By Terry ONiell
From Rowing Voice 30 December 2007
There have been huge advances in identifying the physical demands of the sport and ways to
train the body to meet them. Training courses are now available to coaches enabling them to
develop an understanding of different training methods. Most research has concentrated on high-level performance, and it is not always apparent how this applies to athletes at club, school and college level. As a result, some coaches return from a course and attempt to implement a regime that, although perfectly ok for the national team, is inappropriate for clubs and colleges.
An example of this occurred when a college boat club captain was speaking to a member of
the national team. He asked how much distance they rowed in an average week and the reply
was about 150-200 kilometres. The captain returned to his college to implement this regime,
but his crew was only able to row at weekends, and so the result was a total disaster. The aims and structures of national teams are diametrically opposed to those of a club. A national team is an exclusive group with the sole aim of identifying the best and eliminating the rest. A club is an inclusive organization with the aim of treating all its members equally, regardless of ability.
You cannot copy someone else’s programme, especially if that programme was written for a group of athletes whose abilities bear no relation to those you are responsible for. A programme is a plan of action that the coach writes to bring about improvements amongst his charges. As
time goes on it will be modified either because it is not delivering what the coach expected
or through circumstances beyond his control, such as illness or injuries to the athletes. What
is actually done can vary from the original programme by 25-30 per cent, and so in itself the programme is of little use.
Although it would make more sense to see the training diary of an athlete which tells you
what he or she actually did, this information is of little use either because there is no guarantee that the regime would work for anyone else.
There are several fundamental principles of training, and the first and most important is that it must meet the needs of the individual. Therefore the first and most important job of the coach is to identify what those needs are. The training sessions have to provide a systematic combination of quality and quantity that allows positive adaptation to take place. This requires due consideration to nutrition and adequate sleep and rest.
Here we will concentrate on the physical and technical requirements of competitive rowing.
The tools available for training are a combination of duration and intensity to practise the various elements of the task. Now we must identify the needs of the athlete and put the two together. The athlete’s needs will be further development of skill, physical condition or both. If we take as an example a college boat club at the beginning of an academic year, new recruits are likely to display low skill and poor condition, while returning third year students may have high skill but poor condition. So the training required to meet individual needs will differ according to Table 1
To be really effective, a programme has to be written to meet the needs of the individual. The table is a broad outline but you need to look more specifically at the different aspects that make up the condition of the athlete. Rowing is an expression of power endurance. To simplify matters, you can consider four areas that constitute condition — maximum power, anaerobic capacity, specific aerobic capacity and endurance.
o Maximum power can be determined by doing a 7-stroke standing start on the Concept2 ergometer. With the monitor set to display watts, record the average watts over the 7 strokes.
o To determine anaerobic capacity, set the monitor on the Concept2 to 1 minute and record the average power in watts rowed flat out.
o Specific aerobic capacity is determined by the time taken to row 2000m on the Concept2, recording average power.
o Endurance is determined by rowing 5000m on the Concept2, again recording average watts.
Experience has shown me that a relationship between these four points can be drawn amongst good well trained rowers which is:
1. Take the average maximum power of the 7-stroke test as 100%.
2. Average anaerobic power measured over 1 minute should be 92–98 per cent.
3. Specific aerobic capacity measured over 2km should be between 55 and 65 per cent of average maximum power.
4. Endurance measured over 5km should be between 45 and 55 per cent of average maximum power.
Table 2 (below) gives example measurements taken from a fictional club eight using this
system. These results can be analysed, to show you which athletes need to work on specific
areas. From this you can begin to plan a training programme for them.
Analysis of Table 2:
Max power: poor KL; below average CD; average OP, MN, EF, AB; good IJ; excellent GH.
Anaerobic capacity: poor OP; below average CD; average KL, MN, EF, AB; good IJ; excellent GH.
Specific aerobic capacity: poor none; below average MN; average EF, GH, KL, OP; good AB; excellent CD.
Endurance: poor MN; below average GH; average KL, CD, EF, OP, IJ; good AB; excellent none.
A process called ‘progressive overload’ stimulates adaptation of the body and improves condition by gradually increasing the load to a level beyond that normally tolerated. Using a systematic approach for the athletes displaying anaerobic weakness, training will be biased towards sessions involving short intervals and lactic tolerance. For those displaying aerobic weakness, then emphasis should be placed on distance work and intervals at race pace. Strength training is most effectively dealt with through weight training.
Even though the aim may be to produce an eight, some training will take place in small boats. By training athletes with similar requirements together in small boats, individual needs can be addressed without detriment to the group as a whole.