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? (Special prize to the first that emails me)

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.


“Energy Systems in a six-minute race”

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”

Volker Nolte published Rowing Faster in 2005. It is a must have for all rowing coaches.

Rowers must be able to do three things:

  1. Start fast
  2. Maintain
  3. 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:

  1. Will all coaches ever get together and decide a single training standard for the United States and follow through?
  2. 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?
  3. Are all of them able to Squat, Bench Pull, and Deadlift well?
  4. 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 Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.


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




It is a simple question. Are you committed to yourself every single day? As part of my profession I am expected to be there for my clients and my athletes. Training sessions are the time my clients and athletes are expected to make changes both in their life and their sport – physically and mentally. Lately, I have noticed that my fellow trainers, coaches, athletes and clients are not all the way there. Everyone seems more focused on what is going on around them and spending an enormous amount of their energy being vocal and opinionated about what they cannot control.

The only thing that we really have control of is ourselves.


“Coach Rufo, circa. 1998”

“I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid… I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.” – Shawshank Redemption

Are you Ready?

Are you ready to go? I have learned this first hand in Kettlebell training. You cannot screw around with a Kettlebell because it demands respect. If your mind is somewhere else then you are going to get hurt. During one training session, I was swinging a 36 Kg (80 lbs) heavy Kettlebell with one arm. I was not putting 100%  of my effort and focus into the movement. The next morning, I had pain in my lower back. I found out later that had pulled a groin muscle, and my right Glute muscle basically shut off. Shame on me. I cursed at myself, because I forgot that if I am going to commit to training myself, then I need to be fully present.


“The Kettlebell demands respect…”

Are you Present?

Are you fully present? I am big believer in author Mark Sisson’s “80/20” principle. We try to experience everything 100% and put in 100% effort, but unfortunately we are setting ourselves up for failure. We cannot experience each element of our lives at 100% because we won’t have time for anything else. I cannot be the best rowing coach and trainer in the world because it would require me to sacrifice everything else – my wife, my family and my friends. I cannot be the greatest husband and father in the world, because if I don’t take care of myself then I won’t be around for my wife or my kids when I am older. I cannot be the healthiest and strongest person in the world because life is too short to deny yourself the simple pleasures in life that we are fortunate to be free to enjoy.

*WARNING  Explicit Language*

Lately it seems that we can’t even put in 80%.

Are you IN? Or are you OUT?

Are you committed to training and going fast? There are many other ways you can “exercise” and get fit without having to go out in the cold weather, splash around for 90 minutes, and pat yourself on the back. We all have that “rowing fix” we need to fulfill, but rowing is unique sport that requires you to be mindful of a lot of things. Rowing is similar to skydiving or surfing in the sense that even though there may be no immediate danger, you are still risking your life when you go out on the water. Every day that you train with your team or in your single, there a risk that you may be injured or you may capsize or collide with something. You do realize you are looking backwards?

The main reason I continue to coach is because I enjoy watching athletes go fast on the water. I enjoy guiding them in making subtle technical changes. I enjoy putting myself in their shoes (and seat) to visually help them make those changes. I enjoy watching how they physically respond to training, and try to understand how it affects their stress levels and mood. My athletes want to race. They come to practice when they can. Many of them send me training results, because we don’t meet every day. The athletes that are following the training program will continue to improve.

Some athletes  only come every once in awhile. Life gets in the way. I understand that there are things that keep them from coming to practice, but if they are not at practice should not be upset about not performing well. They are “out”. They are not committed to the task they are about to take on. It would be like me going to one pottery class and being upset that I cannot create the perfect sculpture. It would be like me never spending time in the kitchen and expecting to cook perfect lasagna the first time. Rowing is a skill. We have to practice it every day to improve. Athletes that are successful rowing are ones that train in some capacity every day. The same with strength athletes. They will lift in some capacity every day.

Moral of the Story

I blame myself. I wanted to be the type of coach and trainer that inspired people. I sometimes see flashes of this in my training sessions. When I am passionate about coaching I can usually find the same passion in my clients. Unfortunately it isn’t all the time though.

I can admit that I am not all there either.

Attitude reflects leadership. If I continue to be okay with my own mediocrity then my athletes will be okay with their own mediocrity. A leader must rise up.

A few ground rules:

  • I am not afraid to fail.  I realize I will make mistakes, and I am okay with people telling me so. In the past I have been too worried about pleasing everyone.
  • I don’t know everything. In the past, I have been afraid to speak up because I wanted to make sure I had all the facts. I have quoted Geoff Livingston – “There are no experts, only more experiences.” This is true in rowing and in fitness. My role models are well respected, and I continue to refer to them when I run out of answers.

Here is what I know. You can do it. You can do 80%. If you are rowing, then be present in the stroke and what you are trying to accomplish. Be present in your training session instead of watching Jerry Springer on TV or reading the latest health magazine while you plug away on the elliptical. I challenge you to not go out there and half-ass it. If you half-ass it, eventually you will get hurt, or you will hurt someone you are training with. If you are not willing to lay it on the line for your teammates then it may be time to purchase a canoe or kayak and go for a pleasure cruise. A rowing shell is not designed to go slow.


I am inviting you to become part of my training group. The training group is for clients and athletes that have run out of answers. It is an opportunity for you to join a growing community of clients and athletes that are ready to commit to training. Whether it is rowing or strength training, it is okay to find support within a community of like-minded individuals. There is no judgment here, because all that I ask is that you are committed to yourself.

If you are committed to yourself, it will be easier to find the answers.

If you are committed to an outside goal, then you are just focused on the external goal. Success is then only based on whether you pass or fail.

Instead allow yourself to experience small successes and build upon them.

It’s time to change the world.



Here I go Dad…

For more information on training programs for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, DISC, and Process Communication like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

Last chance to attend the KB2K – Philadelphia – Kettlebell Seminar on on November 29th, 2015!