“TOP CHEF” – RIO 2016

My wife and I really enjoy the show, Top Chef.

We enjoy it because we love watching talented individuals compete to create something amazing under difficult conditions. Every chef is talented, but the show is about overcoming the variables and completing everything on time. Chefs on Top Chef are  sometimes given all the same ingredients, and the chef that cooks the best wins immunity and may eventually be deemed “Top Chef.” Each chef that fails to execute, either through their ability to perform or failed concept (what did you just make?) is sent home.

In some cases, the judges just don’t like them.

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I enjoy rowing banter (my wife could care less).

I have especially enjoyed the recent debate and build up toward the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the plans of the US Olympic/Senior National Team and the “Selection Process.” A large group of talented individuals competing to create something amazing under difficult conditions. Every athlete and coach is talented, but proper selection is about overcoming the variables and completing everything on time. (Olympic Qualifier)

For 2016, I hope that our top two “chefs” have been given the right ingredients. The pool of athletes in the United States is very large, and many have earned their pedigree over the last 4 years. They are like ripe vegetables or high quality meats that you wake up and wait in line for at the local farmer’s market. There is absolutely no reason that they should “go bad” because you bought them fresh, and you plan on preparing them shortly.

Why all the drama then?

“Quick Fire Challenge”

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On Top Chef, the chefs are initially dropped into a competition where they are a given a few ingredients, and told to make something in 30 minutes or less. It tests their quick thinking skills and ability to create a concept in a short amount time. Only recently, did Top Chef start having chefs going home after a Quickfire; at least in the first few seasons the chefs got another chance to prove themselves later in the show.

For Rio, our US athletes are working hard to get noticed, and when they are finally invited to camp, they only have a short amount of time to impress our “chefs”. Either they are either included in the recipe or tossed aside for something else (it is only 30 minutes). Deciding whether they are  worth the time or not, is up to the judgement of the coaches. US Rowing will not fund athletes that are not in the system. Athletes must re-locate on their own, find jobs, and deal with the stress of knowing or not knowing whether they are going to remain on the team.

How do we know if our “ingredients” are no good if we don’t use them?

“Elimination Challenge”

The “meat” of Top Chef is the Elimination Challenge. The chefs actually have ample time to plan a meal according to the judges’ criteria and standards. In the early seasons, the challenges were pretty straight forward – make a lot of delicious food for a lot of people. As the seasons have rolled on, the challenges have become more an more interesting:

“You need to make a 4-course meal for over 300 people using only solar-powered microwave ovens on a cloudy day. And you need to walk backwards the whole time…”

Reality shows need to continue “raising the bar” to attract viewers, but it is still about making delicious food. Many of us will never be able to cook or prepare food the way these chefs do, but they are not performing under realistic circumstances.

For Rio, the US National Team Coach Staff are put under a lot of stress, and asked by the US Rowing High Performance Staff and Board to create boats that meet the world time standards. If they are unable to produce a boat that will qualify for Rio, they may go home. I thought producing an Olympic caliber boat would be an honor and a privilege, not a career life or death situation.

Everyone knows how fast you need to go to get a gold medal. It should be pretty simple to put eight athletes in a boat, at particular training time during the year, and start the stop watch. The Men’s 8+ boat has to go at least 5:20; the Women’s 8+ at least 6:00. It should be clear who is moving the boat and who isn’t. The time trial row may be sloppy, but isn’t that what practice is for? Yet, rowing “experts” and aficionados may disagree, “It isn’t that easy to put an eight together…”

Are our judges making this selection process a little too complex?

“Judge’s Table”

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On Top Chef, the Judge’s Table is made up of a potpourri of master chefs, food critics, and a rotating group of celebrities. The stables are Tom Colicchio, Padma LakshmiEmeril Lagasse, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson, and Top Chef, Richard Blais.

At the beginning of each episode, it is apparent which chef is going home because they either screw up the concept or the execution.  As the season continues, the food gets better, and it becomes more difficult for the judges really to make any logical decisions. They don’t seem to let on though. To create drama, the judges will invent new standards or change things in the middle of the Elimination Challenge.  Chefs believe they are making one meal, and a judge arrives to inform that now they have to cook using one hand.

I trained through 3 Olympic cycles – 2000, 2004, and 2008.

The standards back in 2000  were pretty clear – pull this time on the ergometer, and you might get a look. Have a good college coach, that brings you to an ID camp and you might get a look. Compete and train for a top rowing club like Penn AC or Vesper and you might get a look. By 2008, US Rowing had added the National Selection Regattas (NSR)  to identify on-the-water talent early. If you didn’t perform well you still had the opportunity to compete at trials.

This did not stay consistent.

A few years ago you had to place at NSR’s to be allowed to compete at trials or the World Rowing Cup .  It required athletes to double or triple peak for completion, with no guarantees that they would make the team. As an athlete, I would believe that my mindset should be more focused on peaking for the Olympics, but our judges may have felt it important to eliminate any “flashes in the pan.”

Why change the standards each year?  

“Food Critics”

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Photo by: David Moir/Bravo

On Top Chef, the food critics make their living tasting and writing about different restaurants and the food they serve. Initially chefs were “wowed” by their presence, but with each new season the food critics have become a part of the show. To the point, that they have become the show. The chefs and ingredients remain the same, but the food critics keep driving new “techniques and tastes.”

There is only so many ways you can make ceviche before it isn’t about the cooking anymore.

Chefs on the show struggle to come up with something new, however there aren’t any new concepts. Just because a meal does not look a certain way or taste or feel the way you wanted doesn’t mean that somebody else will not enjoy it. Maybe your palate is off.

For Rio, our judges continue to control all the variables.  Changing venues the year of the 2016 Olympic Trials is important for the long term development of the sport in the United States. However, it does not really help the coaches or athletes as they need to find transportation, lodging, and have the money to do so. Changing the selection standards each year makes for exciting racing, but preventing athletes from competing internationally because they did not meet a time standard on a choppy racecourse prevents athletes from gaining valuable international experience. It isn’t necessary to “wow” anyone. It is about winning a gold medal, and if you have the ingredients let the chef cook their food and create the best meal.

Whoever said they had to do it all by themselves?

“The Old Guard”

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The Old Guard on Top Chef is Tom Colicchio. He has been on the show since the beginning, and he is regarded as the “top” chef on the show. Colicchico is fair but firm. Lately he has been a little more unforgiving, probably to add drama, but he still tries to provide constructive criticism and advice. Emeril Lagasse is the proven, sympathic, grizzled, old veteran. Richard Blais won Top Chef: All-Stars back in 2010 . He brings a youthful style and “flavor” to the judge’s table. My wife doesn’t like him, but Colicchio may retire from the show at some point, so it must go on.

Lately, the rowing message boards are full of Old Guard who know what it takes to go fast. They did it, and they have nothing left to prove. A lot of energy is focused on talking about the old days and how they went about accomplishing things. Meanwhile, the standards for Rio are different, but not on the world stage.  On the US stage. Most of the online banter is criticism towards these fluctuating US standards, but there is a lot of criticism towards the athletes too.

“In my day, we didn’t have all these new-fangled boats, heart-rate technology, stroke analysis technology, and sunny California/Florida venues. We trained in Princeton, NJ, went to TAMPA and we liked it!”

Congratulations Old Guard, we know what you did, and I am always sure to ask for autograph. Perhaps you could be more like Tom Colicchio and actually help some of these athletes understand how to row a boat. Create a support system. In the end these “youngins” are doing their best. They want to go to Rio.  Help them go to Rio if you know how to do it. Otherwise, let them be. Rowing doesn’t have a lot of press, so when athletes read your criticism it just adds to their stress.

Coach Mike Teti told us all that we “suck”. Guess what we still do, and I am sure he will still tell us that today.

“Padma”

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Padma…the person on Top Chef that knows nothing about cooking.

Padma is very adamant about being critical about things she knows nothing about. She makes it very it clear what food she likes and what she doesn’t like. Chefs on the show are more upset if Padma spits out their food than if someone that has a trained palate critiques their cooking technique. My wife hates her because she adds no value to the show and is just there to keep the drama going.

For Rio, the complaints are also dramatic.

The latest complaint is that US Rowing does not have the budget to fund athletes. When I was training, I lived with my parents, then my in-laws, and I have a very supportive wife. It allowed me to train full time. It wasn’t ideal. I understand it is difficult to find a job and train full time, but there are real Americans that have multiple kids, work two or three jobs, and barely have time to sleep. I worked at Dunkin Donuts when I trained. The night shift. I would have done the same thing if I had to move to California or Florida. I would make it work if going to the Olympics was my goal. Was it stressful, yes? Make your choice, because you can always take the easy path.

Funding. If gofundMe.com will allow someone to seek funding to make a peanut butter sandwich,   then I am sure we can find a person or sponsor to send athletes to Rio. Maybe if the boats were selected earlier, and we could demonstrate (Time Trial anyone?) they had a shot at winning a gold medal, then maybe someone would open up their wallet or purse.

“Moral of the story”

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I failed in 2008.

I didn’t go to the Olympics. 11 other M2x competed at the US Olympic Trials that year. The M2x that won trials finished 13th in Beijing. None of us were fast enough. We can walk around and pretend that we are great or we can admit the fact that it takes a special coaching and athletes to make something special happen. As the next few months unravel, all I can do is sit and watch, and cross my fingers that the United States is successful. As an athlete, I secretly wanted my opponents to fail, but now that I am out of it I really want someone to root for at the Olympics.

The young athletes I meet remind me of me. “Chips” on their shoulders, but ready to shoulder the burden of become Olympic hopefuls. It doesn’t matter what school they rowed for or who their coaches are.

They have a dream, and if they want help I am here to help them.

I haven’t been asked. Instead I write.

On Top Chef, the chefs are trying to win money for their business, their family, their prestige, and to just inspire people. No one chef is better than the other. We all root for our favorites, and we understand the chefs eliminated were very talented. We wish them all success.

For Rio, there are a few Olympic hopefuls whose dream will end in the next few weeks.   No consolation prizes, and hopefully solace because they tried their best. If we are willing to help them, it might make sense to remind them that they will be able to move on to bigger and better things.

Their dream is over, but not their life.

That is the difference when you cook with love…

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I hate you Padma…

 

For more information on Mindset, Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or follow me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

 

“TOO MANY SECRETS” – 5 Mistakes US Rowing Coaches Make

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Coaches in every sport make mistakes.  I am passionate about rowing. As an independent rowing coach and fitness professional the biggest challenge I have in guiding my rowing athletes and clients is dealing with rowing secrets. What are “rowing secrets?”

They are the things rowing coaches won’t share with athletes or other coaches.

Rowing is not a complicated sport. However, training and managing athletes can be complicated. In the United States, the role models for rowing coaches are the high profile coaches of the four major sports – football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. They are role models because they are accessible and analyzed 24-7 on local and national sports networks.

I do not know why high profile rowing coaches are not willing to share the methods and process of their success.

When asked to share their coaching and training secrets, high profile rowing coaches tend to shrug and provide some general guidance. At the  2015 US Rowing Convention, a high profile coach was asked to talk about his recent campaign and I was amazed how packed the room was just to hear him speak. It was definitely out of great respect for what this coach has accomplished in his career, but I wondered if many, like myself, strained to sift out any valuable information from what he presented.

It may be one of the many reasons why rowing coaches in the United States continue to make mistakes in coaching their athletes. I cannot speak for coaches in other countries.

Here are 5 mistakes that US rowing coaches make:

1. “TOO DEMANDING/TOO CONSERVATIVE”

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“Too Demanding”

Rowing coaches can demand too much of their athletes. The sport requires an enormous time for training, and athletes do their best to enjoy and do well at the sport. However, rowing coaches always ask for more. It is important to challenge athletes and encourage them to improve themselves.

Yet, standing between two athletes during a “steady-state” workout, and demanding them to “pull-harder” may be a little overboard. Wait,  is it a steady-state workout or a race? I’m confused.

“Too Conservative”

Rowing is a challenging sport. A coach is asking eight individuals to propel a 90-100 kg craft over a mile and a half, while a 50 to 55 kg person is screaming in their face, as fast as they can. By the way, there are 4 to 6 other crafts next to them that a coach wants them to defeat.

Athletes should not go into an Olympic race feeling tentative. They may get hurt. Not physically because of all the years of training, but mentally if they don’t understand that to win they have to push themselves past their limit.

2. “TOO EMOTIONAL/TOO WITHDRAWN”

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“Too Emotional”

There has been change in American society. Parents want their children to feel happy and safe all the time. I am a parent myself, so I understand this. However, making sure everyone is happy may not be the best thing.

Athletes have to learn how to fail in order to accept defeat in life. Rowing coaches are teachers and should teach athletes how to both fail and succeed. That means telling them when they are doing something wrong even if the athletes and parents do not like it.

“Too Withdrawn”

Yet, we need to connect to our athletes.  Rowing coaches are  teaching a very intense sport. If coaches focus only on the sport and not on their athletes they may find the athletes will never put forth the same effort that the coaches as rowers were asked to give.

Rowing is emotional. A rower wears their heart on their sleeve with every stroke. Either it is broken in defeat or it will propel an entire boat to victory with the trust created in the team culture. If needed, a coach must be able to access their own emotional side for the sake of their athletes.

3. “TOO CONSISTENT/TOO IMPATIENT”

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“Too Consistent”

I believe you have to be consistent. However, building a program without any effort or ability to modify the structure to the type of athletes may hurt a coach in the end. Coaches should be adaptable, because as great planners they should be able to plan around all unforeseen obstacles.

Coaches that do the same thing year after year may become stale. Athletes and team culture will always  change, therefore the coach needs to be able to change with it. Otherwise they may find themselves “out-of-date” or out of a job.

“Too Impatient”

On the other hand, a coach cannot be erratic. Athletes are children or in some cases “child-like”. They depend on their coach which means the coach needs to provide some kind of structure for them to follow. Coaches that are constantly “shaking things up”  are putting the athletes on edge.

Erratic means 2k tests on the Monday after a regatta. Do coaches really expect everyone to pull a personal best right after they raced? Do they enjoy watching their athletes’ potential failure? Are they really trying to make their athletes tougher?

4. “TOO PRECISE/TOO REBELLIOUS”

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“Too Precise”

Rowing demands precision. Every rower is striving for that perfect stroke and perfect race every single day they are on the water. However, there are some things rowers and coaches cannot control. In their quest for perfection they may stumble.

A coach may be able to handle a setback,  but their athletes may not. The pressures of perfection may be too much to handle. Athletes already need to be perfect in all other aspects of their life. Perhaps rowing could be the sport where they are not perfect but simply successful.

“Too Rebellious”

At the same time, successful rowing coaches and trainers do have a formula for success. Advanced training concepts are more accessible, rowing equipment is cutting edge, and there are more genetically-gifted athletes. Rowing coaches continue to strive in thinking outside the box and introduce new ideas to the sport.

Yet, coaches that drive their athletes to stay ahead of the curve with physiology, technology, and recruiting may be going down an unnecessary road. It has been proven over and over that the sport really hasn’t changed that much in over the last 100 years. Perhaps the real key to a coach’s success may simply be learning how to connect to their athletes and peers better.

MORAL OF THE STORY

As a collegiate rower, I never knew what the workout would be day to day. My coaches would only inform the team session to session.  My only job was to show up and “push/pull” as hard as I could. As  a post-grad this lack of knowledge and understanding caught up with me. My performances began to steadily decline because I had no sense of how hard I was supposed to be working, and I found myself very over-trained.

As a young coach, I achieved early success because I was motivated and willing to work hard. However, eventually mistakes do catch up with you, and you find yourself looking for guidance. It became apparent that true coaching mentors in the sport of rowing are difficult to find. Mostly because the masters do not want to be outshone by their students.

This script has not changed.

5. “TOO MANY SECRETS”

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I understand that sometimes revealing  too much information is not a good thing.

If  a coach hands out their entire training program  the athletes could become overwhelmed or anxious about what they have been given.

If a coach reveals all their coaching secrets, they may find themselves losing to their former assistant coaches the following year.

Isn’t the goal to set our athletes and coaches up for success?

If the United States wants to develop as a rowing nation, it mean understanding what each athlete and coach needs to be successful. In some cases, that means opening up to give them guidance on what they are about to do, and setting the right expectations.

I just watched the movie Pride the other night. Two coaches, Terrence Howard and Tom Arnold get into an argument after a meet:

ARNOLD: “You want respect in this game, then you’re gonna have to earn it…”

HOWARD: “Why don’t you teach your kids something?”

ARNOLD: “Yeah, he made a bonehead move…it didn’t affect the outcome.”

HOWARD: “You want respect, you give it.”

ARNOLD: “…You EARN it.”

Are we waiting for our athletes and coaches to earn our respect before we teach or tell them anything of value?

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We may find that we leave this sport and this earth without leaving any kind of legacy.

And so the cycle continues…

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.

 

 

 

 

“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:

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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?

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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