While boathouses are closed, many of us are doing a mix of running, cross-training, body weight calisthenics, and of course, erg rowing. Without any racing in the very near future, this means lots of lower intensity outings - long-ish runs, steady state ergs, etc.
While this makes sense both physiologically and for practical race prep purposes, there might be some downsides to skipping the occasional full pull, even if for fairly short bursts. Doing short, high-intensity and high-speed bursts can contribute both to positive speed of contraction gains as well as avoidance of injury; the benefits of hauling off even just a few 10-stroke or 30-second pieces may be critical when it comes to getting back up to speed when the time comes.
Speed of Contraction
It is well-established that doing some portion of your training at the speed at which you want to compete is critical to most sports. Maintaining and increasing speed of contraction is an adaptation just like any other, and needs work to be available when you need it.
Even at the most anecdotal level, most of us have experienced this; it seems pretty easy to blast off a hard piece at high ratings toward the end of spring and summer racing season - racing for 6-7 minutes at ratings never below 36 is almost normal - but to do the same thing the next fall seems almost impossible, even if you have 'stayed in shape.'
Studies after previous shutdowns in sports have shown that, upon return to practice and competition after unscheduled outages, players experienced a much higher rate of injuries related to the more dynamic motions required in their sports.
For example, studies after the 2011 NFL lockout found a much higher incidence of Achilles Heel injuries after the lockdown than in previously studied years. From 1997-2002, there were on average five Achilles tendon ruptures per year; in 2011, there were 12 such injuries in the first month after training resumed, with 10 in the first 12 days.
Here is a quick infographic on the studies, or you can see the full study here.
This is particularly critical in sports involving very fast changes of direction, such as ball sports - but if you consider that the catch is also a fairly high-speed direction change, with a load increase that goes from near zero on the recovery, to very high when the blade loads, and it's not all that different a physiological event.
We have covered this before, notably at Don’t Forget your Springs when you’re Training your Engine and Pump, which recommends simply doing 'burst work' of eight-ten strokes, which can even be done during steady state work if you allow enough time between bursts that the desired training heart rates are not affected during the overall workout.
If you do decide to start doing some higher intensity bursts, if you have not been doing this kind of work, be careful not to increase intensity too quickly - otherwise you risk doing the exact type of damage now that you are trying to avoid later. Start off with submaximal intensity, rating, and repetition numbers, build up slowly, and in a few weeks you will be ready to go full bore at higher speeds and much lower risk.