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strength training for sculling

Strength Training for Sculling

Strength training for sculling necessitates an understanding of what makes sculling different from sweep rowing and erging, knowledge of the different types of scullers, and management of the different physiological demands between different boat classes and racing priorities. In this article, I will cover some relevant research for scullers, identify a few adjustments that I make specifically for scullers versus other rowers, and discuss how plans change for scullers of different types and priorities.

I also presented on this topic via the Craftsbury Sculling Center Free Weekly Webinar series on August 12th, 2020. This webinar is available for free linked at the end of this article.

Key Points: Strength training for sculling is mostly the same in the lower body as those who erg or sweep row. However, the action around the rib cage and shoulders is very different between the three modalities, and top athletes in each discipline will have specific strengths and techniques to achieve maximum performance. Exercise variations of the squat, hinge, and pulling categories train the relevant muscles for stroke power and performance. We can also use strength training to teach and reinforce specific muscular skills for sculling performance. Finally, we use other exercises to develop muscles and movements neglected by rowing alone, including upper body pushing, lateral, rotational, and shoulder external rotation exercises.

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Using Sleds for Rowing Strength Training

By Alex Walters, USRowing Level 3

Note from Will: “Using Sleds for Rowing Strength Training” is a guest article by Alex Walters, coach of the Gem City Crew juniors program. Alex and I have corresponded for a few years now via my email list. He wrote me earlier this year to tell me about the kind of strength training he was doing with his junior program. He felt inspired, motivated, and informed by my resources to make strength training a part of the team’s development, but lacked the funding for equipment, the space to store and use that equipment, and the ability to instruct a conventional strength training program or hire a strength training professional to do so. Enter the sleds. Alex described these warhorses of plywood to me and showed me some pictures of the movements he used in their training. I loved it and asked if he’d like to share this with the broader rowing world, and this article is the result of his efforts. I think it’s a great example of a coach figuring out how to work with what they’ve got and being willing to start with SOMETHING and improve from there. I hope you enjoy this creative approach to strength training for rowing.

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plyometrics for rowers

Plyometrics for Rowers: The Complete Guide

Plyometric exercises are common in training programs to develop muscular power. Power will develop together with strength in beginner strength training, but more experienced athletes may need specific training for power development. Power, or rate of force development, is important for rowers who want to get the most out of each stroke, especially those rowing eights with an emphasis on early drive force. Using plyometrics for rowers requires an understanding of what physical qualities we’re trying to train, which plyometric exercises are most appropriate for the level of athlete, and how to add challenge to match athlete progression. In this article, I will review the rowing-specific plyometric research, apply general research on plyometrics from other training resources, and provide practical recommendations on plyometric teaching progression, exercise selection, and training for rowers of different levels and ages.

Key Points: Plyometrics for rowers can be safe and effective for improving rowing performance, as long as they are properly planned, instructed, and programmed with the rest of rowing training and strength training. Rowing research indicates that plyometrics can improve peak power in a short-duration erg test, 500-meter time, and detailed power characteristics like drive speed. In order to use plyometrics for rowers, we must have a safe landing space (ie. not concrete), good landing technique to absorb impact safely, an understanding of why plyometrics exist to train power (not endurance), and ideas of what plyometric exercises we can use for rowers of different strengths, competitive levels, and ages.

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nsca coach rowing

NSCA Coach: Strength Training Practices for Rowing

Fellow rowing strength coach Blake Gourley and I co-authored a three-part article series for the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s NSCA Coach online magazine in 2019-2020. These articles are available for free to NSCA members, and available for purchase for non-members below. NSCA Coach aims to provide practical, evidence-based training resources to strength coaches across sport specialties and athlete populations. The publications are reviewed by an editorial review board, and are written in a more conversational tone than peer-reviewed academic journals. We’ve included demonstration pictures, tables, and sample programs as relevant.

Our goal with this series is to move the worlds of rowing and strength training closer to each other. We want to inform strength coaches interested in learning more about rowing training and performance, as well as rowing coaches and rowers interested in learning about strength training practices. In Part 1, we break down injury research and identify methods in rowing and strength training for rowers and coaches to reduce risk of injury. In Part 2, we address strength training for rowing performance, with details for needs analysis, periodizing, and programming. In Part 3, we discuss energy system development and bring it all together with alignment of strength coach, rowing coach, and rowers.

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rowing return to train

Rowing Return-to-Train Considerations

The return-to-train phase is any time of resuming rigorous training following more than a week away or significantly reduced due to injury, illness, vacation, or anything else. We can think about returning to train in the general sense, such as resuming any training activities after time away, or the rowing return-to-train phase specifically of resuming rowing and erging following time away from sport-specific training. Athletes and coaches often just want to get back to their prior level of training and performance as quickly as possible. The better way to think of the return-to-train phase is how to use this time to set yourself up to go beyond your prior level.

Key Points: I wrote this article in May of 2020 during the most extreme example of a return-to-train phase, following a multi-week forced shutdown or restriction due to Covid-19 boathouse and gym closures. However, the rowing return-to-train phase includes any time of resuming rigorous training following more than a week or so away. Coaches and rowers can learn from the extreme example of Covid closures and apply it to common rowing return-to-train scenarios of beginning a new season, transitioning to rowing after a long phase of only erging, returning from vacation, rebuilding after an injury or illness, and more to reduce injury risks during this vulnerable time and improve athlete outcomes. Be aware of these phases in your training calendar, know the risks of trying to do too much too quickly, and use the strategies in this article to gradually reintroduce athletes to full training and beyond.

Prefer audio/video? I’ve presented on rowing return-to-train considerations twice to USRowing, with replays available at the links below. One webinar is from May 2020 for a general audience immediately following the Covid-19 closures, and another from April 2021 co-presenting with nutritionist Liz Fusco for a masters-specific audience.

Table of Contents:

  1. Rowing Research Review
  2. Planning the Return-to-Train Phase
  3. Return-to-Train Best Practices
  4. Wrapping Up
  5. My USRowing Return-to-Train Webinars

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rowingstronger usrowing webinars cover picture matching logos

RowingStronger on the USRowing Webinars

I was first featured as RowingStronger on the USRowing webinars in April of 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdowns. I have since returned to USRowing several times in different virtual formats, and have compiled the replays of all of my available presentations in this post. I will continue to add to this when I do more events with available replays.

Webinar Links

rowingstronger usrowing webinars cover picture matching logos

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rpe for rowing training

Using Percent of 1RM vs. RPE for Rowing Training

Perhaps in the future, athletes will lift only with variable-resistance devices that perfectly adjust the amount of tension for the set and rep range and training goals. The first attempts at this technology are out there now, but their expense and specialization means that nearly all athletes are lifting with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and other fixed-load free weights. This presents a challenge when selecting the best weight for each exercise, set, and rep. Coaches often spend a lot of time just advising athletes to increase or decrease weight, or terminate a set early based on an optimistic weight selection, taking time away from building relationships, coaching the movements, and doing all of the other things we could be doing. The two main methods of selecting training weights are percentage of one-rep max (1RM) and rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Math versus feel, which one wins?

Overall, I prefer using RPE for rowing training. It largely removes the requirement to do rep-max testing to dial in training weights, offers greater flexibility within each training session to adjust around fatigue from rowing training, and trades a lot of time spent doing math with time spent communicating and educating. However, RPE isn’t perfect, and we should be aware of the limitations, as well as the situations in which a percentage-based system may offer greater utility. In this article, I’ll break down some of the research on strength training with these two major methods, identify pros and cons of each, and provide some takeaways for how you can use RPE or percent 1RM to guide your strength training for rowing.

rpe for rowing training

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Is 2,000-meter Rowing Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Is 2,000-meter rowing aerobic or anaerobic? Modern research puts an all-out 2,000-meter row or erg between 77-88% aerobic and 12-23% anaerobic. However, this simple answer isn’t the end of the story. In this article, we’ll cover some of the research behind the aerobic and anaerobic breakdown, then we’ll discuss what this actually means at a physiological level, how energy system use is determined, and why this matters for rowing performance. There are key takeaways from this research to get the most out of each energy system and mode of training, between erging, rowing, cross-training, and strength training.

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strength training for rowing technique

Strength Training for Rowing Technique

Fellow rowing strength coach Joe DeLeo and I co-presented at the Joy of Sculling Conference in December 2019. Our topic was “Strength Training for Rowing 101,” and our goal was to answer major questions of why strength training is important for rowing technique and performance, what to know to get started, and how to progress from there. Joe’s section of the presentation focused on fundamental strength training principles and their specific application to rowing training. My part of the presentation was “the why.” Strength training can improve rowing performance by increasing the amount of force the rower can exert on the handle. We can also use strength training for rowing technique, training and developing muscles to help rowers express force through technically sound biomechanical pathways.

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in-season rowing strength training

In-Season Rowing Strength Training

I have found that rowers go wrong in one of two ways during in-season rowing strength training. Some rowers train hard in the off-season doing cross-training, strength training, improving rep-maxes, and putting on muscle mass, but when racing season starts, suddenly that’s all in the past. Rowers who stop strength training when their racing season begins are strongest for the early regattas when it matters the least, and weakest for the final regattas when it matters most! Other rowers increase strength training when the season starts, believing that they need to do more work and more reps to drive performance adaptation for rowing.

In my experience, there’s a better way to maintain your hard off-season work so you arrive at the championship podium at least as strong, muscular, and mobile as you were for the first race of the season. An in-season rowing strength training program makes use of lower fatigue baseline strength and power maintenance sessions, specific high intensity sessions planned ahead around the training and racing schedule, and muscular recovery sessions to improve mobility and reduce risk of injury through a hard racing season.

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in-season rowing strength training

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