rowing ltad article cover graphic

Rowing LTAD: Long-Term Athlete Development

Long-term athlete development (LTAD) describes the habitual development of general athletic qualities to improve health, fitness, sport performance, reduce risk of injury, and improve confidence and competence in the physical domain. Rowing LTAD begins with general LTAD and gradually progresses through stages of development to improve rowing performance over many years, not just weeks, months, and seasons.

Key Points: Rowing LTAD means building capacity for long-term improvement in rowing, as well as other athletic skills for well-rounded, holistic development. Rather than focusing on short-term performance improvement, an LTAD view can still improve performance, plus reduce risk of injury, increase engagement in sport training, and help athletes be physically active for life. LTAD practices look different at different chronological ages, stages of development, and for athletes with different motivations. I presented on strength training for rowing LTAD at a USRowing event, and you can watch the replay at the link below.

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rowing ltad article cover graphic

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The Nordic Hamstring Curl Exercise for Rowers

The Nordic hamstring curl is a popular exercise in the strength training for other sports, but has not reached widespread use in rowing. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to begin using the Nordic hamstring curl in your strength training for rowing.

Key Points: The Nordic hamstring curl (NHC) is an exercise with good application for rowers, training the glutes and back muscles for hip stability and taking the hamstrings through a underdeveloped movement of eccentric knee flexion. The NHC requires minimal equipment, so rowers and coaches can incorporate it into training just about anywhere. It is a challenging exercise that all rowers may not be ready for right away, so use variations in range-of-motion, tempo, and set-and-rep scheme to gradually progress up to full training.

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nordic hamstring curl for rowers, an exercise for posterior chain strengthening requiring minimal external load or equipment
Illustration from Bahr and Mæhlum (2002), “Scandinavian Textbook of Sports Medicine”

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muscle soreness rowing article title graphic. picture of deadlifting with muscle soreness and rowing title.

Muscle Soreness and Rowing

Muscle soreness is an issue of both reverence and avoidance in rowers. Pain-chasing rowers love muscle soreness and don’t feel like they got a good workout without it. Others hate it and do everything they can to avoid it out of a desire to maximize immediate performance or not make rowing any harder or more painful than it already is. Rowing coaches often both want strength coaches to “test” rowers and “train their grit” with challenging and painful workouts, but can also get mad when athletes are sore for rowing or don’t perform well immediately after intense strength training. Whether you love it or hate it, this article is about muscle soreness and rowing: what it means, what it is NOT, how it affects rowers, and how we can reduce and avoid it.

Key Points: Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the kind of low-grade muscular stiffness or tightness that people feel in the 24-72 hours following exercise. DOMS tends to happen more with strength training than with rowing, due to the greater movement diversity of strength training, higher force muscular work in strength training, and eccentric muscle actions. DOMS doesn’t mean much beyond your muscles saying, “Hi, that was new.” Whether you are sore or not sore is no real indication as to whether your training is working or not working. Rowing research indicates that muscle soreness itself has little negative effect on rowing performance at or slower than 2km pace. The best way to reduce DOMS is to avoid getting so much DOMS in the first place by gradually introducing yourself or athletes to new, unfamiliar training stimuli.

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muscle soreness rowing article title graphic. picture of deadlifting with muscle soreness and rowing title.

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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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plyometrics for rowers

Plyometrics for Rowers: The Complete Guide

We use plyometrics for rowers to improve general athleticism and increase rate of force production. Although rowing is not truly a plyometric sport, power and rate of force development is still important for strong early drive force with fast legs. General athleticism is harder to quantify, but helps rowers make technical changes and adjustments more easily. In this article, we’ll review some general plyometric exercise information, dig into some research on plyometrics for rowers, and provide practical recommendations for my favorite plyometrics and how I use them in my training programs with rowers of all ages, types, and levels.

Key Points: Plyometric exercise can be safe and effective for improving rowing performance with good planning, instruction, and programming with the rest of rowing 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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plyometrics for rowers: cover graphic showing the 1-leg and 2-leg jump, forwards and backwards overhead throw, and seated jump

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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

rowing return to train

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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.

strength training for rowing technique

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olympic lifts for rowing

Why I Don’t Use Olympic Lifts for Rowing Training

“Olympic lifts” commonly refers to the snatch and clean-and-jerk exercises, and their variations, whether or not one is competing in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. One of the oldest forms of Olympic sport, the Olympic lifts are a tradition in sport training for sports other than Olympic weightlifting. I don’t use Olympic lifts for rowing training, which is a somewhat controversial position. In a 2011 study of Great Britain rowing coaches and rowing strength coaches, 26 of the 30 coaches responded that they used some sort of Olympic lifting in their training program, with 19 coaches awarding the top importance rank to the clean exercise (eight coaches selected the squat).

I believe that Olympic lifts are remnants of traditionalist coaching dogma, and that other exercises are more effective for the goal of developing strength and power to build better rowers. The Olympic lifts are a time-intensive method of training, and are too dissimilar to the rowing stroke to expect significant return on training time investment to rowing performance. In this article, I’ll explain why I don’t use Olympic lifts for rowing training, and what I use instead to build strength, power, and muscle mass to carryover to rowing performance and reducing risk of injury.

olympic lifts for rowing

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