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interference effect in rowing

Concurrent Training Interference Effect in Rowing

The interference effect is the phenomenon by which adaptation to concurrent strength training and endurance training is diminished compared to separately training only strength or endurance. This is important for sports like rowing, which requires both great power and great endurance. Rowers must train both strength and endurance, so the challenge of the interference effect in rowing is how to maximize adaptation to, and minimize conflict between, the different forms of training that must necessarily occur concurrently. In this article, we’ll dig into the research on the interference effect in rowing, and discuss practical takeaways for rowers and coaches seeking better training and better performance.

I want to be up front that this gets into a level of detailed training program design that may not be an important factor for you, your rowing program, or the rowers you coach. Master the basics first. Do basic strength training, improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness via multiple means, develop great technique on the water, and of course, make rowing a positive part of your life or the lives of the athletes you coach, and this will yield the greatest results in rowing and beyond. If you have the basics down, if the athletes you coach are sufficiently advanced, and if you have the ability to structure your training program and organize your sessions, research on the interference effect offers us takeaways that might yield small performance improvements that add up in the big picture.

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The Minimum Rowing Strength Training Plan

Some rowers find themselves without the time, equipment, ability, or desire to make dedicated strength training a regular part of their rowing training program, due to external circumstances or personal choices by the coach or rower. Sometimes this can be a temporary situation, as in during a time of very heavy rowing training, travel, or increased time demands outside of rowing. The minimum rowing strength training plan often focuses on the performance work and discards the supporting work and training to reduce injury risk. In this article, I hope to convince you that it should be the other way around. Your performance work can be better replicated by rowing and erging than the assistance work for the non-rowing muscles and movements, and it is here that you will find the greater benefit to overall performance and reducing risk of injury.

The common minimum rowing strength training program tends to involve a lot of muscular endurance work in the off-season or pre-season, usually focusing only on the muscles that produce stroke motion, and then only rowing during the racing season. The result of this is rowers strengthening the muscles that are already strong from rowing, which misses development of muscles neglected by rowing training and increases risk of overuse injuries and muscular imbalances. The lack of an in-season approach means that these rowers are strongest at the start of the season when it matters least, and weakest at the end of racing season when it matters most. Instead, coaches and rowers seeking the bare minimum rowing strength training should strength train for the goal of reducing risk of common rowing injuries by building movements and muscles that rowing alone neglects. I call this “rowing mitigation work,” and it’s the most important part of rowing strength training, and the easiest to implement in a rowing training program.

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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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upper body training for rowing

Upper Body Training for Rowing: The Complete Guide

Upper body training for rowing often gets minimized because of the notion that the lower body produces the majority of force in the rowing stroke. While this is true, all of that lower body power has to go through the upper body, shoulders, arms, and hands, in order to get to the handle! Rowers also need to train the upper body to reduce risk of injury. Low back pain and rib stress injuries are two of the most common rowing injuries costing the most amount of missed training time, and rowing research notes poor upper body strength as a risk factor for both injuries. In this Complete Guide article, we’ll cover upper body training for rowing performance and reduced risk of injury, including relevant rowing research, specific strength training methods for in-season and off-season training, and upper body exercises I do and don’t use.

Table of Contents

upper body training for rowing

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kettlebells for rowing

Kettlebells for Rowing Strength Training

Kettlebells can be a useful tool in your strength training for rowing toolbox to develop strength, power, and muscle, if you know what you’re doing with them! In this article, we’ll discuss some of the research on kettlebells in strength training, and methods for using kettlebells for rowing strength training. A fellow strength coach of rowers wrote me earlier this year with how she uses kettlebells for rowing training programs, and we’ll hear from her as well, plus some sample programs.

kettlebells for rowing

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resistance band rowing strength

Resistance Band Rowing Strength Training

Resistance bands are a versatile tool to have in your strength training for rowing toolbox. Resistance bands are fairly inexpensive compared to other strength training equipment, require little storage space, are portable, and are adaptable for use with a wide range of athletes. If you train out of a boathouse or a home gym, resistance bands can simulate dozens of exercises that you might need dumbbells or a cable machine for otherwise. Rowers can learn to how to maintain tension at different ranges and directions of motion, making resistance bands an effective strength training tool to provide a different stimulus than traditional free weight exercises alone. We’ll do resistance band rowing specific exercises, as well as exercises to develop non-rowing movements and muscles. Programmed and instructed thoughtfully, resistance bands can add another layer of challenge, flexibility, and stimulus to your rowing strength training.

resistance band rowing strength training graphic bands and text

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deadlifting for rowing

Deadlifting for Rowing: The Complete Guide

A simple eye-test should tell you that the deadlift is a great lift for rowing performance. With a big push with the legs, a tight torso to transfer the force, and an external load held in the hands, deadlifting for rowing should feel similar to the early drive of a rowing stroke. Including deadlift variations in rowing training provides a great opportunity to teach and reinforce similar skills as in the rowing stroke. Deadlifting for rowing also builds up the muscles of the lower body and posterior chain, important for performance and back health. Remember that the goal of deadlifting for rowing is to become a better rower. If all you care about is lifting the most weight or the most reps, go compete in strength sports. What we care about here is finding the best deadlift for the goal of rowing stronger, faster, healthier, and longer.

Table of Contents

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squatting for rowing

Squatting for Rowing: The Complete Guide

The squat is one of the most important exercises in strength training for rowing. Done correctly, the squat and its variations build lower body strength and power in a way that cannot be replicated by rowing and erging alone. In this complete guide to squatting for rowing, we’ll break down the importance of the squat, variations of the squat that I use in rowing training, and how to train the squat throughout the year to build to peak performance.

Table of Contents

squatting for rowing

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strength standards for rowing

Testing 1-Rep Maxes and Strength Standards for Rowing

I don’t use 1-rep maxes or strength standards for rowing training. There are lots of ways that strength coaches and rowing coaches can evaluate the efficacy of a rowing training program. What does it tell me about a rower’s ability if they squat 225lbs for one rep? Pretty much just that the rower can squat 225lbs for one rep. Without the context of this lift, it means very little. Strength standards have also always seemed to lack context, even when they are designed around other rep max ranges. Strength is a skill, and rowing is a skill, and I’m not sure that one is predictive of the other. However, we still need some way to evaluate the efficacy of our training program, right?

strength standards for rowing

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low back pain rib stress injuries rowers

The Research on Low Back Pain and Rib Stress Injuries in Rowing

Low back pain and rib stress injuries are two of the most common and costliest rowing injuries. Low back pain (LBP) affects 32-53% of rowers and is the leading cause of missed training sessions. Rib stress injuries (RSI) affect fewer rowers, more like 10%, but as a bone injury, the recovery time is much longer. A typical recovery window is 3-8 weeks of rest, rehab, and gradually returning to rowing. It is critical to understand and reduce risk factors for these injuries, because previous injury is one of the biggest risk factors for future injury. Once you get one, it’s more likely to get another, so we have to start with reducing risk, then preventing the first injury, then reducing injury rates overall.

Warning: This article is long, at nearly 6,000 words, and heavily sourced with the most up-to-date research on low back pain and rib stress injuries in rowers. I originally wrote this as a final paper in my graduate school biomechanics class, and adapted it to blog format with the goal of creating a comprehensive, accessible resource for rowers, rowing coaches, and strength coaches of rowers.

My goal with this article is to provide specific education for the rowing coach, strength coach, and rower detailing the mechanism of injury, risk factors, and rowing and strength training strategies to reduce LBP and RSI in rowers. You can use the links below to jump straight to a section as well.

  1. Limitations of Research
  2. Injury Mechanism: LBP
  3. Injury Mechanism: RSI
  4. Risk Factors: LBP & RSI
  5. How Coaches Can Reduce Rowing Injuries
  6. How Strength Coaches Can Reduce Rowing Injuries
  7. How Rowers Can Reduce Rowing Injuries
  8. Wrapping Up

low back pain rib stress injuries rowers

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