Saturday, 19 December 2009

Déjà vu: same story, different day...

Operation number 4! Apparently the operation was successful! my pec tendon was re-attached with 3 metal anchors and reinforced with tendo-achilles allograft (sterilised achilles tendon tissue taken from a cadaver...) and biologically enhanced with platelet rich plasma (taken from my own blood). I am feeling surprisingly good, nowhere near as drowsy and numb as post the previous operations, but considerably more local pain in the chest – the ‘nerve block’ obviously did not work, and my back is numb instead of my chest... anyhow, I am feeling confident that this is the final step to full recovery and I will be back sailing again before the end of next year...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Fast Rewind life 7 months...

It was just over 7 months ago that I ruptured my pec major (chest muscle), resulting in 3 successive reattachment surgeries and a rollercoaster ride of emotional lows and highs. The initial thought of having a career ending injury followed by months of intensive rehab and training, then the excitement of potentially getting back into top condition and seeing ‘the light’ of possibly making a comeback. And here I am again, 7 months later, back in hospital and about to go in for my 4th operation for the same injury...
It’s difficult to understand, let alone being able to explain why and what happened, particularly after my rehab and training was progressing so well. It could be summed up by simply saying that my surgeon (Prof. Len Funk) was not surprised that the tendon had re ruptured. I recall him telling me after the 3rd operation that he may have to re operate in a few months time as the integrity of the muscle had deteriorated significantly following an infection. Anyway here I am ready to rewind my life 7 months and begin the rehab process all over again!
So, what have I learned in the process? Well, firstly, the mind in incredibly powerful, in-fact far stronger than the human body. Secondly, peak performance is not about pushing oneself to the limit every training session, but being able to carefully judge when to push and when to allow the body to recover; the art of knowing how much is too much! Thirdly, it is not the first to start that’s important, it’s the first to finish that counts. Basically, I need a good trainer!
As I write this, just a few hours before going in to surgery, I recall how I felt 7 months ago; one may expect it to get easier, on the contrary. Whether it’s the thought of once again having to endure the countless hours of rehab, or having to re learn to brush my teeth with my left hand, or not being able shower for weeks (well, not without a measure or creativity), or loosing another 10kg’s of muscle mass, or the fact that the operation is going to be considerably more complex than previous (I am undergoing an ‘allograft’), I am not sure.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Bring it on!

Having received the all clear to resume maximal training from my surgeon (Prof. Lennard Funk), I am back on track; 107 kg's and 12.8% body fat. Yes I know... body fat is a little high, but it's on the way down from a life-time high of 15% after the ops! My goal, 110 kg and < 11% fat.
Strength is improving well and it won't be long before I can throw around the 60 kg dumbbells again... The most noticeable deficit at the moment is my velocity of movement - my chest and shoulder muscles seem to be slower at reacting to high speed - it may be a neural deficit post op or just muscle recruitment issues which will hopefully adjust over time. Hence, I have included loads of upper body proprioceptive and reaction drills into my training; for example, reaction focus-mitt boxing, med-ball, swiss-ball and wobble board exercises, etc.
Will I be ready to grind in the Louis Vuitton World Series in Nice in November? Definitely! But with all 8 of the America's Cup teams already having finalised their crews it is unlikely that I will find a team with only 4 weeks to go! I am desperately hoping and will be in peak condition waiting for the call!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Grinding Workout

After having had loads of requests for grinding workouts, I thought that I would post my grinding session from yesterday. I trained at Virgin Active in Derby (UK) for a change in 'scenery'; and of course the gym is equipped with only the best, Technogym!
This was the first 'high intensity' session that I have done since my injury. With my iPod pumping out Guns N' Roses, Texas, Nickleback & Akon (yeah I know its old school...), I started with an easy 15 minutes at 170 W, then I upped the next 15 minutes to 180 W, before resting (and stretching) for 5 minutes. Then the real work started; 6 sets of 60 seconds sprints at ~400 W, followed by 60 seconds rest. I then rested for 5 minutes, and did another 5 sets of the same (60 seconds sprints at ~400 W, followed by 60 seconds rest). It's a real killer!

Friday, 14 August 2009

BASES Conference

The 2009 BASES Annual Conference will be at Leeds Metropolitan University from 1-3 September.
Look out for a presentation titled: "Optimising Arm-crank Configurations: testing the most powerful upper-body athletes in sport" at 12h15 on Tuesday 1 September (Lecture C). There will also be a sailing symposium at 13h00 on the Thursday, specifically detailing Dee Caffaris preparations for the 2008 Vendée Globe yacht race.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Training 'Circus'

I thought that I had just about seen it all when it came to 'gym creativity' until today. I had just finished a 15 minute warmup on the grinder at LA Fitness and was about to start dynamic stretching when I noticed these two guys... yes, both were guys... engaged in some rather 'intimate' spotting... One of the guys asked me why I had taken a picture with my mobile, to which I politely replied "because it was a unique exercise that I had never seen before", he then asked if I could post the image on Youtube so that "others could see how its done correctly..." Amazing!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Injury Update

It is now 12 weeks post surgery and training is coming good. The chest and shoulder are getting stronger every day. I am up to 60 minutes on the grinder – pain free! and I can just about do 5 push-ups now. I am more confident that ever that I will be ready to ‘rock-and-roll’ come the end of year Louis Vuitton Series... (thanks everyone for all the support, emails, etc.)

When I’m not at physio or in the gym, I am consulting for the Sports Technology Institute (STI) at Loughborough University ( The STI is the World leading Sports Technology research centre where much of the R & D for major sports brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Callaway golf, etc is performed. In fact we also performed some exciting research on grinding at the STI last year (the novel research is currently in press) and we hope will influence the design of future big-boat grinding pedestals and winch systems. The World Cup soccer ball was also designed at the STI, as well as the new synthetic NBA basketball, not to mention the most successful golf club of all time, the Calloway big-Berther.
I attended an interesting presentation recently by Dr Richard Liang from the High Performance Materials Institute in the USA ( on the use of Carbon Nanotube Buckypaper composite, which is taking the place of carbon fibre and is one tenth the weight yet 500 times stronger than steel. It is being used in the aerospace and military industries, and is sure to find its way into the likes of the America’s Cup and Formula 1 very soon.

Monday, 3 August 2009

33rd America’s Cup - 100% technology

As for the Deed of Gift match, what an awesome display of yachting technology! Both the BMW Oracle Racing and Alinghi multi-hulls are amazing. Legal issues aside, the 33rd America’s Cup is destined to be a truly historical event. As for using engines to drive the winch and hydraulic systems, one can understand this from a technology aspect (with the ‘open’ Deed of Gift rule), but as an athlete one can only hope that this does not become the future of pro-sailing.
Only recently have the physical demands of elite/pro sailing become acknowledged as an important component of sailing success, particularly in big-boat sailing. For example, efficient grinding has been shown to affect the speed of manoeuvres. Hence, the high physical demands of ‘grinding’ has led to innovative research of the sports science of grinding, including optimum grinding pedestal configurations, grinding technique, etc. It’s not commonly realised, but big-boat sailing is the only able-bodied sport where arm-cranking (grinding) is the primary physical activity. It is not surprising that grinders are among the most powerful upper-body athletes. Therefore, in my opinion from a physiological aspect the uniqueness of grinding as a sporting activity is extremely interesting and should be encouraged as a fundamental activity in pro-sailing.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Shoulder Rehab

It is now week 7 post op (10 weeks post the initial op) and physio and rehab are going well. I almost have full range of mobility at the shoulder (last few degrees of flexion and abduction are tight) although I still have some shoulder impingement. I can do most normal activities now, like driving a car... and have regained 3 kg's body weight (still 7 kg's to go!).
Apart from ongoing CV and leg strength training, my rehab includes shoulder mobility exercises 7 days/week, physio 3 days/week and heavy band strengthening 3 days/week.

Injury rules Vern Neville out of 2009 sailing season

“A couple of weeks before the start of the 2009 European sailing season, America's Cup grinder Vern Neville tore his chest muscle which required immediate surgery and will rule him out for the majority of this season”
I tore a muscle in my shoulder (pectoralis major muscle) during a training session in April. A combination of being over-trained, pushing too hard and doing an unfamiliar exercise... As an athlete, one is always on the fine edge of over/under training and it is the ability to optimally manipulate ‘over reaching’ and recovery which leads to performance. I got it wrong... again!
I had surgery in Manchester (UK) with Dr Len Funk which required the tendon to be re anchored back on to my humerus (an anchor screwed into the bone of the arm) and the muscle sutured back onto the tendon. If that wasn’t enough, I got an infection in the repair and had to go back into surgery a week later, spend a few days in hospital on IV antibiotics, then back into surgery again.
The atrophy was phenomenal; I lost 10 kg’s during the first 4 weeks. But more than the atrophy, pain or discomfort, was the psychological impact of the injury... (I have a whole new appreciation for athletes who end up with career ending injuries!). After having taken most of 2008 off from sailing to finish off my Doctorate, I was really looking forward to getting back on the water and had a full season of sailing scheduled for this year. So, coming to terms with being ‘out’ for another year was pretty difficult to accept. But I’m determined to come back even stronger and hope to be back on the water again before the end of the year. Watch this space...