Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues – by Strength Coach Will

I am pleased this week to post a guest article from Will Ruth, also known as “Strength Coach Will.” Coach Ruth writes this week about keeping a positive “mindset”  when recovering from an injury. Enjoy!

PHOTO Tohn Keagle

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues

by “Strength Coach Will” Ruth

Injury risk is an inevitable part of life and competitive sport. The first step to developing a positive mindset is accepting this risk and destigmatizing injury should it occur. Getting injured is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it is a risk that we all take as athletes and active people. In this article, I’ll explain how you can do everything you can to prevent injury and how to keep your cool should injury occur.

I do want to include a disclaimer here to say that sports are often a huge part of people’s lives, personal identity, and self-esteem, as well as a method for coping with stress, and it can be very difficult when an injury takes this away. If you or one of your athletes or teammates is struggling with depression-like symptoms, please refer to a mental health counselor or sport psychology counselor. The Applied Association of Sport Psychology is a great resource and maintains a list of certified consultants.

Control the “Controllables,” Discard What Remains

Maintaining physical readiness to train is at the forefront of every responsible athlete and coach’s mind. Even though we all accept a risk of injury training and competing in sport, injury prevention is a critical part of maintaining this readiness. Here are the core tenets of injury risk reduction that are 100% under your control:

1. Understand your sport, its injury risks, and safe training practices.

2. Learn how to prevent those injuries and then take action to do so.

3. Learn how to lift correctly to avoid compromising positions, then strength train to prevent imbalance injuries and teach correct motor patterns.

4. Stick to a regimen of warming up, cooling down, and stretching and mobility work to make sure your body is prepared for training and competition.

5. Hydrate and eat well to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to sustain hard training and achieve excellent performance.

6. Know your body and be honest with yourself. Know when to push and when to hold back in training to avoid sickness, injury, and over training.

While freak accidents do occur, the vast majority of sports injuries can be traced back to failure to adhere to those six tenets. Think of when you’ve been injured—were you consistently practicing all six at the time?

The next thing that can really derail an injured athlete’s mindset is the ensuing shock and surprise, often followed by disappointment and sometimes depression. This is where it really becomes critical to maintain a mindset of acceptance, positivity, and improvement to focus on the activities that you are able to do while recovering from injury.

Physical discomfort and inconvenience will always remain a part of injury, and what a positive approach seeks to eliminate is mental discomfort and frustration. The mental mindset to adopt is that your sport is now recovering from injury and getting back to rowing. Successful athletes who overcome injury apply the same determination, self-motivation, and drive to their rehab protocol as they did to sport training.

Remember, you’re only focusing on things you can control and positive action that you can take. Don’t get bogged down in the “can’t do’s,” such as, “I can’t row,” “I can’t lift,” “I can’t run.” Think about what you CAN do and apply yourself fully to that. Find ways to train around your injury. Can you use the stationary bike, run, or focus on one half (upper/lower) of your body with weights? Can you use this extra time to improve mobility and flexibility on a non-injured area? PT’s or athletic trainers will be able to provide specifics on what you can do to be as productive as possible during recovery.

You’re Still Part of the Team

An injured athlete is still an athlete and a teammate, so every effort should be made to keep them engaged with the sport and team. So long as it will not negatively impact their recovery, injured rowers can still attend practice and ride the launch, be there for their teammates during erg sessions, and stay involved in the team at social occasions. Often, athletes who are allowed to isolate themselves just fade away and find it hard to return to the team even when healthy. This is also where peers and team captains are relied upon to keep their teammates feeling engaged. A text or phone call of, “hey, we really miss you at practice, will we see you at _____?” can be very meaningful for an injured teammate struggling with motivation to return. Think about how you would you want your teammates to respond if you were the one injured.

Injured athletes are often worried about being in the way at practice. Here’s a list of some things rowers can help with while they’re recovering from an injury:

  • Checking gas and loading the launch
  • Holding a camera from the launch for filming
  • Holding the spotlight if it’s dark
  • Help out by writing down times during erg sessions
  • Is your team short on coxswains? I had snapping hip syndrome and could not row. I showed up for practice anyway. I was heavy for a coxswain, but when one of the coxswains didn’t show up to practice, I was able to jump in and allow that boat to get out on the water.
  • Collecting shoes, oars, and water bottles
  • Benefit from the instruction at practice. Look at your teammates and try to see what the coach sees and it will make you a better rower when you get back in the boat.
Have a Plan to Get Back on Board

One of the hardest things for eager athletes to avoid is rushing back from injury. After days or weeks away from practice, it’s hard to not want to scratch that itch right away. However, there needs to be a plan to return to training in progressive increments. Check out this graphic for an illustration of why this is—in the study, athletes who returned to do 100% of their normal training workload after only doing 40% of that workload during rehab had a 28% chance of re-injuring during their first week back from practice.

info Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CB708wHXIAAmqrB.jpg

While an athlete with a week long sickness or slight muscular strain may be able to return relatively quickly, a fracture, broken bone, torn muscle, or serious illness will need a more gradual progression. A general rule of thumb is to start with 50% of your pre-injury volume and add 5-10% (meters or minutes) from there. For example, if you were doing five two-hour practices per week before your injury, start with five one-hour practices for the first week back. This requires the coach to not only monitor training minutes, but to have a plan to swap in another rower for your place. If an erg session was prescribed 3×18’, start with 3×9’ the first week back. Your goal is to leave each session feeling like you could have done more. This may be frustrating to some athletes, but it’s a much better path than re-injury.

One final step that can be difficult for many athletes is mentally moving on from the injury after returning to rowing. A key tip here is to focus on what you DO want to have happen, not all the possible negative outcomes. With great dedication to the rehab protocol, a gradual progression to return to practice, and a positive mindset upon return, athletes can go on to put the injury behind them and focus on performance.

will ruth infographic

Infographic Credit: Strength Coach Will Ruth

WILL RUTH

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle – “Strength Coach” Will Ruth

Will Ruth (BS, NSCA-CSCS, USA-Weightlifting L1, US-Rowing L2) is the strength coach for the Western Washington University men’s club crew team and is the author of “Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance,” the only comprehensive strength training manual just for rowers published by Rowperfect UK. Will posts new articles every Monday on his website, www.strengthcoachwill.com, where you can find more resources for physical and mental training for youth, collegiate, and masters rowers. A former rower, Will keeps his own competitive fire going with the sport of Strongman and also coaches high school lacrosse.

 

Thank you Coach Ruth! For more info on AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

“YOU CAN’T ROW AND HOPE…”


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.

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“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:

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It’s in the Second Edition (2011) as well! Chapter 12, page 163:

IMG_8750

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?

https://i1.wp.com/i.imgur.com/F06BDG1.gif

 

Until then, athletes will continue to be left figuring these things out on their own.

 

"Hope..."

“’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.

References

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