Interview with Bill Barry, Coach to Alan Campbell

Alan at WorldsBill has been Alan Campbell's coach since he joined Tideway Scullers School and has worked with him through selection to the GB squad and becoming a World Silver Medallist in the single scull.

What are the key elements to Alan's training each week?

Technique, technique technique.  He uses the rowperfect for technique and uses weights to improve technique.  e.g. we needed to regain leg strength from his operation and because of race strategy we needed even more leg strength and core stability in order to hold the strenth properly in the body.

How many times a week does he do weights and ergos?

For an average week, weights twice a week and ergos twice a week.  When we are doing strength training (post Olympics to rehabilitate him after his knee injury) he did it four times per week with gaps between each session.
We do this because strength comes in the recovery of the muscles not during the strength training itself. In order to gain strength you need to allow as much recovery between sessions as you can.  We did a split programme of upper body and lower body weights in separate sessions.


And rowperfect work?

Alan usually does one of two sessions either a 30 minutes rate 20 and we set the RP around the 4- speed in order to get it as close as possible to what the rest of the squad are doing.  We compare the watts over 30 minutes – the higher they are the more he is improving.  We then make a comparison to covert them to speed against the rest of the squad.
The other session is one hour rate 18 looking at average watts and average split.  I do look at his powercurve on the RP and also biomechanics, it is very consistent.  We know from this that he has the best powercurve expecially in terms of reaching max force early in the stroke.

Were there any changes in how he sculled this year?

Technically we are trying to improve beginnings and finishes but we still want perfection because this does dictate the speed you can drive the boat up to.  He has a high speed compared to others.  In particular this year we wanted to improve leg strength and drive and to lower the pressure of the drive to the lower back rather than up in the shoulders.  Very tall people scull higher up the back and in the shoulders and we wanted a power drive that was more parallel to the water and low in the back.
This should help to run the boat as flat as possible.  It used to be a criticism that he bounced the boat at the finish and it now runs much more flat.

We work on bladework and coverage of the blades – trying to finish the stroke with the least possible drag on the water.  Ideally this would be extraction at 90 degrees to the water – we want to get as near as possible to this so the drive continues to the last millimetre.

What skill drills do you favour?

We do a lot of square blades – starting every outing with 4 to 8 kms of square blade paddling.  Then we do an exercise to square for three strokes and feather for three, getting the effect of the exercise into normal paddling.
we do a lot of feet out paddling.  This helps the finish by not driving the body down into the bows of the boat at the finish.
Also "dunking" and quarter slide push exercise where you are sitting at front stops at your normal catch position and drop the blades in and out of the water (dunking) and then attempt to take a 10cm stroke (quarter slide push), catching but not moving the body – just moving the legs to start the power.  Then you go off full slide paddling trying to repeat the feeling in the full stroke.

We also do rollups at different speeds from slow up to very, very fast.  These aim to make the beginning [of the stroke] as the last thing coming forward up the slide rather than the first thing of the power phase. Blades must be covered before you start the return.  It trains you.  If you catch first thing on the way back down the slide you stab the water and miss the beginning.

Do you have any advice for club scullers and club coaches?

Keep it simple, sucker!  KISS.
I think what's important in the stroke itself is that it isn't difficult to think about.  The classic stroke has good length, good beginning, good finish, co-ordinate the body parts legs, body, arms.  There are a million things between these words.
But, build that stroke slowly – concentrate on one thing at a time.  Keep the coaching simple.  Work at it brick by brick – build the stroke that will make the athlete go fast in the end.  If you build a stroke that isn't right you will build a stroke that at high ratings will exhaust the athlete.  When you have the stroke, then build the physiology to match the stroke you have taught.

What's next for you?

Next is training and agreeing the improvements we are going to make over the year and then go and make them. Then go fast at the next World Championships.  Prepare for the qualification Worlds and our target is a gold medal in London 2012.
It sounds simple, but Alan'll have to go two or three times round the world in sculling before he reaches that goal.  Alan won't shirk the hard work.

I like the RP because…

I have always liked it because it's closer to the sculling and rowing feel and in particular (we learnt this lesson the hard way) there is less impact on the knee joints because the whole system moves when you drive it.  This is of course closer to the sculling movement because the boat moves when you press on the footplate and so does the RP.  Other machines have a very high impact and this can damage the knee.
In Alan's case having had a knee problem we don't want to do that again.  We use it for both anti-injury and a more realistic feel for sculling and rowing on the water.

One criticism I have is I wish they could set the machine up so it's more in line with the position you get in a sculling or rowing boat.  Neither the feet nor the seat are in the right position compared to Alan's single scull.  He is a big man with a short back.
Alan now does no training at all on other rowing machines. It has contributed to his speed and technique improvements which have together brought him a World Silver Medal.

One thought on “Interview with Bill Barry, Coach to Alan Campbell

  1. Stephen Walker says:

    I agree with almost everything that Bill has said about coaching. My philosophy exactly. Technique, technique, technique. It’s not practice that makes perfect but PERFECT practice that makes perfect. You cannot improve the strength of the the legs by training the arms. You cannot develop fast strength by training at very slow speeds. The only issue that I would contest is the idea that you need to develop max force early in the stroke. The efficiency of the stroke changes throughout the stroke and there is no point in applying maximum effort at a point in the stroke when efficiency is zero (to take an extreme example) because you will get zero return on your investment. Force should be matched as precisely as possible to the efficiency curve of the oar-boat machine. Fortunately the body’s levers do this for you as is evidenced by the power curve displays on the Rowperfect. But you can tinker with this curve so as to match your boat and rig and this is the value of the RP. It’s a great machine.

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