I’ve mentioned several times on the Strength Coach Roundtable as well as in a few different articles my disdain–no, my hatred–of the bench pull (also referred to as the “seal row”) exercise, but I’ve never fully written out the case against it. The bench pull is the single most overrated and dangerous lift in rowing. It has low specificity to rowing, is a known cause and risk of rib stress fractures, and there are too many other exercises superior to the bench pull to make it worth doing.
#1. The bench pull has low specificity to the rowing stroke
The picture below shows me in the bench pull position (left) and then at the finish of the stroke (right). The only similarity between the two is that my arms are bent. In the bench pull, your entire body is supported, your torso is relaxed, you aren’t transmitting force from your feet to the implement, and you’re pulling from a dead-stop position. At the finish of a rowing stroke, your body is supported only by the seat and foot stretchers, your torso muscles are working hard to keep you upright, you are transmitting force from your feet to the implement, and you’re pulling with momentum. Even though the bench pull develops some of the same muscles used in the rowing stroke, it does so in a way far too non-specific to carry over to the rowing stroke.
There are coaches who omit the arms-only part of the pick drill because it doesn’t sufficiently apply to the stroke and teaches athletes to break their arms when catching the water. We spend too much time at practice trying to get rowers to stop doing exactly that to want to have them practice catching with their arms, plus to get stronger at doing it.
At best, the bench pull has low specificity, at worst, it is ingraining bad habits that will just have to be undone with more coaching. (more…)
9 times out of 10, when one of my rowers says, “coach, my back hurts,” a few sessions of this stretching sequence plus some general foam rolling of the lower body has them right before their next workout. Even with these stretches, it is crucial to address WHY you are experiencing low back pain, whether it’s a muscular weakness or a technical deficiency, but these stretches should get you up and moving in the meantime. This is also a great 10-minute mobility series during heavy training times and as general prevention of low back pain in rowing.
Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds. Breathe deeply and try to sink deeper into the stretch with each exhalation.
- Pigeon Stretch & Elevated Pigeon
- Half-kneeling lunge stretch, 3-way hip opener, lunge with band distraction
- Banded figure-4 (link here to orange band)
- QL stretch
2016 was a busy year.
I started this site in 2015 and I really appreciate everyone who read, shared, and commented in 2016 to keep driving me to write more content here.
One of my favorite things to come out of this year was working with fellow rowing strength coaches Blake Gourley and Joe Deleo to start the Strength Coach Roundtable on Rowperfect UK’s Rowing Chat channel. We’ve done four episodes and will do our fifth in February on the topic of Performance Psychology for Rowers. Mental skills training is a passion of mine so I’m really excited for this episode.
Top Articles from 2016
I’m glad, and a bit surprised, at the popularity of the specialization article. It ventures out a bit from my usual strength training content but seemed to strike a chord with my readers. It was shared on Facebook massively and I hope changed some minds on specialization and informed on long-term athletic development.
I also got to work with some other coaches in 2016, writing guest articles for Rufo Optimal Workouts (“Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues“) and TeamSnap as well as becoming a guest on the Winning Youth Coaching podcast and being featured in a US-Rowing article on masters training. (more…)
As the fall head racing season wraps up in the US, many teams and rowers are looking to avoid the ice and frostbite by ditching the oars and moving into the weightroom and onto the ergs. Here’s a bundle of articles that will be useful to you as you plan your winter training.
If you’re a spring 2k rower following the block periodization system, the winter training block will be about half specific preparation and half pre-competitive, depending on when exactly your fall season ends and your spring season begins. The typical rowing team will conclude fall in mid-November and resume water training in mid-February. In between the seasons is a great time to restore bilateral (left/right) balance and make great gains to set up the spring competitive training block. Check out “The Basics of Strength Training for Rowing” for an overview of annual periodization and how all of these blocks fit together with the goal of peak spring 2k performance, then read the other articles for how to accomplish it!
Learn the Lifts
Improve Your Mobility
The Strength Coach Roundtable
Keep in touch over winter training
Subscribe to my email list so you can stay tuned for the next Strength Coach Roundtable episode and hear about some of the techniques I’ll be experimenting with over winter season. Email subscribers get exclusive content about training, coaching, and my studies that doesn’t necessarily make an official blog post.
We really jammed a lot into this episode to talk about recovering from both rowing and strength training. You’ll learn all about active and passive recovery techniques, finding a recovery protocol that works for you, and of course WHY recovery is so vital to both short and long-term improvement, health, and performance.
0:00 — Re-introductions and what we’ve been up to over summer and fall
5:15 — Common and controllable factors that rowers can use to improve their recovery from training
22:20 — How to develop your own personal recovery protocol
45:50 — What you can do right now from home to start recovering better
53:38 — Last words from Will, Blake, and Joe
Questions, Comments, Feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
A few months ago I wrote an article about my five tips for new coaches. In tip #3, “You Still Have Practice,” I listed off my go-to resources for authors, speakers, blogs, and podcasts that I follow, and one of those was the Winning Youth Coaching podcast. Host Craig Haworth brings on a different coach for each episode from a variety of different backgrounds, sports, and specialities. I find his questions and his guests to bring a great blend of thoughtful discussion of youth coaching as well as actionable takeaways. After listing this as a resource, Craig contacted me and offered me to come on the show as a guest. So, here we go!
2:15: My background, athletic bio, and how I got into coaching (more…)
The overhead press is a lift that has great potential for rowers, but also carries more risk than other lifts. The unfortunate result of this is that most tend to discard it from programs when a few simple technical tweaks, adjustments, or mobility drills may be all you need to get on the right track. Executed correctly, the OHP strengthens the entire upper body and builds a bulletproof upper back for better connection and power transfer through the entire stroke. Many rowers with weak shoulder girdles can’t sustain the amount of force that their legs can produce. Their legs go down hard, but their upper-back rounds and all that pressure never makes it down the oar handle. The OHP is also a great developer of many muscles that rowing fails to, making it a great “bang-for-your-buck” exercise for the scapular muscles, triceps, and deltoids.
Thoracic spine, or mid-back, mobility is crucial to being able to perform the overhead press. While thoracic mobility is something that many rowers DO struggle with, it is important to make sure that the athlete receives plenty of instruction before making a diagnosis. Often, what looks like a mobility restriction is actually just an athlete who doesn’t understand the correct technique.
Review the basic technical cues in my “How to Train Your Rower” series on the overhead press. The most common errors I see are starting from a poor rack position, not pressing the bar back toward the forehead, and arching at the low-back. Check out the video below for a detailed explanation and demonstration. (more…)