“You can’t row and hope.” A great man once said.
I use this quote often with my athletes. Every time I use it, I ask them where it came from. I still have not gotten an answer.
Do you know?
This quote carries a lot of meaning in the sport of rowing. Simply put – you can’t go out on the water hoping that you will win if you have not done all you possibly can.
I believe this quote applies to strength and conditioning and rowing. Rowers and scullers that refuse to train for strength will be at the mercy of the athlete who does train for strength.
One of my favorite quotes from one of my Masters athletes was, “What good is lifting weights when there is six miles of open water to row on…” Fine words from a fine athlete. However, this athlete no longer competes at a high level.
Rowing is an “Aerobic” Sport
My experience as a rower and sculler has taught me that you just cannot go fast if you never train fast. Athletes must follow an organized training program that will build their aerobic capacity and aerobic power over time to peak at their particular event. However, how do rowers and their coaches project speed if they have never physically raced at that speed?
Many young athletes begin with raw strength and power. There is a definitely a genetic advantage to the former football player that decides to pick up an oar and race against you. Give that athlete time to put in some aerobic capacity training and you might be in trouble.
I was at a disadvantage. I gravitated towards rowing because I came from another aerobic sport – cross-country running. I was blessed with the lungs and patience to race the full 2k distance multiple times, however if you put me on the rowing ergometer against some of my bigger, stronger teammates, I would usually lose. If a training session called for 6K test or Hour of Power then I usually could come out on top…
…but the Olympic racing distance is 2000 meters.
In 2005, I lost to my younger brother on a 90 second erg piece. He is 6’6” and can probably still dunk a basketball. As we began the ergometer piece, he went out way too fast. I purposely would bide my time, so I could level him with my sprint. As the clock ticked down, I realized I was going to run out of race course. He defeated me in my prime…
Did he go to the Olympic Trials? No, but I would never have the power that he had.
Unless I trained for it.
There is no time to lift weights
There is not enough focus on strength and conditioning in the United States specifically for rowing athletes. I am not writing about “CrossFit”. There is definitely a place for CrossFit in the world of fitness. Athletes like Erin Cafaro were successful with CrossFit because they found brilliant coaches like Kelly Starrett and Brian MacKenzie to train them individually and correctly.
Every collegiate athlete that I have ever worked with said that their rowing coach did not have time for lifting weights or did not “believe” in it. The strength and conditioning coach at their college or university did not understand the sport of rowing.
Is this really true?
There is no time to program strength and conditioning for your athletes?
I learned everything backwards. I was a competitive rower at the end of my rowing career that became a strength and conditioning coach. As a CSCS*D through the National Strength and Conditioning Association I have the ability to train athletes in any sport. I understand how the body moves and how weight lifting affects it. I do not claim to know more about football, basketball, baseball than people who play them competitively.
I do understand rowing.
I know that successful rowers are strong. Athletes like the Sinkovic brothers and Olena Buryak train for months to build large aerobic capacities to travel fast over 2000 meters. Multiple times. Do they also do strength training? If they do, you better get cracking…
Diagrams show that a rowing race is mostly aerobic.
That is true…provided that all the athletes in the race can produce the same speed and have similar aerobic capacities. An 2000 meter Olympic race is basically a “drag race” to see which athlete can maintain their racing speed and cadence and outlast the competition. That requires Aerobic Capacity and Aerobic Power.
However, when you watch a 2000 meter high school or collegiate race, it is more like watching a prize fight. Some boats start out fast, and some boats cannot even get off the line with everyone else. Usually a winning boat requires one or two “moves” to knock out other boats. That requires Peak Power and Anaerobic Power.
To improve Peak Power and Anaerobic Power you have to do strength training.
Mobility, stability, flexibility, and strength for rowers is just a “fad”
Rowers must be able to do three things:
- Start fast
- Finish Faster
Ed McNeely, who wrote a fantastic blog on Peak Power contributed the chapter on strength. It’s on page 87, Chapter 8:
It’s in the Second Edition (2011) as well! Chapter 12, page 163:
The data he provides is simple:
There are three lifts that each racing class must be proficient at – Deadlift, Bench Pull, and Squat. Basically a “Hinge”, “Pull”, and “Squat” exercise.
And for each lift he provides the recommended standards at each level.
Coaches may argue that athletes that they have trained as rowers were successful without having reached those physical goals.
That is wonderful…those athletes are the exception.
Whether I was an elite rowing coach or Masters coach, I would want make sure that my athletes had all the tools for competing in their racing class. Our athletes should be proficient in all of these lifts, and close to the recommended standards if they want to be successful in this sport.
It was true over 10 years ago, and it is still true today.
Get Screened or Get injured
Before putting weights in your athletes’ hands, have they been examined by a fitness professional or physical therapist to make sure there are no underling physical issues?
In November, I wrote an article for Rowing Recruiting about the “Next Evolution” in rowing training. In the article, I interviewed some top, well respected, and qualified coaches that felt that coaches need to take a step back when it comes to implementing their training programs.
It isn’t really an evolution. It is more bringing awareness to coaches that if their athletes are not being screened at a young age then a “specialized” training program may be sending down the road for poor performance and potential injury.
Building a solid foundation of mobility, stability, and flexibility for our athletes will allow a coach to successfully implement a strength training program. Athletes will get stronger, and will less likely get injured.
Collegiate coaches need to decide if their goal is to win races or develop athletes that may have a future at the national, World Championship, or Olympic level.
If athletes continue to focus just on Aerobic Capacity and Aerobic Power, then they will continue to manage rowing slower than their opponents for a long period of time.
Moral of the Story
The 2015 USRowing Convention was full of smart, capable coaches. Here are a few questions for them:
- Will all coaches ever get together and decide a single training standard for the United States and follow through?
- Why are our athletes – from high school up to Olympic hopefuls – spending so much time on the water and not any time in the weight room?
- Are all of them able to Squat, Bench Pull, and Deadlift well?
- Or will they wait until after selection to focus on this?
Until then, athletes will continue to be left figuring these things out on their own.
“’You can’t row and hope.’ Row and hope. All we did was row and hope…”
For more information on Athletic Profiling, Individual Team and FMS Screening, Strength and Conditioning, Training Programs, Seminars, and Rowing Analysis – contact me!
Nolte, Volker (2005). Rowing Faster (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc. Ed McNeely, “Building Strength”. pg. 89, Chapter 8.
Nolte, Volker (2011). Rowing Faster (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc. Ed McNeely, “Training for Strength”. pg. 165, Chapter 12.
Davenport, Michael (2000). USRowing’s Coaching Education: Candidate’s Manual, Level II. Church Hill, MD: SportWork. “Training, Conditioning, and Nutrition.” pg. 102. Chapter 7.
Rowing Recruiting, Next Evolution in Rowing Training, November 2015