row2k Features
Coach Kaehler
Strength & Conditioning Practices in Rowing
May 18, 2011
Bob Kaehler

Rowing is one of the most demanding of all endurance sports. While most of the energy contribution comes from aerobic metabolism, anaerobic qualities such as muscular strength and power are also key predictive qualities leading to overall rowing success. A survey was recently conducted in Great Britain among rowing coaches and strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches who worked with rowers. The results of this survey were published in the The Journal of Strength and Conditioning.

The British survey examined issues surrounding the use of strength training in rowing programs. Of the 54 questionnaires sent out, 32 responses were submitted for analysis. Twenty-two of the participants were rowing coaches, and the other 10 were S&C coaches. The average age of the coaches was 32 years and mean coaching experience was 10.5 years. 35% of the respondents coached Olympic level athletes; another 35% had coached at the National level; and the remainder coached at the Club, Regional, and University levels. 81% of the respondents held a Bachelors degree, and 34% a Masters degree.

30 of the 32 respondents reported that they conducted physical testing on their rowers. Testing included several key areas mentioned below including cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle power, flexibility, and speed.

Cardio included: 5km, 30 min., 16km, step test, 18km, and 1hr test

Muscle Strength included: “1RM squat, deadlift, benchpull,” “Concept II dynamometer (world class start testing protocol)”, and “1RM squat, push-pull, and deadlift”

Muscle Power included: “vertical jump and max Olympic lift,” “max power at 100 degrees/sec,” and “250-m ergometer,” “ergometer power strokes”

Flexibility included: “physio assessment protocol,” “sit and reach plus range of motion, joint tests,” “stretch bench tests,” “hamstring measuring,” and a “movement pattern tests.”

Speed Tests: “rating tests on water,” “ergometer sprints,” “racing on water and ergometers,” and “2,000m ergometer.”

30 of the 32 coaches said they used strength training in their programs, and all 32 coaches stated they believed strength training was a benefit to rowing performance. In-season season strength and power training was used by 26 of the coaches where frequency and intensity varied. 25% of the coaches surveyed lifted 2x/wk, 25% lifted 2-3x/wk, 25% lifted 3x/wk, 12.5% lifted 1-2x/wk, and 12.5% lifted 3-4x/wk. The number of repetitions performed during the in-season training also varied. 42% lifted using less than eight reps (3-6) per set, 26% lifted above eight reps per set, and the remaining 38% used a mix of lifts above and below eight reps per set. Strength training sessions varied from 30-75 minutes in length.

Off-season lifting was used by (responses) 25 coaches where days per week and repetitions varied as follows: 36% lifted 3x/wk, 28% lifted 2x/wk, 20% lifted 4x/wk, 4% lifted 1x/wk, and 12% lifted 2-4x/wk. The number of repetitions varied as follows; 16% lifted using less than eight reps (3-6) per set, 32% lifted above eight reps per set, and the remaining 52% used a mix of lifts above and below eight reps per set.

The survey also examined recovery time between lifting and rowing training. Specifically, coaches were asked to indicate the amount of recovery time they used between a high quality row following either an Olympic lift session or general strength session, and between the last Olympic and general lift session and a competition.

Olympic Lift Session & High Quality Row:
(Same Day) - 12%, (24 hrs) - 42%, (24-36 hrs) - 8 %, (36 hrs) - 26%, (48 hrs) - 12%

General Lift Session & High Quality Row:
(Same Day- 24h) - 17%, (24 hrs) - 48%, (24-36 hrs) - 11%, (36 hrs) - 13%, (48 hrs) - 11%

Olympic Lift Session & Competition:
(Same Day- 24h) - 0%, (24 hrs) - 0%, (24-36 hrs) - 0%, (36 to 48hrs) - 9%, (48 hrs) - 25%, (>48hrs) – 66%

General Lift Session & Competition:
(Same Day- 24h) - 0%, (24 hrs) - 0%, (24-36 hrs) - 0%, (36 to 48hrs) - 17%, (48 hrs) - 25%, (>48hrs) – 58%

The coaches were also asked to rank the most important weight-lifting exercises used within their training programs. The most commonly used exercises by ranking were the clean, the squat, and the deadlift. 16 of the 32 coaches used plyometrics as part of their training programs, while 31 out of 32 indicated that they used some form of flexibility training. All used static stretching.

The survey showed several key trends among rowing coaches in Britain. Physical testing is widely used to measure cardiovascular endurance, as well as muscular strength and power. Most coaches used Olympic lifts, and periodized their training plans. And generally, a 24 hour recovery was used between strength training and high quality rowing training, whereas 48 hours or greater was used between strength training and racing.

Gee, TI, Olsen,PD, Berger, NJ, Golby,J, Thompson, KG,. Strength and Conditioning Practices in Rowing.
J Strength Cond Res 25(3): 668-682, 2011

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06/16/2011  5:15:22 PM
Nice recitation of facts.

Wouldn't it be great if someone we could all truly respect drew some conclusions from all these facts that coaches and athletes could benefit from? Like a National Technical Director with an impeccable background in Sport and Physiology and Teaching? Wouldn't it be great if the US had a coaching certification scheme as good as the one (good) ski instructors use so that if someone had a Level III certification other coaches would be impressed because they would know how rigorous the training was that was required before the Certification was just handed out? Wouldn't it be great if we had - as part of the Certifications required to coach Juniors - age and ability specific training that was worth the name, and a National Recruiting initiative to get "dry" rowing installed in every school in the country, and a program to identify the best possible athletes (based on the available data) and feed them to existing programs or even help with starting programs? Wouldn't it be great if US Rowing adopted as part of its Long Range Plan the Goal of increasing the number of athletes involved in our sport by a factor of 10 over the next 20 years, and then put a program in place to actually do it? Wouldn't it be great!?

05/19/2011  11:51:19 AM
So I am going to assume that these low rep weight lifting exercises are intended to be high intensity and at or near max weight. For people who may have some kind of back or knee injury, or just are not as comfortable with weights, what are some ways to prevent injury while approaching greater amounts of weight (i.e. strengthening core or stretching etc.)? In addition, what is the best way to measure max weight for an exercise, because in my mind there is a fine line between warming up and actually straining muscles enough to the point where it compromises one's ability to lift max weight?

Fred Levy
05/21/2011  12:58:53 AM
There are a lot of warm up protocals out there, especially for powerlifting where they are aiming to hit max weight. The best way for maximum weight depends on the lifter and your own opinion. In regards to the lifter, are they are a weight lifting novice (3/5 RM for safety) or experienced (1 RM)? Do count failure as a technical breakdown (forward lean on a squat) or as a failure to perform the lift at a weight (not being able to get out of a squat). Either way two spotters for squat and bench, and adequate rest periods (60s+) should yield safe results.

I find it interesting that it was found that only 16% of coaches used less than 8 reps per set in the off-season. Off season is generally recovery/strength gains which that later is known outside of rowing to be around < 6 reps per set for 1-5 sets.

Thanks for the reference, I'll check it out.

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