Roundtable Recap: Deadlift for Rowers

We changed up the format a bit for this episode and spent the whole time just talking about one lift. If there’s only one lift you can do for rowing, we could make an argument for the deadlift. It’s an awesome lift with a ton of carryover to rowing, both for performance, reinforcing technical cues and coaching, and long-term back health. In this episode, we give some backstory on the deadlift, why it’s such a great lift for rowing, our progression for teaching it to new lifters, variations on the deadlift that we use in our training, and of course, how to actually train it with sets, reps, and intensities for in-season and off-season.

Hear it also on Soundcloud and iTunes

0:00 — Brief update and news from our coaching and learning

3:15 — Overview of the deadlift and why it’s beneficial for rowing

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How to Warm Up for Rowing

The warmup is a critical time to set you up for the best and most productive rowing or weights training session possible with the least risk of injury. Most rowers are great about doing warmups for rowing training, because it’s naturally built into the practice. A short erg or jog, running oars down, some dynamic stretching, walking the boat down, and then skill-and-drill by pairs, fours, or sixes, provides 20-30 minutes of excellent warmup time. warmup rowingThe first important thing a good warmup accomplishes is gradually increasing heart rate and circulation. This is important to lubricate joints, increase blood flow to muscles, and prepare the lungs and heart for pumping a lot of oxygen and blood during training. The second thing a good warmup accomplishes is priming the muscles for efficient, precise movement. Both of these things play a vital role in reducing risk of injury as well as improving performance in training and competing.

Warming Up for Strength Training

The best rowers will treat all parts of their training just like they treat rowing training. You or your coach spends hours planning your rowing training, you read rowing blogs, do rowing mobility exercises, you think about technical elements of the stroke, physical elements of on-water training, maybe you even do mental skills for your rowing training, and of course, you spend hours actually executing the training. The very best athletes apply this same level of focus, dedication, and consistency to their strength training, nutrition, and recovery.

This should take you no more than 20 minutes from the time you walk into the gym to starting your first working set. If you don’t have 20 minutes to safely and effectively warm up, you don’t have time to train. It’s as simple as that.

#1. 5 minutes of low-stress aerobic activity

To erg or not to erg…

In general, I’m fine with rowers using the erg as their warmup, but I can see the counter argument as well.

Many rowers have bad habits or movements on the erg that we’re trying to use strength training to fix. If a rower opens their body early on the stroke, having them erg a bunch before deadlifting increases the chance of them carrying that error over to the deadlift. Many rowers also don’t know “easy warmup speed.” Put two rowers side-by-side and more often than not, the 5-minute warmup will turn into a battle paddle. (more…)

Building a Home Gym for Rowing Training

I’ve been living the home gym lifestyle for a few years now, enjoying the flexible hours, dog-friendly policies, whatever equipment I need for my goals, and no lines waiting to use it. Here is my list of required and preferred equipment as well as some tips and tricks for building your home gym for rowing and strength training for rowing.

Required Equipment

#1: Barbell and Weights

There is no substitute for a barbell and a couple hundred pounds of weights and it should be the very first thing you buy for your home gym. While dumbbells, kettlebells, and other forms of weight are great for assistance exercises and other forms of training, a barbell is absolutely necessary to achieve significant loading and apply enough of a stimulus for growth and strength gains.

There are many, many barbells on the market these days ranging from the very cheap to the very expensive. I love my Texas Power Bar and have also enjoyed using Rogue Fitness’ Ohio Bar and Rogue Bar in the past. Any of these bars should be lifetime bars, which is the main advantage they offer over cheap barbells that can be found at sporting goods stores. If you’re going to be using the bar a lot, it might as well be one of decent quality.

Metal plates are cheaper than bumper plates, and because I don’t use Olympic lifting in my programs, they are perfectly fine for my needs. Metal plates can often be found for good deals used through used sporting goods stores or Craigslist-type websites.

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Why I Hate the Bench Pull

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.

bench pull rowing compare

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…)

Rowing with Low Back Pain? Give these a shot.

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.

  1. Pigeon Stretch & Elevated Pigeon
  2. Half-kneeling lunge stretch, 3-way hip opener, lunge with band distraction
  3. Banded figure-4 (link here to orange band)
  4. QL stretch

Roundtable Recap: Sport Psych for Rowing

What a monster this one was! Blake, Joe, and I had a great talk with Sara Hendershot about sport psych for rowing and how to develop a strong mindset for success. We talked for almost 90 minutes straight and I feel like we could’ve all kept going. Whether you’re wrapping up winter season, preparing for spring racing, or just blew up at the CRASH-B’s, I hope this will be helpful to you in your athletic pursuits.

Hear it also on Soundcloud and iTunes

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2016 Year in Review

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…)

The 10 Best Strength Training Exercises for Rowing

We’re keeping it simple this winter and focusing on what I’ve culled down to the most effective 10 strength training exercises for rowing. These exercises are a mix of rowing performance exercises, included to increase strength in muscles used heavily in the stroke to drop time off splits, as well as exercises for injury prevention and overall muscular balance and health. Check out the playlist with video demonstrations and coaching cues here and then read on for explanations.

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Bundle: Winter Rowing Training

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. Cerg1heck 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!

Overview

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.

Roundtable #4 Recap: Recovery

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.

Hear it also on Soundcloud and iTunes

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.

Will Ruth: Twitter, Facebook, StrengthCoachWill.com

Blake Gourley: Twitter, Facebook, RowingStrength.com

Joe Deleo: Twitter, Facebook, LeoTraining.io

Episode 1: Overview of Rowing Strength Training

Episode 2: Strength Training for Performance

Episode 3: Strength Training for Injury Prevention