It’s common advice in strength training to keep a training log, but I find there’s often minimal instruction as to the how and why of data collection, how to also track your rowing workouts, and then how to actually use the data to inform your training. Tracking your rowing workouts and strength training offers numerous potential benefits. Knowing exactly what weights, sets, reps, meters, minutes, and intensity you did in previous rowing workouts improves session efficiency and can be motivating as you see the small gains add up over weeks, months, seasons, and years of training. I love the feeling of filling up pages and notebooks, and have my last 10 years or so of training that I can look back on. I can also look back on all that data to try to figure out trends and what has worked and not worked in my own training. For self-coached or solo rowers, your training log might be your best, or only, workout partner keeping you accountable for putting one session after the next. For masters rowers, the training log can provide all of this, as well as valuable clues to determine what training you respond best to, and what training might put you over the edge in recovery ability.
How to Start Tracking Rowing Workouts
The first thing you need for tracking your rowing workouts is a tracking device. There is a vast amount of available technology and opportunities to invest in trendy gadget here. If you want to get into apps, websites, and wearable technology, go for it. Learn how to use it and make it work for you. However, I’m going to suggest something much more basic–a paper notebook. All athletes can start with the notebook, learn the basics, and then progress to other systems if they so desire. Reliability is another advantage of a paper notebook. I’ve known athletes who have logged years of workouts on a website only to have the website crash and take all the data with it. Personally, I also find something more satisfying about having a tangible record than just another collection of bits and bytes. You could also use a combination of systems, such as a paper notebook for short notes and quick referencing, and then an online system for greater analytic power. The important thing is just that you start!
Data: The What, How, and Why
At the most basic level, at least start writing down what you did in training. For strength training, this means the exercise, the weight, and how many sets and reps you did. For rowing workouts, start with just the pressure pieces of the day. Include the warmups, drills, and cool-downs if you’d like to. This will at least give you a base of tracking the workouts you’ve done.
I suggest that athletes go beyond this basic level and include some more descriptive detail. While this may seem like overkill in the moment, it really helps with retrospective evaluation of training. If things are going well in training, it helps you discover trends of what works. If things are going poorly in training, it helps you discover what doesn’t work. I suggest including:
- Day and time of the workout
- Bodyweight either in the morning or at time of workout (just stay consistent whichever you choose)
- Hours of sleep the night before
- Enthusiasm for training on a scale of 1-5
- The workout itself
- Post-workout evaluation on a scale of 1-5
- Any other notes
Day and time of workout provides a frame of reference. Does the athlete always perform or feel better later in the day?
Bodyweight, hours of sleep, and enthusiasm for training provides context for recovery. If bodyweight is trending down and the athlete isn’t intending to lose weight, something is wrong. There may be a medical problem, or simply a lack of calories, and either one is going to result in decreased performance. If sleep is consistently under 6-7 hours, that’s a risk factor for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and immune function, as well as injury risk. For enthusiasm, if the athlete starts out after a break from training at a 5, 5, 5, and then starts dipping down to 3, 2, and 1 as the training block progresses, that’s a recovery red flag. Depending on the other factors, the athlete may need to address recovery from training, or be scheduled for more breaks in training.
The more detail you can provide on the rowing workout itself, the better. For strength training, record exercises, weights, sets, and reps, as well as any notes on technique or load. I’ve written in “do more next time” if all sets of an exercise felt too light. This helps with training session efficiency. Athletes who don’t record their sessions often have to spend extra time during strength training just figuring out the right weight to use. “Did I use 165lbs last time, or 175lbs?” Some athletes are so in-tune that they can accurately find just the right point where they should be pushing on any given day. Most athletes need reference points, especially at the sub-advanced levels of training. Record your rowing workout training as well with meters, intensity, heart-rate, any drills you did, as well as any notes on what you’re working on technically.
I especially recommend this level of recording for self-coached rowers and masters rowers, as it really helps dial in training and recovery. Perhaps you find that one form of training tends to burn you out. If your practice performance isn’t improving, maybe that’s by the design of the plan (as in an over-reaching phase), or maybe that’s a problem (over-training). Either way, this gives you data, and context of the data, to be able to evaluate your training.
Post-workout evaluation is a self-check. How close was your pre-workout enthusiasm to your perceived workout results? Maybe you came in at a 4-of-5 in enthusiasm, but the session was actually a 2-of-5. If you have a few days of those in a row, it doesn’t matter what your mind is telling you in enthusiasm. Your body needs a break. Or, perhaps your enthusiasm is at a 2-of-5, but your training session goes at a 4-of-5. This is also helpful information, as now you know to maybe place a little less importance on pre-workout enthusiasm, and you can trust in your ability to get through the workout even if you aren’t feeling totally into it.
For “any other notes,” jot down a short note on what else is going on in training or outside of training. Is life academically, professionally, and/or socially stressful outside of training? Or, are things awesome? You could add any information you want here, including what you did for a warmup, any mobility you’re working on, integrating mental skills into your training, and more. Start out simple at first. If you put pressure on yourself to add so much information that the training log becomes a burden, it’s unlikely to stay a consistent part of your training routine. Tracking so many variables can also create information overload. At the basic stages of training, the above numbers 1-6 and a short note of “anything else” will give you a great start on becoming a more engaged participant in your own training.
How to Use Your Data
The goal of all of this is to provide context and a more reliable way to analyze your own performance on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and season-to-season basis. Spend the first 3-6 weeks just collecting data, writing down the information above without yet analyzing its effect on your training. After 3-6 weeks, you can start to look for trends.
Is your performance improving? Are most of your days in the 3-5 range for enthusiasm? Are most of your days in the 3-5 range for post-workout evaluation? If the answer is yes, don’t change anything! Every athlete gets burned by the “maybe I could get more” trap at some point. Improvement is improvement, and more or different isn’t necessarily better.
If the answer is no to any of those, then you look at bodyweight. If it’s trending down, and you aren’t intending to lose weight, then maybe eating more calories to support training will get things back on track. Add a small amount of food to your daily eating, and see if things improve. Some athletes track how much water they drink as well. If you aren’t hitting at least half your bodyweight per day in ounces (ie. 200lb athlete drinks 100oz per day), then try to hit that mark for a few weeks and see if your training improves.
If your bodyweight is stable, then how about sleep? If you’re getting at least 6-7 hours per day and cannot add more (or if more isn’t helpful), then perhaps you look at introducing other recovery modalities. Can you add 10 minutes of an active recovery strategy somewhere in your day?
And finally, every athlete’s last resort—less training! Maybe you’re simply doing too much training, or too much of one type of training. If an athlete isn’t improving, and we cannot increase recovery, then we may have to decrease the work.
Potential Drawbacks to Tracking Rowing Workouts
While tracking rowing workouts is generally inexpensive, improves training efficiency, and can help improve training efficacy, there are a few potential drawbacks.
It can lead to overanalyzing a single training session. Sometimes, poor training sessions just happen. Use individual sessions to look for a trend before jumping to analysis and interventions.
While being able to improve on previous practice performances is generally desirable, sometimes the design of a training plan includes an over-reaching element, or functional overtraining. It may be impossible, or very costly to recovery, to try to exceed previous performances during this phase or kind of training. Communicate with your coach and understand your training program to learn the intended goals of the block of training or individual training session.
It can cause frustration with being unable to exceed previous performances, setting the athlete up to overtrain by working at too high of a volume or intensity for their current ability. If you’re returning from injury, illness, or time away from training, take a long-term view, stick to the plan, and hopefully you’ll be back to, and beyond, your previous abilities within a few weeks or months. Long plateaus in performance are difficult for any athlete to handle, and a training log may increase this pressure and frustration.
Make sure to continue to focus on the actual effort, completion, and performance of training. Races are still won and lost on the race course, not in training logs. Any analytic tool runs the risk of overwhelming the athlete with variables and distractions from the actual execution of training.
These are all considerations in whether or not you personally keep a training log, and exactly how you use the data you create. I still feel that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and that tracking rowing workouts and strength training is a worthwhile effort.
A system of tracking rowing workouts is an inexpensive investment with great potential rewards for your training. If you just write down the exercise, weight, sets, and reps, you’ll improve the efficiency of your training session by not having to guess or figure out what weight to use for every exercise. Progressive overload, doing a little bit more than the previous session, is a key feature of strength training programs, and it can only happen if you’re consistently able to recall what you did before, then try to beat it. Recording more than that, including your rowing workouts, special cues or emphases in training, and other context to your training session and lifestyle, can help evaluate your training and recovery to determine what works, what doesn’t, and how you can continue improving from season to season. Whether it’s a physical notebook, an Excel file, an app or a website, start logging your rowing workouts and become a more engaged participant in your own training.
Last updated February 2020.
“Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance” is the comprehensive guide to strength training for rowing, from first practice of the off-season all the way to peak championship race performance, and for everyone from juniors to masters rowers. The second edition is available now in print and e-book.