Creatine and Rowing

January 26, 2009

Ed McNeely

It is often difficult for coaches and athletes to keep up on the latest training innovations and findings. The purpose of this column is to review and comment on research that is currently being done on rowing and training for endurance sports. I will try to make a link between the research and practical application for the rower.

Reviewed Study

Effect of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation During Combined Strength and High Intensity Rowing Training on Performance. Syrotuik, D., Game, A., Gillies, E, and Bell, G. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 26(6): pages 527-542.

Creatine supplements are among the most popular nutritional supplements on the market. It has been marketed as a means of increasing endurance, recovery, strength, muscle mass and decreasing body fat. Over the past 5 years there has been substantial research on the effects of creatine supplementation on training and performance. Most studies show an increase in endurance during short sprint events. Strength increases seem to be greater in athletes using creatine; unless they follow a periodized strength program then there is little difference between creatine groups and placebo groups. While there is growing evidence that creatine supplements can aid training there are very few studies that have been able to show a link between creatine supplementation and improved performance.

Creatine increases the energy producing capacity of the anaerobic alactic energy system. Making it an ideal supplement for short duration very high intensity efforts that rely primarily on this energy system. Creatine supplements have been thought to be of limited benefit to athletes whose event lasts more than 3 minutes, which rely heavily on the aerobic system. Several years ago a study examined the effects of acute creatine supplementation on 1000m ergometer performance and found improvements in the split time over the first 500m, which translated into a faster 1000m race time. A more recent study has looked at the effects of 6 weeks of creatine supplementation on 2000m ergometer performance.

Twenty-two college rowers (12 male, 10 female) volunteered for the study. There were randomly assigned to either a creatine supplement group or a placebo group. All subjects were tested 3 times for the following variables; body composition, VO2 max, 2000m erg performance, 6 x 250m sprint, and strength tests for the leg press and bench press. Tests were conducted prior to training, after a creatine load week and 5 weeks later at the end of the study.

The study was divided into 3 phases; a three week pre-experimental phase where the subjects rowed three steady state sessions and one 4 x 500m session per week. They performed strength workouts twice per week. The second, creatine load, phase was one week long consisting of one strength session and two 5000m rows. The final phase of the program involved two rows at anaerobic threshold, one session of 250m hard: 250m easy one session of 500m hard:500m easy, and 2 strength training sessions. The strength training program consisted of a periodized resistance program, which consisted of 5 upper body and 4 lower body exercises.

Using a double blind protocol the creatine supplement group received 0.3g/kg of creatine, dissolved in 1L of flavored drink during the loading phase and 0.03g/kg dissolved in 250 ml of flavored drink during the training phase. The placebo group consumed only the flavored drink.

Both groups increased lean body mass, decreased fat percentage, improved 2000m rowing performance, increased strength and improved performance in the 6 x 250 m test. There was no difference between the two groups for any of the variables measured.

The results of this study are quite interesting. The other two studies that have looked at creatine use and rowing performance have both shown performance improvements over a 1000m or 2500m race. The majority of improvement occurred during the first 500m of the test in those studies. This would be expected for a 1000m race, where a larger proportion of the energy used in the race will come from the anaerobic energy systems.

One way of explaining the differences in these studies is the tactics used during the erg test. Using a creatine supplement may allow you to go out a little harder during the first 500m. Since the subjects in the current study did not know if they were taking the creatine supplement or the placebo they may not have adjusted their race plan to account for the increased capacity of the anaerobic alactic system during the first 500m.

Supplementation can be expensive. Whether it is creatine or another supplement it is important to set up a controlled testing scenario to determine if the supplement you are taking is having any effect on your performance. You will need to have a very good understanding of what the supplement is supposed to be doing and the physiology of rowing to do this, but it may save you a lot of money in the long run.

While there are some problems with this study, the training volume is lower than a collegiate rower would typically use and some of the subjects were relatively inexperienced, the lack of difference between the two groups should make us stop and think before we decide to use a creatine supplement to improve rowing performance.

Putting Your Exercises in the Right Order

January 26, 2009

Ed McNeely

The order or sequence of exercises in a training session can have an impact on the effectiveness of the workout. One of the goals of exercise sequencing is to arrange the exercises in an order that minimizes the impact of fatigue from exercise to exercise, allowing you to complete the workout. There are several ways of ordering your exercises depending on the equipment and time you have available and your training goals.

Priority Ordering

Priority ordering refers to sequencing the exercises by order of importance for your training goals. If you were training for arm wrestling you might choose to do bicep and forearm work first in a training session when you are fresh and have the most energy. Priority ordering can also be used if you need to rehab an injured muscle or you have a strength difference between muscle groups that is increasing your chance of injury. This approach makes the most sense for activities that rely primarily on small muscle groups that typically fatigue quickly.

Descending Energy Cost Ordering 

Some ordering plans call for the sequencing of exercises from those that use the most energy to those that use the least. This allows you to train the hardest exercises without fatigue and before energy stores start to become depleted. Some examples of these schemes are

Large Muscles to Small Muscles

This order suggests that the largest muscle of the body are trained before the smaller muscles. Training large muscles will require more energy and create more fatigue than training small muscles. The typical order would be:

  1. Quadriceps and Glutes
  2. Hamstrings
  3. Chest
  4. Back
  5. Shoulders
  6. Abdominals
  7. Triceps
  8. Biceps
  9. Calves
  10. Forearms

Multi joint to Single Joint

Multi joint exercises are those where more than one major joint in the body is involved in the exercise. For instance in a squat; movement occurs at both the hip and knee joints. Movements involving multiple joint typically require heavier weights and more energy than single joint movements. Some examples of multiple joint movements include:

  1. Squats
  2. Front squats
  3. Bench Press
  4. Incline press
  5. Decline Press
  6. Deadlift
  7. Overhead press movements
  8. Bent rows
  9. Seated rows

High Power to Low Power

Power is developed when the weight you are lifting is moved at high speed. This increases the energy demand of the activity. If speed of movement decreases so does power production and the power training effect. The ability to maintain power depends on the body’s stores of ATP, which are depleted very quickly. Power training is often done early in the training session to take advantage of higher energy levels. The Olympic style weightlifting movements like the power clean, power snatch, push press, and jerk are the most common power movements in the weight room but any exercise can be a power movement if it is done explosively.

Alternating Muscle Groups

Alternating muscle groups is another way of distributing fatigue. The objective of this method is to alternate unrelated muscles from exercise to exercise. This is usually accomplished by alternating push and pull movements or upper body and lower body movements. For instance if you did bench press as your first exercise you would want to do a bent row or seated row as the next exercise because they use unrelated muscle groups. Alternating push pull exercises is used if you are only training a couple of muscle groups in each session, if you are doing a full body workout you alternating upper and lower body is more effective. An example of ordering by alternating muscle groups is:

  1. Bench press
  2. Bent row
  3. Shoulder press
  4. Arm Curl
  5. Tricep Extension
Upperbody/Lower Body
  1. Bench press
  2. Leg press
  3. Bent row
  4. Hamstring curls
  5. Overhead press
  6. Calf raise
  7. Arm curls
  8. Sit ups
  9. Triceps extensions 

Exercise order is one of the fundamental components of the training program that can have a tremendous impact on whether you are able to reach your training goals or not. Take the time to ensure that there is a logical reason for the order of the exercises in your program.

The Right age for strength training

January 20, 2009

By Ed McNeely


Strength and power are important part of hockey fitness. One of the biggest questions many parents have is when to start their young athlete into a strength training program. While many trainers will give you a standard answer like 15 or 16 years old the answer really isn’t that simple and will vary from athlete to athlete based on their rate of growth and development.

 Age Does not Equal Development

Children develop and mature at different rates, even as little as six months of age can make a tremendous difference in size, strength and speed of young athletes, this is particularly true as kids approach their teen years and their major growth spurt. How often have you seen a 14 year old who is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds playing against others who are five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.

Growth and Development

Growth is the change in body size as measured by height and weight. Development is the maturation process related to growth but includes social, emotional, intellectual and movement skill changes.

As a child grows their muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves and hormones all develop at different rates and different times. These differences create what have been called “windows of opportunity” for training i.e. periods of time when their body is going to adapt most effectively to certain types of training. Taking advantage of these windows of opportunity will allow your child to maximize their development and future performance, missing a window of opportunity or having the wrong training emphasis will have a long term negative effect on their performance making it more difficult for them to reach their full potential.

Parents through the use of a something called Peak Height Velocity (PHV) can easily assess growth, maturity and windows of trainability. PHV is a measure of how quickly a child is growing. While children grow from birth through to about age 20, there are variations in the rate of growth. During the first year of life a child will typically grow 25 cm, from the ages 5-10 growth rate is usually 5-6 cm per year. During puberty, growth accelerates to an average of 9 cm/year for girls and 10 cm/year for boys. This rate of growth continues for 24-36 months.  By taking monthly measures of your child’s height you will know where they are in their growth and development cycle and be able to determine the type of on and off ice programs that are most appropriate.

Around the time a young athlete starts their growth spurt is a critical period of physical development. This stage in their life represents a period of trainability for endurance, speed and strength. It is critical for parents to continue to monitor changes in height during these years as the child’s growth determines the effectiveness of certain types of training. Endurance is most effectively improved at the start of PHV while strength training is most effective in girls when the reach PHV and in boys 12-18 months after PHV. This doesn’t mean that strength training is started at those times; it needs to be started 6-8 months earlier. Weight training technique takes time to learn, a good weight training technique program that starts before the window of trainability will allow your child to get right into a program and take full advantage of an important developmental period. If they wait and start the program during the window of trainability they will lose six months learning how to do the exercises.

As an aside, It is common to hear hockey parents proudly talk about how quickly their child has grown and how well they are doing in sports. These early maturers seem to have a definite advantage in contact and collisions sports because they are bigger and stronger than the other kids they are playing against. Do not worry if your child starts their growth spurt a little later than their peers, while it may be difficult playing against bigger kids those who grow more slowly have extra time when they are most adaptable to skill development and often become more skilled players than those who reach PHV at a younger age. When they do grow and catch up to their peers in height and weight they are ahead of the game because of their greater skill.

Getting the Most out of Your Hockey Dollars: Guidelines for Choosing Hockey Programs for Your Young Athletes

January 20, 2009

Ed McNeely

As parents you make a sizeable investment in your kids participation in hockey, both financially and with time. There are literally hundreds of on and off ice hockey programs and camps for kids of all skill levels and ages, so how do you know if you are getting a good program? Here are a few things to think about when choosing a program for your young superstar.

Appropriate Programming

Is the program appropriate to the age and developmental level of your child? If it is a camp, does it provide adequate activity time in addition to instructional time? Is there an opportunity to incorporate skill development into game like situations?


Whether the program is on ice or off ice there should be some sort of assessment tool in place to assess starting levels and measures progress throughout the program. Not only will the assessments help you determine if your child is getting value and improvement from the program but a well designed assessment can help you determine the type of program that is most appropriate. There is no point in having your child take part in an on ice conditioning program if they do not have good skating skills, they would be better off taking some skating skill sessions before moving on to the conditioning program.


Are payment, refund, change and cancellation policies explained clearly in writing at the time you register for the program? Ask if there are any additional costs for equipment, clothing, manuals, or in the case of day camps; food and drinks.


Does the program have a formal curriculum that outlines the activities and progression from session to session? This ensures that there is a plan in place and the players will progress through drills and activities towards a specific goal. Programs without a formal curriculum may not have appropriate progressions or a long term goal in place, limiting their effectiveness.


In group programs either on or off ice the instructor to player ratio should be 1:12 or less for athletes under the age of 16. This allows the instructor to safely supervise the athlete and provide feedback and instruction. Larger groups limit the quality and quantity of individual instruction that your child will receive. Older, more experienced athletes can effectively work in groups that are up to 1:25.

Instructor Qualifications

One of the most important aspects of a good camp or program is the qualifications of the instructors. On ice instructors should have at a minimum some level of Hockey Canada Coaching Certification and preferably a combination of hockey coaching certification and formal education in Physical Education or Kinesiology. Formal education in Kinesiology or Physical Education ensures that the instructor has a background in skill learning and child development that is particularly important when younger athletes are involved in the program. While it is tempting to put your child into a camp run by a former professional hockey player, their experience at the professional level does not ensure that they have the ability to properly develop younger athletes.

If you are putting your child into an off ice or dryland conditioning program instructor qualifications are equally important. A degree in physical education or kinesiology as well as professional certification through the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP), Ontario Kinesiology Association (OKA) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) should be the minimum qualifications you look for. If your child is going to be doing weight training, coaching certification through the Canadian or US weightlifting Associations or the NSCA will ensure that the instructors are competent at teaching exercise technique. The weekend certification courses that many personal trainers take do not provide training in child development. Trainers with those credentials often give adult programs to children, which are not only ineffective but in some cases can be dangerous.

Emergency Procedures

The facility and organization running the program should have an emergency action plan in place, which includes access to first aid kits, defibrillators, phones and emergency contact information for each child. At least one staff member should have training in first aid and CPR. Evacuation procedures in case of fire or other hazards should also be in place.

There is a lot to think about when you invest your money into a hockey program. Taking the time to ask questions will ensure that both you and your young player get the biggest bang for the buck. Use the checklist below to help with your selection. If a program does not score at least 9 out of 12 you might want to look elsewhere.


Checklist for Choosing Appropriate Programs for Your Child

□    The program takes into consideration the long term development  of the child

□      The program contains appropriate activities for your child’s level   of development

□    A progressive written curriculum is in place for all on and off ice  group sessions

□    On Ice instructors have Hockey coaching certification

□    Off ice instructors have degrees in Physical Education or Kinesiology

□    Instructor to Athlete ratio is less than 12:1 for both on and off ice programs

□    Opportunities are provided to incorporate skills into game like situations

□    Active time is maximized for all athletes regardless of skill level

 □    A long term plan is in place so that the athlete can progress from  one level to another at their own pace

□    Feedback on progress is provided to both athletes and parents

 □    Assessment tools are in place to ensure that progress is occurring  and when appropriate homework is assigned to help the child  develop specific areas that need attention.

□    Administrative policies and procedures clearly explained.