It’s summer time and many of us are thinking of time away from the boathouse, ergometer, and spin bike. Often, this is out of our control, such as in the case of the high school student who has a summer job that conflicts with open gym or boathouse times. Sometimes this is in our control, such as a planned vacation or conscious choice to move rowing to the back-burner for a few weeks or months and focus on other activities. The competitive athlete will never want to give up an edge to their competition, so while there is no true replacement for time in the boat or on the erg, here is how to stay summer fit for rowing so you maintain as much strength and fitness as possible to make smooth the transition back to specific training.
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Rowers love “the core,” but what exactly is the purpose of this muscle group in rowing performance and how can we train it most effectively for faster times, better technique, and reduced risk of injuries? The purpose of this article is not to convince you to do core training for rowing, because you probably already are! Instead, we’ll discuss some key features of core anatomy and training, explore some relevant rowing research, and I hope to introduce you to a few exercises beyond planks and crunches to add to your core training for rowing.
Key Points: “The core” includes more than just the “six-pack” rectus abdominis muscle and core training for rowing should include movements for the other abdominal muscles and the posterior trunk muscles around the lumbar spine. Static plank holds are fine for an entry point into basic strength training, but the core muscles do not act statically in the rowing stroke. Rowers need to progress to exercises involving more movement at the extremities and hips with a stable spine for core strength to carry over to improved performance and reduced risk of injuries. Watch detailed video demonstrations of the TRX/gymnastics ring suspension trainer core exercises and my favorite core exercise for rowers, the seated rockback. These exercises offer many different variations and progressions to keep core strength training engaging and effective for rowers of all ages, types, and levels.
Table of Contents
- Core Muscle and Movement Anatomy
- Research on Core Training for Rowing
- The Seated Rockback Core Exercise
- TRX/Gymnastics Rings Suspension Trainer Exercises
- Core Training Exercises I DON’T Use with Rowers
- Summary: Core Training for Rowing
The previous excerpt from “Rowing Stronger” discussed training and strength training for masters rowers at a broad level with topics of recovery, exercise progression, and injury prevention. After I got a shout-out from renowned masters coach Marlene Royle on a recent Rowing Chat podcast, I received several questions about specifics of strength training for masters rowers and how to start training if you are 50+ years old and have minimal lifting experience. Here’s my advice for how to start strength training for a male or female masters rower.
I think that Marlene’s opinion of strength training in her podcast was spot on. Strength training is a vitally important part of masters training, especially for injury prevention, but it is small in comparison to technique, aerobic endurance, and ability on the water and on the ergometer. If you aren’t technically sound on the water or on the erg, you won’t be able to display the full potential of your strength. However, if you’re a masters athlete who has spent a lot of time in the sport, developed great technique and aerobic base, but hasn’t been seeing improvement, strength training could be the missing ingredient. Read the first chapter of Rowing Stronger for free to see why training endurance from the top-down with strength work is so effective.
Technique is the first thing I emphasize with an athlete of any age. Technique is important to develop the movement patterns that will help you both in and out of the boat. I’d suggest working with a personal trainer or qualified coach on lifting technique, because it isn’t intuitive or natural to a lot of people and there are many ways to go wrong when learning a new skill. You can take this article to a personal trainer or qualified coach so they can teach you the proper technique on these simple exercises.
Overtraining comes in two main forms, chronic and acute. Chronic overtraining is fairly rare and traumatic, but acute overtraining has broader symptoms and affects many athletes. Acute overtraining can be caused by training with too high frequency, intensity, and/or volume, or by failing to recover sufficiently from training via sleep, diet, and lifestyle. Overtraining is not to be feared, but recognizing overtraining symptoms is key to better managing your training, recovery, performance, and mental state.
The Internet pendulum swings rapidly on the subject of overtraining, and a brief survey on the topic will reveal attitudes both of constant fear of overtraining even in the lowest volume training situations and macho “there’s no such thing as overtraining” attitudes. The reality lies somewhere in the middle and the polarity of opinion is mostly the result of a lack of understanding of what overtraining actually is.
First, let’s clear up what overtraining is not. Overtraining is not overreaching. Overreaching is a strategic training period as part of a taper cycle when fatigue will be incurred past a recoverable level. Many athletes will experience this as a natural part of a training cycle. This period is strategic, intentional, and should be carefully monitored by the coach and athlete. The athlete overreaches for a short period of time (2-3 weeks) during which time fatigue is very high and performance is diminished, then training is scaled back for another short period of time (1-2 weeks) to allow for recovery before a peak performance. This is the strategy of tapering to produce an immediate short-term spike in performance for a peak event.
Overtraining is different from overreaching in that it is not strategic, does not have a performance purpose, and is the result of a mistake or error on behalf of the coach or athlete.
Regardless of age, experience, and gender, strength training can improve performance and all-around fitness beyond a chosen sport or activity. Intelligently designed, consistent, progressive strength training is one of the most powerful tools to slow and in some cases, reverse, the physical changes that are a natural, biological process of aging. Strength gains are still fully possible via central nervous system (CNS) improvements even after testosterone levels decline . The central nervous system regulates the force produced by muscles. Strength training takes what was once a bumpy gravel road connecting the CNS to the muscle fibers and turns it into smooth pavement, capable of transmitting greater power to the muscles. Aerobic systems lose little with age, so the combination of the improved CNS, healthy muscular system, plus a robust aerobic base can power boats well into one’s masters years. In fact, if you have relied solely on technique and aerobic training to this point in your career, the addition of intelligent and progressive strength training could unlock the door to new personal bests and faster times.
Rowing peak power is the main training goal of the pre-season or pre-competitive block of training. This phase of training occurs between the off-season and race prep or the in-season phase of multiple races. We take the base of general strength, muscle mass, and aerobic fitness that the rower developed in the prior off-season training phases and turn it into boat-moving, flywheel-spinning peak power for fast starts, power moves, and sprints.
This article is Part 3 in my annual programming series. Read “The Basics of Strength Training for Rowing” for the general overview of the annual strength training plan, and then individual block-by-block articles for Part 1 Off-Season/General Prep, Part 2 Specific Prep, and Part 4 In-Season/Race Prep.
Table of Contents:
- Why Train for Peak Power?
- Strength Training for Peak Power
- Rowing Peak Power Exercises
- Rowing Peak Power Sample Sessions
Youth strength training represents one of the greatest windows of opportunity in an athlete’s development. Properly planned and instructed, strength training has the potential to improve young athlete performance in the short and long term, as well as offer an enjoyable way of engaging with physical fitness for life. In this article, we’ll review some research around youth strength training, discuss some common myths and misconceptions, and build a plan for enjoyment of physical activity and long-term athlete development beginning in childhood.
Key Points: Commonly cited problems with youth strength training are typically due to an inappropriately advanced training plan, poor instruction, or lack of supervision by the coach. Young athletes can learn developmentally appropriate physical training fundamentals and build gradually on those skills as their training capacity increases. Coaches of young athletes should focus first on enjoyment of and engagement in physical activity, then on developing general athletic movement fundamentals and building a foundation for future performance improvement.
Table of Contents:
- Long-Term Athlete Development
- Myths and Misconceptions
- Athletic Motor Skill Competencies
- Basic Exercises
- Loading and Progressing
- Sample Sessions
- Additional Resources
Welcome to RowingStronger! In this article, we’re going to cover the basics of strength training for rowing from a programming standpoint. You’ll learn what periodization is and why it is essential to long-term improvement in rowing, how to organize a strength training program to line up with your rowing training, and of course, what sets and reps to use in the gym to achieve the goal of each training block. This article is “The BASICS of Strength Training for Rowing.” Read the linked articles in each section below for more details on each phase of programming from early off-season to final peak championship performance.
Note: This article is designed with the spring 2km-focused competitive rower in mind. If you aren’t a spring 2km rower, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered here for different training schedules: Strength Training for Masters Rowers: Periodization.