Dr. Cameron Nichol is a former Olympic Rower for Team GB and two time silver medalist. He is a doctor and founder of RowingWOD, a programmes based start up which combines the best of Rowing and CrossFit. In this episode we discuss the mental and physical demand of the Olympics and how this learning can be applied to The regular person.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Hey guys, thanks for joining us on another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. If you haven’t already, please remember to download the free Owaves app on the Apple App Store. It’s the number one wellness app on the App Store. It’s fun, it’s easy to use and it will allow you to effectively plan your day. It works great as a visual planner. And please remember to tell your friends and family. Also if you’re enjoying the show, please do us a huge huge favor and leave us a five star rating on your podcasts app. As always, thanks for listening and hope you enjoy the show.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Cameron, if if you don’t mind just so that we can sort of bring our listeners up to speed just to tell us a little bit about how you got into medicine itself. Part of the Owaves dynamic was that it came about from Royan’s experience with medical school and all the trials and tribulations of going through that and touching on what Sohaib said with doctors being some of the most unhealthy people, at least in America. I’m not sure how it is and in the UK and around the world but over here they’re sort of they’re not exactly practicing the the the concept of like, you know, practicing what they preach, really. So if you don’t mind just to let listeners know like a little bit about your journey through the Olympics and to medical school and then how you got into cross fit and rowing.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah absolutely. So I-very traditionally in the U.K. so you can go into medical school straight from school as in from high school. So I as an 18 year old arrived to University College London Medical School which is one of the top medical schools in the country with no real agenda other than to study really hard and to become a doctor. Mainly driven out of my fascination with the human body like I’m still to this day always amazed at what we can do with these bodies that we have.
And I just naturally gravitated towards a career in medicine because I love the kind of social interaction with people and working in teams and I love being challenged regularly on a short term basis but also with kind of long term career challenges. So I think that the way that medicine is set up from a professional standpoint just naturally gravitated to my personality. So I went pretty hard at high school and found myself there and quickly realized that it was hard.
I need a little bit of a break from the day to day studying. So, you know, intense hours, many many people can probably understand but I really needed a bit of a release for medical school and I tend to kind of exercise or movement as that way I could get away from the stress of studying. At first I looked for some basketball clubs. There wasn’t any sort of fidgeting with what I wanted to do with medicine. And I quickly found myself on the river and the River Thames with the University of London Boat Club.
And for me that just started a huge detour where I got presented with an opportunity to row to a very high level and I took that. So we can go in terms of what what that path led me to but essentially I arrived to medical school pretty stereotypically out of high school, worked pretty hard at that and had this almost six year detour to do Olympic rowing and was in the Olympic squad. And since that kind of journey has come to a close off the London 2012 Olympics, I returned back, finished off my medical degree and then I sort of found myself in the world of fitness and things sort of spiraled up there with lots different ventures.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Wow, Cam. So I mean it seems like you’re someone who seemed to rise up to challenges and if you see the parallels between a medicine in one way being demanding cognitively and kind of endurance of studying and organization, I’m sure a lot of those principles, I mean you take to excel in medicine from your kind of rowing career where you have to be extremely disciplined and organized as well as that mental toughness to kind of train, you know, have your nutrition on point. So where do you see your kind of-have you been able these transferable skills between rowing and medicine? Have they helped you or would you say they’re complete different things that you were doing at the time?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Well, I mean the a few flags to plant. The first is that to be an Olympic rower and to be the best in the world at sport, it’s not optimal to also do a medical degree. And then flipping it round to be a really good doctor and to excel at medical school, it’s not good to be a professional athlete. So I definitely wouldn’t be recommending that as a pathway to people if you wanted to be successful in either one.
I just found myself in that situation. So as an 18, 18 and a half year old um, I picked up my first ore and then almost within 18 months of that around medical school I was just training really hard because I enjoyed it and I found myself in the Great Britain Under 23 team and I won a World Championship 123 World Championship medal and then fast forward 18 months after that, I had an invite into the Olympic squad. So that was the big sort of pivot point for me.
So I I would say that I actually acquired a lot of skills that I didn’t even realize I was acquiring. I mean everyone in job interviews talked about time management and leadership and, you know, being able to compartmentalize your day and being able to maximize all your skills through all these sorts of things that we sort of hear but we don’t really understand, I don’t think, I didn’t as an 18, 19 year old, what that really meant. But I was fitting a lot into my days.
I was waking up very early I was training before lectures and I was studying really hard during the day and then reversing that procedure in the evening. And I found myself at a point in 2008 after the Beijing Olympics where the national team coach said, “hey, you’ve got this opportunity to be in the Olympic squad and we want to win Olympic gold medals in London 2012. Do you want to be on board?” And, you know, sort of almost like that kind of cartoon where you have a devil and an angel on your shoulder.
One was going, “well, yeah, you gotta do this,” and the other one was going, “you gotta finish your medical degree, mate. I mean you’ve got to be a doctor.” So I was I was very fortunate in that even though they didn’t complement each other in terms of optimal strategy for success, I found a way where one completely distracted me from the other where when I was focused on making boats go fast that was that was what my world was. And then when I was in the dissection room or in the hospital or-I was trying to be the best doctor I could be.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: So in a way they-I made them complementary and my my medical school were so supportive of that kind of complementary partnership where we had, you know, the Olympic rowing team were very supportive of my medical studies and my medical school were very supportive of the training.
So we sort of found a way to make it work and I went part time and medicine for a couple of years and then I took two full years out of medical studies and was very very pleased that I managed to make that work because I then finish the 2012 Olympics with two world championship silver medals, was in Team G.B. for those games home Olympics and then finish off my medical degree in the last couple years after the game. So I found myself as a kind of 20, 25, 26 year old having graduated and become a doctor and then I’d also been to a home Olympic Games which is pretty cool.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I don’t think many people can say that. I mean being Olympian itself is such a rare thing. I mean you have to be in the top no point 0 0 1 percent of your what you do then on top of that being a doctor which is quite demanding as well. So you’re in a very unique position there. But you must have had this athletic potential growing up. Obviously genetics and training growing up has a lot to do with this. So when you were younger you must have identified the talents in the field of athletics and kind of, you know, rowing.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I mean, so I’m tall I’m six and a half feet tall, I’m 100 kilos, I’ve got-but I’m built for rowing, absolutely. I was always a I was always pretty sporty at school and I tried a lot of different things. But I think it was probably a combination of I was in the right place at the right time where I was six years out from the London Olympics and there was a lot of talent I.D. going on at the time. And I started to get good at rowing and that fueled the habit of me continuing to progress my my habit of training hard.
So in a way it was this sort of perfect sort of system where I got better and I-that sort of progression fueled my habit to get continue to get better. But absolutely I definitely have a genetic predisposition to it. But there’s I mean there’s, you know, seven billion humans on the planet. There are lots of people that are six and a half feet tall and a hundred kilos. And I feel that I had-yes okay I said and mental toughness, call it that dedication to the to the tasks ahead.
But I think I had an unfair advantage where in the UK we’re pretty good at rowing and that we have a very good support system almost like a conveyor belt that can make the next generation of Olympians. And so I relied heavily on the sport of British Rowing, the coaches, the support staff essentially to turn me from these raw ingredients into the finished product. And it’s also worth saying I didn’t win the Olympics. Like for me it’s still, you know, I look back on my rowing career as something that I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve which was winning an Olympic gold medal. So, you know, there are lots of people that, you know, we gear our system up to be producing Olympic champions but there’s quite a lot of lack, almost-not lack of achievement.
There’s quite a lot of failure, if you like, and inverted commas along the way where you know I was lucky enough to be going to the Olympics but I had tens if not more friends that had put their life on the line for a number of years and and fell by the wayside along the way. So yeah in coming full circle I have the physiology, I was in the right place at the right time. I have a fantastic support system in British Rowing and the GP rowing team and obviously had to commit wholly and fully to doing that just to have a chance of being able to go.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I mean you set very high standards for yourself and I mean the UK rowing legacy, we have a very proud legacy so that does make things, you know, a lot tougher because you feel even if you perform at such a high level, it’s not a gold medal.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yes it’s a double edged sword, you’re right. I mean because we have because we have such success historically, it breeds more success I think but it also does put a pressure because the country expects success. But I would definitely rather that than having it-for instance, our British basketball team and not great compared to other nations.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: The Americans.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: They’re amazing amazing athletes and they’re great great at basketball compared to anyone else in the world but compared to other nations and people in the NBA, it’s it’s not quite there and they’ve really struggled at an International Olympic level. And so I would definitely prefer to be in a system of the rowing team than the basketball team in Britain.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And you emphasize coaching and coaching is very important and you had that kind of micro environment which helped shape you.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Absolutely. I mean coaching is I I mean I’ve been coming to a few thoughts with that. It’s made me-it made me the athlete I was without the coaches I had right from the beginning-Chris O’Hara was an Aussie guy. He was my first coach at medical school right the way up until-Groblerg, who was the chief coach that’s won an Olympic gold medal at every single Olympic Games the modern modern history since I can remember.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: That’s insane.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah I think it’s something ridiculous like he’s I think one of the most successful Olympic coaches of all time. It’s something like he started in ’91 for Great Britain. So ’92 is his first British team games but he was in Germany before that but for the UK for Great Britain he’s won Olympic gold medals in ’92, ’96, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016-like every single Olympics since he’s got a gold medal.
And so you can’t help but learn from that experience and I’ve I’ve definitely become a stronger more resilient person because of that and I would even hesitate to say that I’ve used-almost use that athlete-coach model in medicines where I’ve almost viewed my consultants and my peers as coaches and I almost absorb that information and that criticism or that constructive feedback as coaching. Now I run a few fitness ventures. I view feedback as almost coaching cues and I try and constantly search out for mentors or for people that I want to kind of-and role models that I want to emulate in life. And I do feel as though-it’s almost like me gravitating back into that kind of coach-athlete relationship which I found so valuable.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: I had a quick question for you Cam. So right now I’m sure you’re aware that body clock management and circadian rhythm science is sort of spreading like wildfire all over the world and many people are coming onto this new information and realizing how important it is to manage that being somebody who has like such like a intimate experience with like performing at an extremely elite, high level such as like the Olympics, how much of an emphasis on like circadian rhythm management or I guess rest management, diet management, lifestyle sort of management does like an Olympic team sort of place on their athletes or like an Olympian themselves place on themselves? Is that something that is considered or-
Dr. Cameron Nichol: It is absolutely considered. I think what’s probably helpful to answer that question fully is I mean obviously I can only speak about the rowing team and I can really speak about the heavyweight men’s team because that was the one that I was intimately linked with first in a four to six years. The the goal is to try and create boat speed and so you can kind of work from first principles, right? You need to try and create fast boats. What you need for fast boats? You need all the gear. Yeah Fun For that’s one side. You need really really good athletes.
So what does a good athlete look like? Well, you know, for rowing it’s a power endurance sport. So dissecting that physiology physiology slightly like once you’ve got enough power, endurance is the main driver. So you need a massive aerobic capacity. How do you build the capacity? Well it’s a shitload of volume. It’s just volume and volume and volume. Increasing that alveolar right capillary density, making sure that we can maximize that vital capacity compared to lung capacity, trying to produce as little Lactate is possible because you’re banging that aerobic zone for as long as possible and when you’re racing.
And so for the rowers what that comes down to is you need to be able to do a hell of a lot of training, and if you’re doing a hell of a lot of training you need to recover incredibly well. So as a rough rule of thumb we probably train between 20 to 25 hours a week of running training which is a combination of in the boat, on the water in the boat, on land on the machines or in the weight room. But we would be told that in addition to that 20 to 25 hours of training we would need to be resting for about 20 to 25 hours a week outside of sleep. So, you know, forget your 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Like outside of that sleep, you also need to be resting 20 to 25 hours.
So I mean just think about what that looks like. That’s like a 40 to 50 hour a week job where you’re just training resting. And so we would do all sorts of things. So we have a nutritionist that recommends, you know, what kind of food we eat which is basically just a lot of what people would recognize as a relatively healthy diet. We had different supplements, they’re all batch tested so, you know, different electrolytes and post workout meals and we would also do things like regularly having sleep tests. So we’d have these little sort of three way accelerometer wristbands where we would monitor, you know, wear them for a week and monitor our sleep and particularly around coming up to competition time just seeing who is a bit more restless, who wasn’t quite getting their sleep. , who needed a bit more horizontal time and we were analytical, we are, in an Olympic sport with relatively limited budget this just scales completely up when the prizes are bigger.
So, you know, Premiership football or American sports like NFL, I’m sure this is all being done because what essentially you want to try and get to is a place where you can sit on the start line and look back and realize that you have left no stone unturned and there is no reason why you-if you lose a race by a hundredth of a second it’s because you did your absolute best and you haven’t got that little nagging thought in the back of your mind, “ugh bugger, those three weeks in the winter where I wasn’t sleeping that well, could that have been that two hundredths that I needed to win the Olympics?” And so yeah coming full circle to answer your question, absolutely. All of this is dissected under a microscope to try and create as optimal athletes as possible.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: That’s really interesting that, you know, that the British Olympic body seems to be like or seemed to have been aware of the effects of additional rest and just like, you know, additional sleep because an additional 25-you said 25 to 30 hours a week on top of your standard eight to 10 a day?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Well basically, we used to roughly as a rule of thumb roughly one to one. So if you do you do a 90 minute row session, we try-you try and get rested for 90 minutes. So it’s not always practical, it’s not like the day can be separated: train for two hours, rest for two hours, train for two hours, rest-it doesn’t quite work like that. But normally we’d start training at half seven finish by about three or four, with some breaks in between obviously.
You just spend the rest that day almost like passed out horizontal in the afternoons and that would be in addition to sleep. And it sounds it sounds like it’s a big eureka. Well I mean the British rowing team, you’re way ahead of the game because, you know, lots of people that know about this but honestly it’s an absolute necessity because the training-I think particularly for endurance sport-the training you do drives that recovery because you start to become a very very boring, very simple person because your brain I don’t think is functioning in mindset. It wasn’t my colleagues anywhere when you’re just that fatigued from that volume of endurance training so that rest is absolutely a necessity.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: What are the best ways to be resting? I mean there’s new research with things like-well people are trying things like sensory deprivation and what would you say of the best ways to rest?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Well I would say the best way is what you can fit into your lifestyle. I mean there’s a lovely comparison which is where, you know, the optimal way to burn calories might be like running uphill carrying loads of juggling bowling balls but, you know, if you never get-point, right? I mean so what’s practical basically. I mean I think there’s that that first. I mean if you think about it I mean in great scientific conditions if you think about 100 percent optimal recovery is, you know, you’ve got an eye mask on, you’ve got your earplugs in, you’re in some sort of separate sensory deprivation float tank with lovely whale music, whatever it is, um I think the first 80 percent is basically getting yourself horizontal so you can increase venous return and you can just make sure that everything is not as weight bearing in using that much energy and then get as close to a sleep state as you can.
And whether that is actually nodding off into sleep, great. If it’s just closing your eyes and trying to be a bit meditative or mindful then then that’s cool. I think people over complicate this a lot and I think almost a little bit of the thing that we do in society which is we try and get the finer details. Like, “Oh, you know, what branch, chain, amino acid powder do I need to take?” Or “What brand of earplugs do I need?” It’s like-you’re going to bed at 1:00 in the morning and you’re eating KFC first, have a better diet-grab the big things first, right? And that’s just that’s just basic athletic performance but it’s also I think a recipe for success in life which is just do the basics really well and that gets you way further than people that are trying to overcomplicate things with whatever type of Chile pad they need to have-
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: And that’s an Olympian telling us that. So the low hanging fruit-
Dr. Cameron Nichol: There are other chill-there are other chill devices available, not just the chili pad.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: We had Jack Krangler on who was actually my mentor on the clinical entrepreneur program.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I know Jack. He’s good.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah. CHHP and he was saying about how the low hanging fruit first needs to be addressed before moving up.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah I mean it’s just basic common sense but I think we get lost along the way sometimes.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I’m just curious, what’s the V02 maximum for a rower or do rowers have the best V02 max out of most athletes?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: So yes. I think he probably means a bit of a-I mean yes I think so. I don’t want to get people-these people are. So Tour de France cyclist, I mean a different way to calculate, right? So the V02 max and then you can also have your max kilos. I think Tour de France cyclists come out slightly better in per kilo.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Because they’re a bit smaller as well.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: They’re quite low they’re about s65, 70 kilos whereas heavyweight men are at 100 kilos so it’s just a bit yeah a bit heavier. Mine wasn’t great in terms of the team but my buddy Maximo speed he’s the Olympic champion Rio. He he had just an absolutely massive. I think something like 70 millilitres with sevenunits -I can’t remember the units, actually. He was he was huge V02 max and he was steady his 2k time is five minutes and 40 seconds, sort of one twenty five pace for anyone listening.
So I mean and he just can produce-and interesting from a physiological point of view. He doesn’t produce much lactate so most of that performance is driven from his aerobic zone. But yeah rowers do have big big V02 max. I could not actually give you-in fact, I shouldn’t as well, just in case there are rival countries listing. I think it was high 60s, 70s milliliters per kilo per minute or whatever it was. Don’t quote me on on the units. Big big V02 maxes.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I think incredible rowing machines. Um and with rowing wod,could you tell us about that? I mean if you are a founder and-what is the concept?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah I mean it’s similar to the fact that I started medical school and then started rowing as a complete accident. I mean rowing workout of the day or rowing wod is a complete accident and I basically started working as a doctor in August 2015 and at the same time I realized-I’d been in the world kind of like cross fit and fitness for a couple years-and I realized that rowing was, in my opinion, being undervalued by the fitness industry.
So people would kind of get on and do it five minutes to kind of warm up and then go on to something else to be like you get a real workout. And I was like, “well, this is quite depressing that I walk into most gyms and I do like 20 minutes and people think I’m some sort of mental case,” because like 20 mins is quite a short workout. And also when I looked in gyms I was looking around and seeing-it would be the equivalent of walking on the treadmill and seeing someone like running backwards on a treadmill or you know sort of skipping on a treadmill-.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: “What are you doing?”
Dr. Cameron Nichol: So I just sort of took it on myself to just-essentially I wrote a small little program to try and get people-give people the tools to row a bit faster and to just figure out what they were doing. And then it just spiraled a little bit out of control so I started to work with some of the world’s fastest to what was best cross fighters and I realized then that actually even these guys that kind of the fittest on Earth still could be much better at rowing in my opinion.
And so with that sort of I guess vehicle through working with those guys and then with just being active on social media and saying “yes” to lots of exciting opportunities and working hard to pursue those and to ensure that they turned into successes, it just grew from this small little blog to what it is now which is an online subscription base with loads of people following the program, classes and some boutique gyms and I’ve been very fortunate to just go all around the world spreading the rowing love and it’s been it’s been a fun adventure and I’ve learned loads about the world of business and startups and entrepreneurship not because it’s what I wanted to do-it is now-but it’s just this sort of lovely accident that happened and I’ve absorbed a lot of information and met loads of cool people along the way.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: It’s it’s pretty refreshing to hear from an Olympian like yourself that you consider cross fitters to be like the fittest on earth because here in San Diego where I’m from like there’s a very strong cross fit base and they do events like the reindeer games and I was at one of them recently because I have some friends that are pretty serious cross fitters and even I mean I look at them and I’m blown away at how athletic they are. And, you know, I mean they’re they’re physical specimens and they’re competing still like like at the intermediate levels and so so is is there something that you would say that like a cross fit champion like some of the ones you’ve worked with yourself like-was it Annie, Annie Thorisdottir?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah, so she was one of them one of the ladies and one of the-yeah, let me. I I don’t we can get back in the rabbit hole now. I don’t think that they’re the fittest on earth because I don’t think that you can define the fittest on earth, is my opinion. Greg Glassman the founder of cross fit defines a fitness on earth as, you know, the people that win the cross fit games. Which is fine and I love I love the cross fit games and I love cross fit and I love what Greg Glassman has done for the world with his ventures.
I just, you know, for instance, taking Mo Farah to run the 5k and 10k times that he can. You know, Phelps to swim as fast as he can, Mo to do what he can do on the machine and on the water. And Matt Fraser or Annie Thorisdottir to do what they can on it on those stages. I just feel it’s almost unfair to compare people to try and find what the fittest on earth because I just feel as though all of these people deserve those crowns. Having said that I love the structure that exists in cross fit to try and define that.
I think it’s probably the next best offering, if you can, to try and find those fittest on earth people. And so I do, I mean I use it because it’s their terminology. I am always blown away by the cross fit community both from a kind of community and a kind of a team point of people. But the way that they teach movement and the way that I define myself as a cross fitter to the journey that I’ve been on to acquire new skills after Olympic rowing has just been fantastic. And you know Annie is a great example, she just picks up movement really really well, she can deadline well she does five by five deadlines 170 kilos.
She can, you know, rela 2k or almost seven minutes she can run a mile and probably a five or six minutes and she can do like muscle ups handstands, all these different things. And I just think that’s just a fantastic example for new generations to see what human capacity is capable of. And the other things that I mean Annie’s a great example, she she came down to Molesey Boat Club which is my boat club in um in the UK and we just went out on a boat just because she was interested in wanting to see what it’s like.
And it was quite funny really because I’ve done a bit of work with her and so yeah Yamin Tikan head coach you runs the training plan I mean he’s just a really intelligent chap and so I went up to Iceland Coach a few of these athletes and and I dialed into the fundamentals of using your body weight and making sure you got a rock over and all these kind of basic things that I like to coach on the machine, not because anyone’s ever going to go on the water but just because they’re optimal that for that rowing movement to get the most out of yourself and therefore the most speed. And so we-anyway, full circle, she came down to the boat club and she was like, “oh, I want to get in the boat.”
So we we went on these things called sliders which are really quite tricky if you’ve never been on them before and, you know, I’m sure there are some rowers listening like, “yeah I’ve been on some sliders” and bang the front, bang the back and you can look like a bit of a novice if you just don’t know what you’re doing. And I just said to her, “just just row like you like I’ve been teaching you on that machine, you get that body weight over, rock over.” And she was like, “what like like this?” And she just started rowing like perfectly, just beautifully on the sliders and I was like, “yeah just just like that.”
Dr. Cameron Nichol: She was like, “oh this is great, it’s easy you just got, let’s get in the water.” But, you know, in my mind I was thinking, “shit, I mean if this was just a rower, a big tall person teaching to row, been taking you maybe a week or two to figure it out.” So the the elite side of that sport, the Thorisdottir-they just absorb movement fantastically well and because they have so many skills in so many different categories it actually transfers really nicely into like what-the unknown and the unknowable so they can get presented with this physical task of whatever it will be but because they, you know, there’s not really a human movement that they haven’t yet tried or that they’ve got some sort of variant of, they’re just much better at it than your average person. And so if you took-or Mo Farah or Michael Phelps and you said, “right, let’s-we’re going to do a 50 of repetitions of this weird thing,” the cross fitter would actually be the person that would do that the best, probably because of all the meta skills that they already have. So that’s what I find really interesting.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: So they’re are a lot more adaptable to the movement.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah I would say it’s called GPP, so general physical preparedness. I mean it’s really it’s how I train now is I just like to be really good at life. And what I mean by that is when I was rowing, my 2k was five minutes and forty eight seconds. And yet when I couldn’t stand up for more than two hours getting sore back and I was always tired-so there’s always this kind of trade-off where when you’re specifically designed for certain task, you do limit other abilities.
And so, you know, I love being able to do a handstand walk and deep muscle and snatches and all these different things because I feel like I’m actually now, weirdly, even though I’m less fit from a rowing point of view, I’m I’m fitter in inverted commas in Greg Glassman definition, in cross fit’s definition because I can do more of the stuff. And I, you know, I feel the best I’ve ever felt really and I I’m enjoying my fitness probably a lot more when there’s no sort of purpose to it other than just to kind of be fit and feel feel fit and strong.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s a very intelligent point because same with same with Owaves, we’re trying to like, everyone to balance the five domains of lifestyle medicine rather than just kind of just concentrating on nutrition without the exercise and sleep, just on sleep because you need kind of a well-rounded.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Absolutely. And I also feel strongly that I don’t think it’s necessarily right to try and push a methodology or philosophy to the population of 7 billion people from no less than point one percent of the high performance in the world in terms of from a sports point of view. Like just because Olympic athletes do it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should be doing it because what Olympic athletes do are specific things to try and hit a specific task which will then get them an Olympic gold medal.
I get much more satisfaction from-that’s kind of where rowing wod lies, it just gets people off the couch onto the machine and what that does is it means that you live a healthier life, you feel a bit fitter, feel a bit stronger and so your goal doesn’t have to be to win an Olympic gold medal, it doesn’t have to be set certain time. It can just be to be better at life and to pick up your grandkids and say you run around a little bit less huff and puff and I just think it’s incredibly important to be able to do that as human beings because, you know, for me the two commodities that I hold really dear to me and my health and my time and so anything that can maximize my time and my health, I’m in. So yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: You mentioned time. You mentioned a figure of 20 minutes previously but can you do a workout in 20 minutes? And that’s something-
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah, absolutely you can. I mean I was on the telly show a while back which was comparing-.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: I watched that. I did indeed.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah it was fun. I enjoyed it. But that was a very simple-I think, what was it 20 minutes then it is 30 minutes?-it just compared running to rowing.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah for me that’s why I kind of wanted to-and I continue to shout the flag for rowing which is that it’s a time efficient and total body workout and it’s low impact and so you can kind of-you burn a lot of calories in a fewer amount of time. Great. If you want to lose some weight, great that helps but it uses 86 percent of the musculature the body, nine major muscle groups and it connects the hands and feet in sort of one long kinetic chain.
So for me that’s a lovely movement that can kind of cross over into many more things like, you know, stacking shelves or, you know, holding random objects rather than just, you know, a bit of spinning on a bike or even going for a run. And so yeah anything that I think that can give you your time back. So if you can do in 20 minutes what you were doing in an hour, you’ve got 40 minutes to do things you really want to do. But equally if you really enjoy fitness then spend your time doing fitness. That’s that’s absolutely fine too.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: But for a lot of people fitness is quite difficult. If the rowing can produce the results in 20 minutes in terms of if you look at data and if you minimize the risk of injury I mean you can become more functional, your aerobics capacity is increasing, you’re losing weight and it’s time efficient. I think it suits a lot of people. I mean I’m actually, I do a few things with David Lloyd Health Clubs here in the UK. Blaze is one of the new classes they’ve launched and the whole kind of purpose is it’s 40 minutes of intensity where you can kind of get your heart rate to a point which is kind of really testing aerobic capacity but you’re also burning out 500, 600 calories which wouldn’t be done for a normal person walking into a gym. You know?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: It works out.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I mean for me I think almost taking one step back for me I think the thing that we need to be doing in the world of fitness and in health is offering things that are fun and things that are simple because fitness is-I think it can be fun when you’re doing something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy running then do it. I mean it’s really simple. If you enjoy dancing or if you enjoy weightlifting or you do a yoga or you enjoy running, do that. What I would kind of offer though is that we grow up running and we grow up cycling but we don’t grow up rowing and because it’s a foreign movement, what you can do, I can do with people is I can kind of show you how to do a bit better.
And that almost reveals a lovely little journey that you can go on into-in mastering that movement. And so when you embark on that journey, it’s almost like fueling that habit that I have spoken about earlier which is I got better at rowing so I continued to do it more. That was quite fun. And so you have that sort of natural habit that continues whereas if running, if you’ve been running all your life, going a little bit faster sometimes isn’t that enjoyable. So there’s that component to it. But also because there’s so many people, for me, that I think get bogged down in this weird, complicated world of fitness-so I’m glad you mentioned a Blaze-I don’t feel like marketing is the way to go with fitness to kind of create these new complicated ways to “go a certain number of reps on this exercise and then do a certain number of reps on this. That’s the magic secret. You know that’s the magic pill.”
The reality is that there isn’t a magic pill, there is not really a big secret. Fitness is really really simple but it’s just not easy. And what I mean by that is that you just have to show up day in, day out, you have to commit to a process and you kind of got to do it. Depending on where your start point in is, you know, 3, 6, 12 months and then you look back and go, “oh, wow. Look where I’ve come from” rather than I think, you know, and this is a greater sociological problem which is everyone wants everything now, you know? We live in a world where your-.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Instant gratification.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah exactly. So we’ve got that, you know-I mean coming to us 200, 300 times a day with a little-people do ten push-ups, their pecs are or run it, run a mile and figure out when they go into the Olympic Games. And it’s not-I’ve even seen in the gyms, people like, “yeah yeah, I could hit this split and then I can go to the Olympics,” and I was like, “re calibrate what’s going on in your head because it might look like, you know, you can have instant success overnight but physiology is physiology and skills are skills and if you want to be a world expert at anything, by definition you have to be better than 7 billion other people.”
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s a lot of people.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah, there’s a lot of people and a lot of skills is out there.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: But having said that, the twenty-for a normal person if they can’t be exercising that day because they think, “oh if we go in, unless we work out for an hour there’s no point.” Because a lot of people do think that, they think 45 minutes
Dr. Cameron Nichol: You’re absolutely right.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: 20 minutes might give them that, you know, “oh, we can fit 20 minutes into that” if they have a Owaves or O they can be like, “oh, that’s a 20 minute slot-rowing hits the target.”
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Yeah I mean the example that I use is that you just haven’t said-well I’ll give you a bit of value-which is that you just, you have to commit and you have to do something that takes you towards where you want to be rather than away from where you want to be every single day. And the example I always look back on is so I went to UCLA Medical School and the nearest tube station was Warren Street.
Now if you’ve ever been to Warren Street Underground Station, you know that there’s a very long escalator on each side and then in the middle there’s some stairs. And when I was a fresher, it was just because I mean-it starts from the fact that I couldn’t do as much training as some of my colleagues could, simply because I had lectures. So one of little ways to kind of stupidly as an 18 year old was to boost my training was I would just walk up the Warren Street stairs every day. But because I took such a detour and then I came back to Mensa, did some postgrad stuff as well, I did that for ten years and I just I did the math a few years ago and I walked up the Empire State Building 50 times-
Dr. Haroon Kazem: No way.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: In that decade and all that was was from one decision which was that every time I saw those stairs I would be walking up them rather than taking the escalator. And so that mindset has an infectious habit to spread into other things where, you know, people go, “how are you doing it? You know you’ve got a six month old kid and you’ve got in these benches, you’re doing med school, all this. How are you doing this?” It’s like, “well there’s no magic pill.
It’s not that I’m doing something special. It’s, you know, it’s 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday, I decide to use an hour of my time to chat to you guys. There’s lots of little decisions that I make that when you add them up over a year or a decade you end up at a very different place and that’s what I found with rowing is that, you know, I spent six years doing some training and I got to a stage where, you know, I’ve said, you know, “I could row 2k in 5 minutes and 48 seconds,” and people were like, “what, how?”
Because you just end up getting somewhere where no one else can even comprehend. I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s out there. But it’s it’s a daily process that you have to commit to and it doesn’t have to be these massive things. It can be a 20 minute little workout a 10 minute little warmup, you know, logging into your app or whatever is, just a little micro step in your direction that you want to go to. And lo and behold you’ll end up much much closer than if you didn’t take that step.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: That’s so inspirational. A lot of, I know students would be listening to this and a lot of the Owaves followers. I mean coming from an Olympian and these kind of talking about the basics but also kind of the mindset of how to kind of live a healthier life, it would be something that I think I’m sure a lot of people will follow. So, Cameron I mean, you’re an amazing guy and you’ve done some incredible things. And I can tell you’ve got that entrepreneurial vibe as well which we all do on this clinic entrepreneur program.
I’m glad to have met you and to be fair, reaching out to you, I knew on the program there wasn’t-there weren’t many of the entrepreneurs weren’t looking at the kind of, you know, human performance but lifestyle medicine and how Population Health at the moment especially in the West how it’s kind of lifestyle disease which is kind of plaguing our lives.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I mean it’s also to me it’s an absolute like it’s mind boggling to me that no one has addressed-well that’s wrong. There’s lots of people who have addressed this now but it’s not a bigger priority.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: It’s not.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: You know, we spend 11 billion pounds a year directly on lifestyle related disease in the NHS alone. It’s like this is a-we just put all the kind of the nice things aside like, “you know, you’re a bit happier, a bit healthier.” It’s it’s costing us a lot of money, it’s making people really sick and it’s costing people their health and their time and those are two valuable resources for anyone. And so I think, you know, as a profession we need to be better at instigating what lifestyle change looks like.
Because actually I feel like this this problem transcends medicine. This is this is a way, you know, the solution to this is way bigger than this one in a white coat telling me what you need to eat, how you need to exercise. And it’s something that I think is changing. I’ve certainly seen it in the last five years in the landscape. I hope it continues to do so.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: I really love what you said though, Cam, about just, you know, taking it in terms of it being a process and to take that initial step because I feel like that initial step is the hardest step for so many people out there and, you know, it’s it’s really helpful to hear from somebody like yourself that, you know, it doesn’t have to be on an Olympic world class level, that like for each person it’s relative. And, you know, something like rowing, you know, you motivated me to get in the gym and try it out some more so. I’m certainly gonna do it now.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I’ll give you some access to rowing wod, you can do some sessions. But I mean the word that I hate is ‘tomorrow.’ That’s what everyone’s, “Oh yeah. Tomorrow I’ll do that. Yeah, tomorrow.” Like Tim Tim Ferriss, one of the people I digest a lot of content from, he’s got a lovely phrase which is that “tomorrow becomes never, so just start today.” I mean even if you’re literally listening to this now at 9:00 p.m. at night and you want to get you want to start your journey to fitness just do two squat so do do a pushup or, you know, walk up and down your stairs at home, wherever that is. Don’t say tomorrow because tomorrow does become never and it’s it’s a habit to get out of.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Totally.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Very well put. And final question would be if there-if someone, a young person listening to this and they’re excelling in sport and academia such as yourself would you balance both or would you pick one route?
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Do what excites you and I would say that there are going to be a lot of people that give you reasons why you can’t do things. And I don’t-I’ve never found those people very helpful. So I would reach out and if you want to reach out to me then do, I can put you in touch with other people. Reach out to the people that have done the things that you want to do. Like I keep coming back to-there’s a big population and, you know, we’ve been around for a number of years as human beings.
If you can’t find someone that can give you a shining beacon of light, be like, “yeah, I think you can do that. This is what, you know, x y and z, this is what you need to do to achieve that.” And I’ll be damned. I absolutely think that you can achieve the highest level in sport and be very successful in a career of your choice maybe not necessarily concurrently at the exact same time. But it’s certainly possible. Like the amount of-whatever-doctors or successful business leaders or whatever that win the Olympics or are in the NBA-whatever whatever it is, they probably exist. And I certainly know Olympians and people that won the Olympic Games have been doctors and have been successful business owners.
I would just say don’t settle and don’t take the easy option because people are telling you that that’s what’s likely to happen. Just be bold, dream big but then act small because like I kind of say, taking those daily steps and slowly embarking on a journey that really excites you, that wants-it’s where you want to be going I just feel is always better than kind of settling for something and being on a journey that doesn’t excite you.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Amazing and brilliant to have your Dr. Cameron. You’re making a lot more waves than just in the water.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: I’m just I’m just living my life trying to trying to do some cool things and to spend my time how I’d like to spend it, so.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Great. At Owaves, we love people making waves and making impact and someone who is inspiration for the rest of us. So, amazing.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: Phrase that, “at Owaves, I’m making waves.”.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Cam, where could listeners keep up with you? Are you like on social media or is there a best place-
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Yeah, probably the easiest place so rowing wod, so rowing w o d, so @rowingwod and then the website is rowingwod.co so not .com .co. There’s a few of the easiest places and then just if you Google my name, So Cameron Nicol N I C H O L is how you spell my last name, I’ll pop up on the internet somewhere and just dive around.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Awesome, sir. It was a pleasure. Very informative. Thank you so much for your time.
Dr. Cameron Nichol: You as well. Likewise guys.
Dr. Sohaib Imtiaz: Thanks a lot for your time. Amazing episode.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Thanks for listening to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. If you enjoyed the show please leave us a five star rating on your podcast app. Please also remember to download the free Owaves app on the Apple App Store. Please tell your friends and your family. It’s a great tool to help you optimize your life and to effectively plan your day. Thanks as always for listening and I hope you join us again next time.
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