Men’s Head Coach GBR
FISA Coaches Conference, Budapest Hungary. November 7-11 2007
I think the first two presentation already showed that there are always more questions than answers, and I think that that is a good sign, because a coach that doesn’t ask questions is at a standstill, still knowing there is not always an answer, but what I would like to say there as well is: don’t forget the roots, don’t make it too complicated, sometimes the simple things we might miss in our coaching, they gave you the success in the past and I’m sure there’s a lot there as well that gives you success for the future, and I think coming back to Rene that he shows the picture of the 96 eight of 5:22 and he say that that would still be an eight that is very competitive this time, I think you can see that that is 11 years ago. Everything moves on but there is still a lot of elements in our training, I think, we can jump up and down but you can’t find a short cut, like if you are building cars or whatever it was where you have top machines and they make the work for you but I think in training there is nothing else.
If I talk about strength training I think that was always something special for me, as a coach; was always a highlight with the program. If I look a long time back I still remember there was the water running down the walls when we did weight training because the guys had been sweating, there was no heating or whatever, it was just in the back of the boathouse and this was something really, really special.
If I look what has changed, I’m coming around a lot in all different types of high performance centers and boat houses, I don’t think a lot of things have changed in our weight training. Rene just picked up again neuromuscular training with not so heavy weights or force, that was already there many, many years ago as well, but if you look at the boathouses there’s always a corner where you have your weights were people carry on. If we are together in Seville we know the facilities there are not always the most posh facilities we have in rowing. It good to see we have in Great Britain better facilities now and the Dutch on the Bosbaan. But I think you can’t always pick the venue for your training. If you go with 26 – 30 men on a training camp, you go there before and you find maybe a fitness centre because the facilities at the boat house is not big enough and the first time they say yes you can come in, but after the first session the manger will tell you maybe you are wrong here because the way we do weight training doesn’t quite fit in with that nice fitness center with the nice dressed ladies. Our boys I think we have a different fashion a different attitude to conditioning training. So I just say that in principle when we talk about strength and conditioning how I see it and even in our area we had Richard come to the Henley Regatta and had a look around the Leander Club and had a look at the Gym and Richard was “Oh is that all that you have? Where are all the other special machines?” I don’t think that we have special machines. Of course there’s always something a little more related exercises, some things will be a little bit changed to fit more to the rowing movement but in principle I think in 37 years that I’ve been a coach there is still the bar, the disk as a key thing, so free weights, and I think only a few of the clubs have some of those machines, but most of the clubs picking those machines that really fit to us, to our training, first to be more safe to train so there is no injury, but also because those machines can help us to develop different muscle groups we maybe can’t do with free weights every time.
So that is how I see it to assess our situation in the gym and if I take in those last years where I talk about the gym, first I must say as I said before, that I really think the gym training is an important part of my training program but as I said we don’t always have the facilities. And I think of all those years that we go to high altitude we just empty a garage it still smells of petrol and we still do a very good gym training there. We have just been to Brisagt (sic) again coming there with 25 athletes there is no facilities, even the corner in the boathouse is totally too small, we spend all day to get something done, so we did it outside and I think the Swiss coach from Lucerne was a little bit surprised when we did that but Ok we did a training session with 25 athletes at the same time and I still think it was good intensity, a good workout and again not always just heavy weights but a variety of weights but this comes very close to what we’ve discussed.
At the end of the day we are looking at our weight training that everything should be related to what you do in the boat. Of course I talk about men’s strength and conditioning training, ok myself I was also 10 years women’s coach and how I see it, but maybe our colleague form Australia will show me something different, but I don’t think that in our sport there is a big difference as I think we are still using the same gym, the same exercises. Maybe something is a little bit more related to the women’s side, maybe some more sessions because the geometry and the build of a woman is a little bit different to the men and we know in our sport that makes the big difference.
If we talk about our strength training and I think we come a little bit more close, if we analyze our rowing stroke and what we need and that’s I think rowing is one of the few sports where you really have to use all the different muscle groups, rowing is something for conditioning, not just high performance sport, that’s is why you can see a lot of the gyms really taking those rowing machines on because it is a good way to build your overall body fitness on the machine. But you can see here on that picture what different movements and what different muscles we have to develop to make the perfect rower.
And the principles of training is also something you cant move away so Im sure especially now it is the winter period, so weight training is more important, we have specially two cross camps where the weight training is the number one priority because when we say strength endurance there is always that thing in there, I find however for a long time, yes you can balance your training but strength, power always not go parallel with or develop at the same time that we do a lot of endurance training. If you think we make a big progress there or try to measure something you can’t see it because the endurance training is a little bit, how I see it, like fire and water, but still you have to train the local muscles, build up the local muscles as a base for your successful rowing.
So I think the key thing again can be always sometimes the training is seen one sided, I was looking back through some books from the time of Karl Adam in the 50s, beginning of the 60’s is maximum power training very much related to the main muscle groups. I think it is very important to me to prevent injuries as well to et the crews muscle balance. Since we focus there more as well we have less back problems than before because strength training helps us to save the body.
Ok some principles. Of course in the strength training you get to the local muscles and main muscles a lot better load so you can overload the muscles, that one of the key principles, of the training; progression, we put more weight on through the times through sessions; specify a little more your training sometimes to different athletes to different muscle groups; you have variations in different trainings to even you change the exercises, you change the way how you do it, so this becomes not the routine, I think all very simple things for you to do every time the same thing, I think the brain doesn’t work any more and they just do it but I think you can see if you change the exercise people will be adapting and they still have sometimes things to do; individual, of course every athlete is different build, different weaknesses and strengths, of course you always have a group training, but I think even in a group training you still have a good chance to address different weaknesses in your training and fix that up.
I just show you one of the machines I’m sure is quite common and is quite safe, it saves a little bit the back and still trains the main muscle groups. If you listened to last years coaches conference and before if we look to our rowing stroke we know that the rowing stroke strarts from the legs, the legs are the key part, the strongest part, the legs are the most edurance based muscle part of the body. You can walk for long long hours but I’m sure you can’t do that with your hands, if you walk with the hands you will go down even the best one, so that’s a main muscle group.
We train again here the legs, again the whole body work and that something we like to put over our weight training. Of course if you look guys are very competitive and that’s the key things and I think with the help of the conditioning coach we spend a lot of time before we really train hard again on technique, I think that helps as well to prevent injuries but also to train really the right muscle groups and not just finish the session, and we know sometimes that if we go in the gym and you close your eyes and ask what is he doing. So I think again that’s a very simple message as far as a strength and conditioning coach is good as a different voice, they might listen a bit more because he has the expertise, to the athletes rater than having always the coach 24 hours around the athletes. I think so far that has a good teaching aspect as well to work with some other people.
Also to me again a leg exercise, very simple can be done anywhere (step up) you don’t need a big machine or whatever and this is very effective, of course it is very important that you use the top leg and not the bottom leg, people can cheat there and I find with the bottom leg but the idea is from that right angle or even steeper angle from the top leg you press your body up. This is the body without any weight, for the best people you can do you can do things with weigths.
Split squat, just bringing back those very simple exercises from the past.
We are just looking to the leg side.
Ok we said if we are developing the legs, ok we know the back in rowing is something very special and we had also in other coaches conferences the special discussion with our doctors about rowing backs, so far of course if you have strong legs it is no point to maximize your legs if you do not at the same time to strengthen your backs, then will be the back the weakest part working against the blade ok the back will come out and the disc problems so I think that is why it is very important that you have a good balance in your program and I show you later some of what we do in our program.
That’s again, if you do it right, it took me a long time especially the good morning exercise, to introduce that in the program, because if you are not having the right technique, ok stronger people can do it, very dangerous then I would say better you don’t do that exercise but otherwise of course again free weights is a very god exercise still to train your back, improve your back, this comes exactly, very close to what you do in the boat.
Ok this is a very classical exercise for rowing, bench pull, of course every bench in Britain is different and so if you do testing or whatever to measure what you are doing then you should look a little bit for a standard that some benches are that thick ad some are that thick and I would look always for the thinner one because that’s a bit more like what you would like to have in the boat to send the boat away without stopping here, so I think that’s nothing new. You can see that it is simple and can be done anywhere.
The same exercise just with one arm that we have been doing quite a lot and again as progression with heavier weights sometimes through the session and through sessions.
Other arms exercises, again very simple it can be done everywhere, nothing very posh.
And of course pull ups or chins. I see the gym training, we do the muscle training but I think when we talk about talent and identify your athlete’s weakness and strengths I think you can see a lot in the gym and specially the chin exercises I think you can see who is really fighting, for those 110kg guys. I think Matthew Pinsent when we introduced chins again I think if Tim is right he maybe did one, using all his muscles just to come up there but then I think over the time because of being competitive, everybody was around I think he did 10 as well. So of course the best one would be 20 or more. But I just say its also the mental thing take into consideration the body weight as well. I think very simple exercises you shouldn’t forget, that why I said a lot of things we discussed questions and answers, a lot of things go in circles as well. Im now 37 years in this sport, there’s the rigging and everything with the blades and I think will be my message, don’t forget the very simple exercises before you look to all the nice machines. There’s no short cut.
That’s a very simple exercise, you can do it slowly, you can do it fast, all different variation of the press ups you can do.
I think, and we already discussed and I think that’s in the last couple of years the new exercises, it not just pushing very hard with heavy weights, introduce also and I think, we discussed as fast as possible from A to B in your rowing boat of course then the strength training has to be related to the movement. And the better you get that system running, the signal from the head to the muscle, and using also the small muscles that means there will be really balanced in the boat and the right core position, those exercises they are looking in the first time if you have a men’s group, 10 men, big men, they are Mickey Mouse (the exercises) because you had always in your mind ok big handed, big noise, but I think I would just like to open your mind a little bit in that direction, I’m sure that a lot of athletes already doing things, I still believe that a good balance in our strength training using those very simple exercises.
Ok another one, bench press is nothing special.
Here again using the Swiss Ball, and working not with the bar but with dumbbells to balance and still will with the weights. Very, very simple again but you can already see the good guys against the bad guys.
Here are other trunk exercises, you sometimes think ok should I spend my time with that but I still think you should integrate those ones in your training as well.
Very simple things once again, just working with your own body, I think that is also a little bit the message Rene said before, a little bit the new thinking with the strength and conditioning coach, in the gym, also getting little bit more out of them and do sometimes a little bit more intensity but the right balance, you are not wasting all the energy in the gym and theres nothing left while you are there normally to go fast in a boat.
That’s a Russian Twist, I don’t know why its called a Russian Twist in Great Britain, maybe they did it first. But I think that that is a very simple good exercise, really again to fix your body and get that movement, again something you try to do in the boat to keep your body under control and still try and do something with the weight.
The same thing here just with the legs, getting that light rotation where the hip is still, neutral and the lower back.
Here again, and that really part of our weight training, sometimes we do a small circle before we do our weigth-strength training. Before as a warm up that’s about 25-30 minutes, especially using those lower weight exercises, just move the body, get elements of core stability in those training to make sure the athlete, especially the big athletes we know we still have some clumsy athletes so they learn a lot more about their body, their body movement, because that’s something that really pays off in the boat. I think we are moving away from that model where we have that guy with the really small head and the muscle, big body. I think we need, if we talk about talent, I think the well developed athlete, he learns to move, he learns to get his body in all different situations and in very unstable positions under control, I think that what we have to look at. The time is over where we just look at, have everything based on power.
It has been asked why the lightweights are more close to the heavyweights, that is still one part. The lightweights are still very athletic, 180-185 tall, very athletic and they are a lot more efficient sometimes than the heavyweights. I think part of the strength training should still be developing efficiency for the rowing as well and that can be done in the gym, still building the right muscle balance.
I think a very good exercise and very similar to our sequence in the boat is the power clean. I must say as well that some years we did it, some years we didn’t do it because with all the trying to train the right technique we still had the athletes moving away form the technique and we had some problems but of course they are very competitive and it is very difficult to stop them. But now I think we have a good technique in our group so we can move on, we can lift higher weights in the right technique. I think that is something that really pays off in the boat; you see again the sequence legs-back-arms. Very simple gain you can see legs strengthen, hip, body comes in and that last little bit finishing off with the arms. I think a really good exercise but really look to do the right technique otherwise if you work with 100 or more kilo and you lean over you are not in a vertical position then you can make a big load on your lower back and on the disk and that can be quite dangerous.
You can see here a little bit that an example I think of a position we don’t like to see, that’s a dangerous position.
Ok if we look to our strength training with some, if we move from the methodical way this gives a little bit of an idea of what we expect in our strength training when we address different intensity in our training and the repetition we have there.
I think I discussed before our warm up. This is a really important part, not just how it is in practice, people just laying around in a corner, putting just their head a little bit form one side to the other. I think we have now the discipline and they feel it is really part of their training in that warm up, get better, get the body prepared and again make the transition from their overall shape of muscle development into a dynamic good movement in training. I always address it quite a lot because I see that is the way. Yes strength training Yes, yes I think there is no other way but everything had to see a gradation to movement that gets the transition from good muscle movement to more speed.
Ok that’s one, I know Rene says they do it different, but that’s why I said before there’s always different ways to do the same thing. I still believe those simple sets and its as old as rowing, it is still a good way and fits with our needs, that’s really the main muscle groups.
We have an endurance circuit, something I would say a little bit more. I think if you look to the time for a session, especially if you take a strength session I would say we have 45-75 minutes in that range doing around up to 200-300 reps in that time. It is important (if you look back wards 2 slides) that you rest every set so the muscle can recover so you can do the next set again with good quality with the right speed, and of course that’s a session where you would like to have less lactate if you take lactate, maybe just below 4mMol/l. Just to bring in what we do on the water is 10 x 10strokes or 10 x 15 strokes, through the winter we do it more with a hydro break, we are just putting a bungee or something, at the moment for everybody the same, around the boat, and trying straight way early enough to make the transition from the gym again in the boat, still trying to work and build that link from the legs to the back to the upper body to the water. In our training we also have a series of 8 x 50 strokes and the longest one we do is 3x 2000m around 160 strokes, 160-180 strokes. So that’s the 3 things we are using on the water of course more the rate is around, for the shorter ones around 26, for the longer ones we are still looking for rate 20-24, so really distance per stroke, power per stroke so theres enough recovery time in the sequence of the rowing.
That’s also one that the guys enjoy, going up to the maximum of what they can do on the bench pll, bench press or power clean. That is a short session around 45-60 minutes. I think that they like that always very much and it becomes a little bit, it has even more the competitive element, you can see everyone standing around and shouting so they get that last little bit done .
Another endurance circuit you can see 1000-1200 reps circuits I have in my program so together with Harry (Brennan) we have mainly if you take the 3 sessions one upper body one lower body and then we have a combined session of endurance circuit training or a defined session, upper body, lower body in one session together. Its a little bit a longer session and Im doing at the same time more the short series training in the boat because otherwise you might develop a little bit too much lactate.
Ok, if you come to the conclusion you can see that again I would again underline the middle point, “Train movements and not just muscles”. I think of course that the muscle is always involved in the whole thing but I think that from my point of view the message strength training with all the varieties we just discussed here is an important part of how I see it to underlie and care for the training on the water, to prevent injuries and to build up a good, better trained fit athlete for the summer.
Question: I’d like to ask the number of training through the year and secondly how you measure resistance on the water training?
Grobler: I think we have in total 80-90 session in a year, if you take 46 weeks a year of course in the competition season, especially in the week where we have the competition we don’t do weights but otherwise we always carry on through always doing weights. Of course the repetition gets a little bit less, just I would call it especially if your in the World Cup series a little bit of memory thing just to still stress the muscle to load them again to keep that going, so that the 80-90 sessions. Of course when we have 2 cross camps we definitely do a little bit more and we building up strength.
Ok the resistance on the water, we took a water boss thing and put a bungee through and measured that compared to the time we did in the boat, in the pair, and that between 7-10% slower. Don’t make it too heavy because again you should see the movement and you should still have the feeling to the boat, there’s some run out not just stopping if you put a big bucket on, that was on many years ago, people put a bucket on and you smash your boat, but I think try to find a good balance still that the athlete has a good feeling for the boat and movement and still feels the resistance.
Question: So what about strength training during the season, during the summer time, do you still work with the weights during the competitive season?
Grobler: Yes, I just said we still carry on in the week after, take a World Cup, coming back on Sunday evening, then on Tuesday and Thursday in that week we will have a weight as I said, at first we just rebuild again working on muscle strength, rebuild the muscle strength, in the second week of the three week we will carry on with two sessions but a little bit reduced intensity, a bit reduced in reps, as I said a little bit the memory effect and because we are using again a little bit more energy building up again for the next competition.
Question: I am interested in the period of the day, in the winter when you do your strength training, is it morning?
Grobler: Yes, I think how we are organized, and of course people coming from all different place, from London and Henley and further like Oxford we do always a firs session in the morning because that’s the best thing I can organize that everybody’s there at the same time. Sometimes we do it also in the afternoon, but mainly at the moment to organize it and get everyone there we do it in the first session.
It has advantages as well, we have a good warm up session as well where we get into the day, warm up the muscles are well recovered so far in one way it is quite good because we do it before the endurance training on the water the muscle is a lot more recovered and I think in one way we train better. We take the time that’s why we have the good warm up to wake them up and then I think in the last three years we have quite good success and we move on quite well.
Question: In the summer period, the competitive period is it the same?
Grobler: I wouldn’t say it a totally routine, we squeeze it a little bit in and we go a little bit more what the crew needs and how it fits best with the crew and then and we are not doing it always a whole group and we do it a little bit based on crew needs.
Question: What is your opinion about outings, water sessions right after strength training? Does it improve the sensitivity? Does it improve the feel of the boat for the athletes?
Grobler: It always depends what weights session but I think to have session after weight training or even have it in combined, sometime we did it, I wouldn’t say it is a real practice but I can see what you like to get out to loosen the body up again and get them ready I think is a good thing. It always depends how much time you have, and you will see sometimes they row quite well after they do the exercises well in the weight room and you can see technically they can row quite well because there’s less resistance than you can have in the gym and they have good acceleration and they are still left, of course you are not trying to kill them off in the weight session so I think it is possible so sometimes we do it as well.
Question: It may be my eyes but for me the British rowers in heavyweights of course seem big, with big muscles in comparison with for example the Australians and some other crews and this I think has to do with the weight training. The question is do you think there is an optimal size for a rower in weight wise? In Rosie’s survey they tried to measure how tall people are but they did not ask how much they weigh. Is there an optimum, what a certain person should weigh in relation to how deep the boat will be in the water and such things?
Grobler: Ok I think I can’t really remember any research being done like we did with the rigging about how a World Champion or measure the World Champion, their body weight and how high they are. If you ask me for being quite a while in the sport and looking how an Olympic Champion looks, whatever ‘72 – 2004 I would still think, and some of the date came up here already it will be above 190cm if you look at body height and between 90 and 96 kilos knowing that if you take Steve Redgrave as five time Olympic Champion I think and especially in the last three Olympiads he was between 103-105 kilos in weight and his body height was 193or 194cm something so nothing extreme and Matthew (Pinsent) is quite similar, ok he was always more a heavier guy. But I think if you will look close their still lean enough, I don’t like that really slowing them down, big muscle profile, they should have a profile but I don’t think that the strength training should move in the direction close to bodybuilding because that will be really against the endurance side and I think if you have a lot of muscle mass and so build up the force will be against the bloodstream and after a while you get fat I think because with a big muscle mass the blood stream can get through when you get tense and you will not succeed so so far that is the observation ok so maybe we try to optimize that and to do the two things and that’s a big balance I can say it not the idea of bodybuilder.
You can see some nations over years were always struggling that last little bit because they are very powerful, very fast off the start, first 1000m and then nothing I think maybe because the disbalance, in that kind of training as well.
Question: Jurgen, my colleague is asking if it is true that Matthew Pinsent bench press result of 140 kilos.
Grobler: That’s correct. We have Tim (Foster) here as well who was already 110-115. He was (Pinsent) a natural gifted athlete.
Question: Why do you train muscles we don’t really need in rowing?
Grobler: I think that if you look to the body, I think the body is held together with muscles otherwise you would be like a sack of concrete or whatever but you still train the muscles. I don’t know the direction you question goes?
Questioner: I think it’s good to train them because you need a compete body and there id no need to only have muscles for rowing, but if you traing muscles you don’t really need they need oxygen instead of giving that oxygen to muscles that really need it. There is maybe a little balance.
Grobler: That is what we just said, I think that the thing is to find the right balance we don’t need a bodybuilder body. We just tried sometimes and if you look at the guys we have trained in rugby ok it a different sport what they can do in 10 strokes all the rowers sitting around the area are open mouthed but he cant do 20 strokes. So I think so we have to find that very fine line in the body. A very good athlete, athletic athlete but not over muscled.