“You may have heard of my brother, Eddie,” James Hall starts the interview. Eddie Hall is the former World’s Strongest Man and James is just as impressive. Sporting a massive 220 lb frame of muscle, James stands out from the usual RowErg and SkiErg users.
He also stands out as he holds the world record for the fastest ever SkiErg and RowErg times over 1000m as well as the 2000m record on the SkiErg.
From the United Kingdom and now living in Australia, Hall pursued strength sports from a young age. “Growing up with my brothers, I was drawn to physical sports and the strength side of that. I grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Through his 20s Hall played professional rugby and it was injury that introduced him to the SkiErg and RowErg. “I would use the RowErg as part of my rehab,” says Hall, who noted at the time, “I was getting good numbers on it.”
Further into his rugby career Hall sustained a knee injury. “As part of my rehab and to stay in shape, I used the SkiErg as it suited my injury.” Hall would post his workouts on Instagram. “Someone pointed out that I should have a go at the British records. That drew me into the world of competition erging.”
By nature, Hall is competitive, and the objective nature of the machine attracted him. “The more time you spend on the machine the more results you get. It’s a nice cycle of doing the work and seeing the improvement. It’s very rewarding.”
His older brother, Alexander, rowed at university, and advised James on what it would take to go sub 6 minutes for 2000 meters. “I set a challenge to go sub-6,” says Hall, who was spurred on by his brother who said he had “no chance”. Five weeks later Hall went sub-6.
This was just the beginning.
Hall targeted Sam Loch’s 1000m record on the RowErg and aimed to beat it on the SkiErg. Hall saw that he was getting similar results on both the SkiErg and RowErg and wanted to prove the SkiErg can be as fast as the RowErg.
Hall set the 1000m SkiErg record at 2:40.6 and then targeted the RowErg. “It took me about ten weeks to get there,” says Hall who set the world record of 2:39.3 on the RowErg.
Hall approaches his training and goals with the scientific precision of a seasoned athlete. Due to his knowledge of physiology, his own body and working as a strength and conditioning coach, Hall is a walking encyclopedia.
Going after records Hall says he approaches them with years of base preparation. Then he focused on technique, then pain tolerance. “I see pain tolerance as a learned skill that comes with exercise economy. You’ve got to accept there’s going to be pain. So, if I need to hold, say, 1:19 splits, I have to accept pain. This becomes the benchmark. As it creeps up on you, you turn it on its head and chase it. It becomes a euphoric feeling. You can go that hard that you can turn the pain into pleasure. There’s the burn in your lungs, the systematic build-up in your muscles. You need to accept this."
“I’ve spent thousands of hours on the SkiErg. My take is I’ve personally experienced and disregarded what’s not useful, so I’ve perfected my technique and I reflect on what can be done better.”
His week’s training includes low-intensity steady state cardio sessions of 45 minutes to an hour five times a week. He does three weight sessions and works with a nutritionist to make sure he's fueled properly.
As a coach Hall says he’s continually learning, and he believes that to be a good coach you need to be experienced and have taken it all the way yourself. “I think you have to be or have been in the trenches so you can empathize with what people are going through.”
As well as strength training, Hall has a SkiErg group. “I coexist in two worlds; the work I do in the gym with people who want the strength side and then the erg side.”
Hall is aware of his strengths and limitations. “I’m not suited to an absolute sprint, and I’m not suited to anything above 2k.” His sweet spot is 1000m, but he’s still got some longer targets. Hall wants to go 5:50 for 2k on the RowErg and get his SkiErg 2k below a 5:55 “before I’m too old.” This means breaking his record and “keep my legacy stretching on a bit longer.” He’d also like to go after the RowErg 500m world record. “I’m 37 this year and I feel I’ve got 12–18 months to produce results before the decline takes over.”
After that Hall is looking at age group records and he has started doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Watch out!