in practice - that's 16,000 strokes for every stroke she'll take in an Olympic final!  In the video clip below Helen shared her insights with asensei:

Helen Glover talks about the importance of deliberate practice

On reflection, this highlighted to Helen how important it was that she focus on the QUALITY of practice. Rather than just logging distance or working in particular heart rate zones (a mindset that is exacerbated by many fitness apps) how do you make sure you're focusing on the right things and having the right learnings during training?

Technique and Perfect Practice

Helen also talked about the importance of perfect practicer during an address to the Oxford Union for students of Oxford University. The entire lecture and Q+A is well worth a watch, but in the short section of the video embedded below, you'll hear Helen talk about her training for the London 2012 Olympics.

Helen Glover explains the importance of technique in rowing

Helen wasn't yet a full-time rower, and was balancing her training with teaching. When Helen didn't have as much time as full-time members to train, what was her secret?  It was "time invested in technique was time really well spent ... while others were doing a 12k row I would do a 6k row and spend the rest of the time on technique ... and that pays huge dividends ... you can line up beside someone as fit as you and beat them by lengths if your technique is better".

Helen also talks about motivation and the importance of getting into a routine and showing up regularly even when you don't feel like it. Her advice was to change your mindset towards a positive intent, removing ambiguity, such as I am training today rather than I might train today in order to reduce the mental energy consumed by the internal debate.

Conclusions: Taking these learnings into your practice

We've seen Helen Glover explain the importance of technique and how deliberate practice can help you improve.  So how have we folded this Olympic expertise into the asensei coaching app?

  • Unlike fitness apps or workout apps, with Connected Coaching from asensei your practice is structured so that you're blending technique coaching with the training volume you need to practice and improve.
  • You're not just watching a video; using the performance monitor on your rowing machine asensei is watching YOUR performance and pushing you to your potential with personalized targets and real-time cues and corrections.
  • You'll experience what it's like to have DELIBERATE PRACTICE; a coaching philosophy that replaced mindless repetitions of movements with focused attention on the things that will improve your performance, however much time you've got for practice.
  • Every time you open the app there will be an appropriate workout, making it super easy to get into a routine, get started and minimise any motivational challenges.

asensei partnered with British Rowing to create the Master the Basics program for those new to the sport of indoor rowing. Once you've nailed those basics, you can push yourself to your best 2k, 5k or 6k finishing times with athletes like 4x Olympian Eric Murray, or simply enjoy what you've learned with workouts from studio fitness instructor Johan Quie - you can find out more in Our Favorite Rowing Programs.

Originally published in July 2021, this article was revised and updated in May 2022 and later in March 2023

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asensei is free to download and you can trial the first 3 workouts in the (RE)COMMIT program and let Eric calculate a 2k time that he can coach you to achieve in only 6 weeks. There are also workouts from Johan Quie and British Rowing to try for free.

All you need is an iPhone and access to an asensei Compatible rowing machine from Concept 2, WaterRower or FluidRower with a bluetooth capable monitor.

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