I'm not a huge football fan but I enjoyed reading an article about the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Unlike many of his peers, Mahomes did not specialize in football at a young age; instead he was a 3-sport athlete throughout high school. He was able to gain different strengths and skills from each sport that in turn helped meld him into one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the league.
I've always been a big fan of cross training at any point in one's career, but many have to choose even before high school as to which one sport they want to commit. This often leads to burn out and injury, but when everyone else does it, it feels like you have to also. Perhaps with Mahomes taking a different route, others will follow.
Cross training can help break the monotony of training, keeping you fresh and excited about the racing season. I've been rowing for 43 years now and while I still love it (obviously), I'd have a hard time rowing all year long. Swimming in the winter gives me a break, lets me challenge myself in new ways, and allows me to mix with a whole new group of people. It provides me ample opportunity to get on the start line and to test myself mentally and physically in a racing situation, all skills that will translate into the rowing season. And yet, it's different enough that it doesn't feel like a slog going from winter training (swimming) into spring training (rowing).
Cross training can help you develop skills that will make you a better, stronger rower, sometimes in ways you might not expect. In swimming I find there are so many similarities to rowing. When the coach talks about racing a 200-yard event, it's just like the mindset for a 2K - breaking it up into four 50's or four 500's, learning to find the best pace. The training can be very similar, especially if you're into the distance swimming events.
Even coaches can get fitter on the bike trail
While swimming is what works for me, running and cross country skiing are other great choices where the training can be almost identical to rowing. But even something as different as stand up paddle boarding can help you work on balance that will complement your rowing, particularly in the single. Plus it works the core, hugely important in rowing and in just about every sport.
Cross training can help you avoid over-use injuries and perhaps even prevent new injuries as you work smaller, supporting muscles. That can be especially important during the winter as many rowers spend this season putting in long miles on the erg. 80 to 90 minute workouts are great for building your cardio, but mentally can be tough, and physically could lead to injury. Much better to break up that 80' into 4 x 20' – 20' ski erg/20' bike/20' erg /20' run – or whatever combination of activity that gets your heart rate up and works for you.
Get stronger, fitter and have more fun, what's not like to like?
You can still hit the erg when you like, of course