The short-and-sweet answer to why strength matters in rowing was concisely tweeted out by my good friend and Strength Coach Roundtable co-host Blake Gourley few months ago, that increasing strength decreases the amount of effort required per stroke, which increases endurance. I dubbed this “Twitter-coaching at its finest” in the conversation, however, I know many are interested in the full answer. Here’s about 5,500 characters (and no emojis) more on how we get to this beautifully concise answer.
We have to go to the research and do a bit of maths.
In “Strength and Power Goals for Competitive Rowers” (2005), authors Ed McNeely, David Sandler, and Steve Bamel outline their proposed strength and power standards for male and female rowers in the different categories of sport from lightweight to heavyweight and junior, U23, club, national, and Olympic levels. Personally, I think the standards are a little low, which I credit to how the sport has grown and progressed in the 12 years since this article was published. The data was collected over the previous 10 years, so we’re looking at standards based on rowers from 1994-2004, so some “performance inflation” is natural to occur. (more…)
“There’s nothing really good that comes from a 14-15 year old thinking that you really like them.” “I try to keep my personal side out of it as much as possible.” “I’m more like going for 80% impact.”
Is that the kind of coach I am or want to be?
There was some context to these words, but as I thought about and listened back to my guest episode on the Winning Youth Coaching Podcast, I wanted them back.
From fall 2016 to spring 2017, I drove over 2500 miles to coach both rowing and lacrosse as well as volunteer at and attend clinics. I spent thousands of dollars on gas, books and coaching resources, equipment, plus tuition at the University of Denver to help me become a better coach. I spent hundreds of hours away from home, my girlfriend, and dog, many of them uncomfortable hours in the cold, rain, early morning and late night, and many more hours studying, thinking about, and talking about coaching and my athletes with my co-coaches. In addition to all my personal effort, I had the lives and athletic pursuits of 45 young people entrusted to me by themselves and their parents. And yet, I’m only “going for 80% impact”?!
I knew immediately that I was unsatisfied with my answer, but it took me most of last season to figure out exactly why and what I could do to change it.
Beyond the sun, warm weather, and vacation time, summer is also a wonderful time to make gains to lay the foundation for the rest of your training year. If you’re a spring 2k rower following the block periodization system, summer marks the turning of the page into the next training year. Whatever you accomplished, however many medals you won, and no matter what PR’s you hit in the previous spring, training for more and faster starts now. Summer strength training will follow the general preparation phase model of block periodization.
“General” is the name of the game for this block of 10-16 weeks. Forget about your 2k or 6k erg time and set some goals outside of short-distance rowing. No one cares how fast you are or how strong you are in July, so don’t waste time and effort trying to hit 2k PRs or new 1-rep maxes now. There’s plenty of time for that later, and working on some different goals now will help you now and in the future. The whole goal of summer strength training is building a broad base and foundation for the rest of the year. High variety of exercises, high variety of rep ranges, and high variety of cross-training.
Why is strength training important for rowing? The answer is simple. Increasing your strength decreases the amount of effort required per stroke, which increases your endurance. Read more about this in the first article below.
Learn the Lifts
Summer is a great time to start strength training if it isn’t a part of your training already. The single biggest factor in your program’s success is how well you perform the lifts. Make sure to get instruction from a qualified coach or trainer if you’re beginning to lift.
Improve Your Mobility
Build Your Knowledge
- Blake Gourley, Joe Deleo, and I host The Strength Coach Roundtable podcast. Every 1-2 months we do a deep-dive into a topic in strength training for rowing with the occasional guest. We’re always taking questions, too.
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…)
In part one last week, we covered person-first language, took a detailed look at what it means to truly be inclusive, and evaluated the differences (or lack thereof) in characteristics of athletes with and without disabilities. In part two, we’ll use the critical theory to look at how sport reflects society for people with disabilities, the concept of social settings to check the message your program is sending to people with disabilities, and wrap things up with an action plan for coaches.
Sport as a Model of Society
Especially in an Olympic year, we constantly hear about the values of sport in society. Sports build character, sports teach life lessons, sports teach the value of hard work, team work, self-confidence, and so on. There is no doubt that sport can be a powerful way to do all of these things, but only when done with the goal of doing so. Just like playing a team-building game on the first day of practice doesn’t automatically build a rock-solid team with no further effort, the messages you want to send and the lessons you want to teach with sport need to be consistently evaluated and reinforced to be effective.
One way that we can evaluate sports in society is with the Critical Theory. This is one of five main sociological theories that has guided sociological research for the last fifty years, and focuses on the power dynamics present in a given environment . Someone using critical theory will see sport is an area where culture and social relations can be produced and changed. History has proven that this is the case in sport, from race relations to gender stereotypes, and hopefully now to disability. Main questions to ask of your program from a critical theory perspective include:
- How do people without disabilities interact with, influence, and make decisions for those with disabilities?
- How is power shared between individuals with and without disabilities? What is the balance of competitive opportunities, resources, equipment, coaching, and more?
I’m a straight, white, healthy, 24-year old athletic male with no disabilities. No one in my close family has disabilities, and it’s not something that I consider myself to know much about. I coach high school lacrosse and college rowing, two sports traditionally known for being more privileged, and aside from a few athletes with attention deficit disorder, I haven’t had any experience of coaching athletes with disabilities. My exposure to the field of disability comes from my girlfriend, an MA graduate in rehabilitation counseling who works in residential services for people with disabilities, and a few opportunities to volunteer with an adaptive rowing program in the Seattle area. I decided to do a final project for a graduate school course on this subject and set about learning more about sport for people with disabilities as well as accommodations and inclusivity in sport. As I started researching, talking to other coaches, and thinking about my own experiences, I realized I had a lot to learn. My goal with this article is to share my learning process, including my own preconceived notions, background research and sociological theory, and tangible takeaways for my own coaching and hopefully yours too.
Part one of this article will discuss person-first language, how we can define and produce inclusiveness, and whether there actually is a difference between athletes with and without disabilities. Part two will discuss how sports reflect society for people with disabilities, how environment affects perceptions and actions, and will conclude with an action plan for coaches.
I have enjoyed connecting the dots on my young coaching career. A few of these dots are:
- Dad buys me a used bench and concrete weights at age 12-13. We have to keep a training log for karate promotions, so I begin journaling my training as my middle school best friend and I do endless variations of bench press and arms exercises. I get bit by “the iron bug” and build the early habit of the training log.
- Despite no real experience, knowledge, or accomplishments, I become “the guy” in high school writing training programs for himself and anyone who wants one. I latch on to my high school strength and conditioning class teacher and coach. He supervises my senior project after I change interests from sociology/criminal justice to “undecided,” and I do my presentation on strength training for rowing.
- I play club lacrosse in college and become the de facto team strength and conditioning coach, organizing weight-room and agility and conditioning sessions.
- I work with a few rowers at my student job and run into them in the weight-room during a lacrosse session. They jump in and I start working with a few of them individually. I decide to major in kinesiology because I enjoy sports and training.
- Because I’m in the weight-room so much, actual coaches and athletes start assuming I know what I’m doing. The undergrad kinesiology program is backed up, so thanks to one of these connections, I fulfill my year-long internship requirement with the varsity track and field team before I actually begin coursework.
- I’m giving advice and coaching to 5-6 rowers at this point, and a few of them become team captains/cabinet members. They talk to their coach about strength training and I officially become the team strength coach.
- I overhear my former lacrosse teammate and then-roommate talking on the phone with the head coach of a new lacrosse program he’s coaching, lamenting their struggles to find a JV assistant coach. I sign my coaching contract the next week.
- I have a job at a local gym after I graduate. I work it for a while and things don’t work out, so I take a desk job. I have a lot of time, so I start a website so that my high school lacrosse players and college rowers can find technique videos and training resources.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve said things to athletes that I’ve regretted, missed plenty of opportunities, skipped on readings that I should’ve read in school, called plays that didn’t work out, and done some dumb things in the weight-room. I’ve learned a lot from these, and I know I’ll make more and learn from those too.
I’ve also done a few things right that I think would help a new coach. (more…)