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.

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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:

Push/Pull
  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?

Assessment

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.

Administration

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.

Curriculum

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.

Supervision

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.

 

 

 

 


Rest between Sets

January 20, 2009

Ed McNeely

Rest between sets is one of the most important variables in a strength training program. The rest between sets allows your body the time to replenish the energy it uses during the set and plays a role in determining the nature of the training effect. The amount of rest that is taken depends upon the duration of work in the strength training session and your training objectives and can vary from 0-7 minutes between sets or exercises.

Training for Strength

 Rest periods for developing maximal strength and power are quite long, usually 3-10 minutes. Strength training with heavy weight and low reps uses predominantly the anaerobic alactic energy system. The alactic energy system relies on the energy stored in the muscles. Energy is stored in the form of ATP and CP. These two compounds, known as the phosphagens, are available for immediate use. The stored supply of these compounds is relatively small, they can provide energy for about 10-15 seconds of all out strength training effort.  Once all the stored energy is used up the body requires about 3 minutes to fully replace the phosphagens. If the next set is started before the phosphagens are fully restored the muscles will be forced to use the anaerobic lactic energy system. This will result in a build up of lactic acid.

 Lactic acid is partially responsible for the burning sensation in the muscles. It also contributes to feelings of heaviness and fatigue. A build up of lactic acid may inhibit the quantity and quality of work performed resulting in fewer strength gains.

 Training for Size

 It is quite common for bodybuilders to take short rest periods between sets, particularly during pre contest preparation. This is doe for a variety of reasons; depletion of carbohydrate stores, keep metabolism high and burn more calories, and stimulate muscle growth.

 As we already discussed short rest periods will result in an accumulation of lactic acid. There is some evidence that strength training sessions that result in high lactic acid levels also cause the body to naturally release more growth hormone, one of the hormones responsible for increasing muscle size. Rest periods in bodybuilding programs are typically 30 seconds to two minutes in duration.

 Training for Sports Performance

 The rest periods between sets for athletes vary depending on the time of the year. They will initially be quite long, 3-5 minutes during the off season and preseason when strength and power are the main training goals. During the season the rest period should simulate the rest periods that they have in their competitions. For instance if you are a thrower in track and field and have several minutes between throws you should take several minutes between your sets. If you are a football player and have 30 seconds between plays you should limit the rest time between your sets to about 30 seconds. A wrestler who is constantly working for a whole match may use circuit training in season so that they can continuously move from exercise to exercise. Adjusting the rest period between sets to your sport will help you develop the appropriate energy systems and recovery ability between bouts of work.

 Table 1. Rest periods

Work Type Rest between sets Rest between exercises Purpose
Maximum Strength 5-10 minutes 5-10 min ATP-CP recovery
Maximum Power 3-5 minutes 3-5 min ATP-CP recovery
Muscle Mass 0:30-2:00 None Stimulate GH release
Sports Training 0- several minutes 0-several minutes Simulate sport demands

Peak Power: The limiting factor to rowing performance

January 20, 2009

Ed McNeely

We all have been told that rowing is 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic which is why the majority of training time is spent doing aerobic training. Because everyone realizes the importance of aerobic fitness in rowing the aerobic system is generally quite well trained in competitive rowers. As the level of competition increases the difference in aerobic fitness between competitors gets smaller and smaller. At the international level the difference in aerobic fitness between first and last place crews is often less than the error in the machines used to measure aerobic fitness.

Because aerobic fitness is very similar amongst crews of similar competitive level there must be something else that gives a crew an edge. Outside of technique the one physical factor that is emerging as being the best predictor of rowing performance is peak power. There have been several studies in the past few years that have shown peak power is more strongly correlated to rowing performance than VO2 max or anaerobic threshold.

 Peak power, the highest wattage you are capable of pulling, limits your race ability by setting a power ceiling for your performance. For instance if you wanted to row a 6:00 2K you would need to pull approximately 475 watts for the entire piece. If the max watts you can pull is only 500, it is going to be very difficult to hold the 475 watt pace for very long. In fact if your target pace is more than 55% of your peak power you are going to have a very difficult time holding that pace.

 If your peak power is higher you will be able to work at a lower percentage of your peak power and still hit your target pace. This will make the race feel a little easier and give you a performance buffer if you need to make a hard sprint in the final 500.

 Measuring Peak Power

 Peak Power is measured with a 10s erg test. On a CII set the drag factor to 200. The high drag factor is necessary to provide adequate resistance so that you can hit a true peak power. Lower drag factors do not provide enough resistance and you will get lower peak power numbers. Warm up by paddling easy for 5-10 minutes. At the end of your warm up come to a full stop and let the fly wheel stop. Set your monitor so that you can see the watts for each stroke. From a stop row as hard and as fast as possible for 10 seconds, recording the highest power you see on any stroke. There is no rate cap but you must row as close to full slide as possible right from the first stroke, do not use a racing start. Rest for 3-5 minutes and repeat again. There is a slight learning effect when you first do this test so you might want to do it 2-3 times to get a true peak power score.

 Analyzing Your Data

Because body weight will have a significant impact on rowing performance power to weight ratios have been developed for men and women at different performance levels (table 1).

 

High School

College

Senior College and Masters

National

Elite International

Men

6.0-8.5

7.0-9.0

8.5-10.0

9.0-11.0

10.0-12.5

Women

4.5-7.5

6.1-8.25

7.3-9.0

8.27-9.9

9.65-10.1

These ranges have been developed based on the scores of top performers in each category. If you find yourself at the bottom of the range you should be working your way to the top of the range. If you are at the top of the range aim for the next level up, you can never have too much power.

 Increasing Peak Power

Power workouts are planned using sets and reps. Unlike strength training sets of power training are never taken to the point of muscular failure, making it more difficult to determine when you stop benefiting from the set. You can individualize the program to meet your current fitness level, state of fatigue and motivational level by basing the duration of a set on drops in power and energy.

 Energy is the limiting factor in all power activities. The amount of energy you can produce determines both the amount of and duration of work. During high intensity plyometric activity the body relies primarily on the ATP-CP, adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate, stored in the muscles for energy. The ATP-CP system is the most powerful energy system in the body, producing huge amounts of energy in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, the supply of ATP-CP is limited and the energy system is quickly depleted, resulting in a drop in speed and power. The rate of depletion of the ATP-CP system depends on the type of exercise but is generally limited to 5-15 seconds of continuous all out work. As this energy system becomes depleted there is a gradual decrease in power output, which can be measured as a decrease in performance.

 Power outputs below 90% of max are insufficient to create a speed and power training effect. Once power drops below 90% of max, the set should be terminated. Determining this power drop is a relatively easy procedure, requiring only a stopwatch, measuring tape, calculator and some good record keeping. Let’s look at an example:  After a good warm perform a 10s erg test as described above to measure your peak power.  Subtract 10% of this value and write the number down so that you don’ forget what you are shooting for. 

 Next you will perform all out 10s sprints with 200 drag factor and 60s rest between sprints. When the peak power on two consecutive sprints is below the 90% line the set is stopped. After a five minute rest perform another set until you once more fail to reach the 90% line then rest again. You may not get the same number of sprints in each set, this is fine since it represents the amount of fatigue that carries over from set to set. As long as you stay above 90% of your best you will be getting the speed and power training effect you are looking for and you have not taken your body to a fatigue point yet. Repeat this procedure until you have done a total of 20 sprints.

 The system outlined above uses the best score on each training day. An alternative is to use a 10% drop from the best score obtained during a scheduled test session. The advantage to this is that the calculation only has to be done once following the test session, making it quicker and easier to administer for coaches who are working with large groups of athletes. Unfortunately, relying on test results doesn’t allow you to adjust the program for the improvements you make between test sessions. If you decide to use test results schedule retests every four weeks.

 This type of sprint training is very high intensity and should be done twice a week to start and no more than four times a week. You will find that your peak power increases quite rapidly and you are also likely to see increases in 2K performance as well. Many masters and college aged athletes report 8-12s improvements in 2K time after 6-8 weeks of peak power training.


Strength Goals for Rowers

January 20, 2009

Ed McNeely

The majority of rowers use some form of resistance training in their preparation for the rowing season. While strength is obviously very important for a competitive rower how strong does a rower have to be? Does is really make any difference in rowing performance if you increase the weight you can squat from 500 lbs. to 550 lbs.?

Every sport requires a certain level of strength to achieve optimal performance. Increasing strength beyond these levels does not necessarily improve performance and in some instances can be detrimental to performance. Once the ideal level of strength has been achieved the time needed to increase beyond this point could be better spent training something else i.e. rowing technique, aerobic fitness, flexibility, or anaerobic fitness.

 How Much Strength do Rowers Need?

 There are several ways to determine the strength demands of a sport. A biomechanical analysis of the forces generated on the foot stretchers, oar lock, or at the blade can provide good information on how much force is developed with each stroke. Elite rowers generate their highest forces on the first stroke of a race. These forces have been found to reach 1352 N, which is roughly equal to 135 kg, for men and 1019 N or 102 kg for women. Back in 1975, research on the East German National team indicated that the minimum level of rowing strength required for international competition was 133 kg. With the increases in boat speed and changes in oar technology this is undoubtedly higher today.

 A second method for determining strength goals is to base them on the strength levels of elite competitors. Presumably, if a competitor is medalling at the Olympics or World Championships they are strong enough to be successful. This doesn’t hold true all the time because of differences in technical efficiency and aerobic fitness but it is a good starting point. In order to study maximal force generation at the catch Secher developed an isometric apparatus that was adjustable so as to suit individual rowing positions. Using Dutch Olympic, national, and club level rowers it was found that international rowers on average generated 204 kg of force. National level rowers generated 183 kg of force and club rowers generated 162 kg of force. Using other non-specific rowing tests – isometric arm pull, back extension, trunk flexion and leg extension – on the same groups of athletes, it was found that the higher the competition level of the rower the greater the strength in all tests.

 The use of non rowing tests of strength has it’s pros and cons. Force application in a boat is technically different than it is in a leg press or squat. While these tests are very good for determining if the muscles are strong enough to do the job they don’t necessarily reflect someone’s boat moving ability. Weight lifting tests do have the advantage of being low tech, they don’t require computer links to strain gauges or force plates, and easy to administer. Concept II has developed a machine called the Dyno which works on the same air resistance principals as the erg but can be used for strength training and testing. This is a very well made machine and in time will probably become a standard tool for strength testing for rowers. Unfortunately, because it has only been on the market for a couple of years I can’t provide any strength norms for it yet.

 Strength and Body weight

 Strength can be classified as either absolute or relative. Absolute strength represents the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted one time. Larger people tend to have higher absolute strength than smaller people because they carry more muscle mass. Relative strength is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted one time in relation to bodyweight. Relative strength is of more importance to a rower than absolute strength. The amount of weight in a boat affects the drag through the water. Increasing absolute strength is of no benefit if the weight gain offsets the strength gain by increase resistance through the water. Increasing relative strength makes it easier to accelerate the boat with each stroke because strength has increased without increasing the drag. It is because of the importance of relative strength that the strength goals presented here are expressed as percentages of bodyweight.

 Strength Goals

 The table of goals below have been developed from the data I have collected during my consultation with rowers from novice high school rowers to Olympic Champions as well as from an examination of the force and strength research that has been done. Because the goals are expressed as multiples of body weight they are applicable to both heavyweight and lightweight rowers.

 Table 1. Strength to Weight Factors for Men

 

High School

U 23

Club

National

Olympic

Squat

1.0

1.3

1.4

1.7

1.9

Deadlift

1.0

1.3

1.4

1.7

1.9

Bench Pull

0.7

0.9

1.05

1.2

1.3

 Table 2. Strength to Weight Factors for Women

 

High School

U 23

Club

National

Olympic

Squat

0.8

1.0

1.25

1.4

1.6

Deadlift

0.8

1.0

1.25

1.4

1.6

Bench Pull

0.6

0.8

0.95

1.1

1.2

 

 Using the Tables

 To use the table take your body weight and multiply it by the appropriate factor. For instance if you were a 200 lb. Male club rower you should be able to bench pull 210 lbs. one time (200 lb. Bodyweight  x 1.05 = 210). These tables are appropriate for rowers aged 15-35. Strength normally decreases after age 35 and those under 15 should be focusing on technique and body stability instead of maximum strength. In a future article I will provide tables for rowers over age 35.

 If you currently are able to meet these goals you can focus your training on other areas. If you can’t meet these goals strength may be one of the things holding back your performance. Here are some pointers to help you reach your goals:

 1. Take a Long Term Approach to Strength Development

  Don’t try to achieve these goals overnight. It may take several years for you to reach the strength goal at each competitive level. Notice how the strength level of Olympic rowers is twice that of the high school rower. The average age of Olympic rowers is 26-28 years old. This gives the high school rower about 10 years to double their strength. Rapid increases in strength are possible but won’t likely be maintained from year to year.

 2.  Keep Everything in Perspective

 Just because you haven’t achieved the strength goals that I have outlined there is no reason to panic and wildly change your program. Decreasing the amount of aerobic training or technical training so that you can spend more time in the weight room may help you reach your strength goal but it may not make you a better rower.  Look at all aspects of your performance before changing your program. Aerobic and technical training are far more important than strength is to your performance. If you feel that you are technically proficient and aerobically very fit then maybe you can decrease the time you spend on these things until your strength level improves. Otherwise work on the other things first.

 3. Don’t Over Do it

 Keep strength training sessions short. Sessions that last longer than 45-60 minutes often lead to overtraining. Shorter more frequent training sessions cause greater strength increases than long infrequent sessions. Try to fit in 3-5, 45 minute sessions each week.

 4. Focus on Strength not Strength Endurance

 Until you have adequate strength, strength endurance training should be eliminated from the program. Strength increases do not occur with the high repetition, low resistance  training common in strength endurance programs. Strength endurance training without adequate strength only means you are getting better at being weak.