Mental Skills for Rowing: Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about the basic skills of goal-setting, progressive muscle relaxation, cognitive reframing, and positive self-talk. This article will continue with some more basic mental skills that you can incorporate right away into your training. Remember, mental training is just like physical training in that you can’t just flip a switch and be in shape. It will take time and dedication to improve, and from reduced anxiety to increased performance to improved focus and happiness in sport, the benefits are worth the work.

4. Visualization & Imagery

  • Create a positive picture of success in a controllable environment and mentally rehearse your actions to improve focus and familiarity when you do them physically.


Mental Skills for Rowing: Part 1

Anyone who has rowed or been around rowers can tell you that this is a mentally difficult sport, and maybe you have to be a little crazy to do it. The constant pressure of technical improvement combined with the drive to improve on the ergometer tests and in training can be a lot to deal with, and athletes not equipped to deal with this stress often find themselves burned out after a few seasons. This article series will teach you some basic mental skills that you can incorporate into your own training as a rower or coxswain.

In the long term,

MST can help reduce anxiety and build good mental habits to lay a foundation for race day and tests. Just like in school, you can’t just cram for a few hours and expect to do well on the test—you have to work at it all quarter.

In the shorter term,

MST can help improve performance by reducing distractions, improving focus, and decreasing anxiety. The basis of short-term MST is maintaining a mindset of positivity and not getting bogged down in uncontrollable factors. Control what you can control, let everything else go. (more…)

US Rowing Level 2 Recap

Will Ruth

In January, I attended the US Rowing Level 2 instructional clinic. Designed for coaches and competitive self-coached athletes, this clinic was a jam-packed 14 hours of rowing information. Our instructors were awesome, with close to 100 years of experience between the three of them. The two main instructors were Mt Baker Rowing Club’s Eleanor McElvaine (formerly of UW) and Ed Maxwell of Green Lake Rowing, with the unannounced guest appearance by former UW coach Bob Ernst. Day 1’s 12-5pm focused heavily on rigging, physiology, and water safety. Bob took the morning of Day 2 for a lecture and demonstration of instructing basic technique, then the afternoon session was heavy on group work developing training plans and practice plans to put it all together before the closed-note test.

Overall, I felt that this was a highly valuable experience and would really encourage any other rowing coaches to go to the next Level 2 clinic near you. The clinic comes with a 200-page manual (also available as a PDF) that has been useful in the month since the clinic to refer back to. The manual describes rigging, physiology, basic technique and basic errors, safety, coaching practices, and training strategies in just about as good depth and level of detail as you can with 200 pages. (more…)

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues

Originally published as a guest post on Rufo Optimal Workouts

Injury risk is an inevitable part of life and competitive sport. The first step to developing a positive mindset is accepting this risk and destigmatizing injury should it occur. Getting injured is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it is a risk that we all take as athletes and active people. In this article, I’ll explain how you can do everything you can to prevent injury and how to keep your cool should injury occur.

I do want to include a disclaimer here to say that sports are often a huge part of people’s lives, personal identity, and self-esteem, as well as a method for coping with stress, and it can be very difficult when an injury takes this away. If you or one of your athletes or teammates is struggling with depression-like symptoms, please refer to a mental health counselor or sport psychology counselor. The Applied Association of Sport Psychology is a great resource and maintains a list of certified consultants.

Control the “Controllables,” Discard What Remains

Maintaining physical readiness to train is at the forefront of every responsible athlete and coach’s mind. Even though we all accept a risk of injury training and competing in sport, injury prevention is a critical part of maintaining this readiness. Here are the core tenets of injury risk reduction that are 100% under your control: (more…)

How to Train Your Rower: Overhead Press

Will Ruth

Part 1: The Squat

Part 2: The Deadlift

The overhead press is one of the best upper body exercises for rowers. Not only will it help you go “up and over heads,” the overhead press is a great exercise for scapular function and strengthening the whole upper back and shoulder muscles. However, this lift is often executed incorrectly in ways that fail to reap the rewards of this great exercise and have the potential to cause injury. Quality execution is critical in all exercises to gain the full benefit of strength training.


In the previous articles, I explained my system of teaching a large group of rowers the basic barbell exercises by breaking each down into 3-4 parts to simulate the commands of “arms-body-legs-catch.” You’ve seen videos from my clinic for the back squat, front squat, and deadlift. Now we will cover the final barbell exercise and main pressing exercise I use with rowers—the overhead press. In addition to tight hip flexors, many rowers have mobility restrictions in their mid back, or thoracic spine. I first instruct the athlete as best I can, then prescribe scaled-down versions of the exercise while the athlete works to develop mobility. Scaled-down versions of the overhead press include the unilateral dumbbell overhead press and the incline bench press, but the goal is that each athlete can do an overhead press safely and effectively. (more…)

How to Train Your Rower: Deadlift

Will Ruth

Part 1: The Squat

The deadlift is one of the best exercises out there for rowing performance. Correctly executed, the deadlift teaches the rower to apply force through the legs while maintaining a braced torso to transfer power through the arms to lift the barbell. The deadlift also requires great torso strength from the abdominals and back, making it an excellent exercise for the entire trunk stabilizing muscles. Finally, the deadlift forces the rower to go through a full hip extension cycle, something that doesn’t happen in the normal rowing stroke, and using the hip muscles through a full range of motion is great for injury prevention. Swap out the barbell for an oar and you’ve got an athlete who knows how to put power down with the legs while keeping a tight braced torso and putting all of their strength to work.DSC_0652

Using the whole-part system of breaking the lift down into separate parts, here is the deadlift. The deadlift is the only lift that I will use more than an empty barbell to instruct. Blocks or boxes may be used to elevate the starting position to the standard height if bumper plates are not available. Bumper plates are the best option as they can be loaded lighter while still maintaining a standard height. I also find that many rowers, particularly those over 6’6 (198cm), have trouble getting into a correct start position. Rather than work endlessly on mobility exercises, I’ll often have these athletes always pull off 4-6” blocks. Remember, we’re training rowers, not powerlifters, and the goal of the deadlift is just to improve posterior chain strength and coordination to carry over to rowing performance. (more…)

How to Train Your Rower: Squat

Will Ruth

When 100% of coaches agree on something, it’s probably best to listen. In a recent research survey, 32 out of 32 GBR coaches agreed that strength training enhances rowing performance. The next step after educating yourself on how to develop a strength training program for your team is instruction. Nearly all injuries that happen from weight training at any age are due to poor instruction or poor supervision, not flaws of the individual exercises. It is essential that athletes understand the basic form on barbell lifts and that they are supervised by a qualified coach whenever they are lifting. Just like in rowing, the better the coaching, the better the results.wwuclinic

Now, most rowing programs are fortunate to have one strength coach, let alone a sufficiently sized coaching staff to adequately instruct 20+ athletes all at once. This is the system I use to teach a large group of rowers the basic exercises in a manner that is both time and space efficient while making sure that athletes receive quality instruction. (more…)

Sport Specialization Is Not the Answer

Will Ruth

I posted an article on Facebook a month ago summarizing many of the problems with youth sports and explaining a few ways that youth and high school coaches could improve the situation. The article was “Does Youth Sports Get the Math All Wrong?” by John O’Sullivan from the Changing the Game Project. Many commenters on the article agreed, but one nonbeliever stuck out. They said, “How do you expect part-time HS coaches to actually do any of this?” and suggested that it would be, “like a Harvard Skytte prize-winning professor coming to 3rd grade to teach quantum physics.”

I know a thing or two about a thing or two, and haven’t gotten a Skytte prize for either of them, but here’s what this part-time HS coach does. First, let’s cover research-based evidence of youth sport specialization vs. non-specialization, or “multilateral” development.

#1: “Don’t force, expect, or encourage early specialization”

I encourage all of my athletes to play other sports in the off-season. I don’t leave the “why” up to them—expecting children or HS athletes to read between the lines is a road to frustration. I always played multiple sports, so I talk about what I personally learned and how I applied it from sport to sport. Lead them through it and draw comparisons between their sport and others. Most young athletes won’t see the strategic similarities between soccer and lacrosse or similar skillsets between wrestling and football until you explain it a bit. (more…)

Top Posts of 2015

Here are the most popular posts from the first year of Strength Coach Will.

Overcoming Erg Fear

Mobility for Rowers, Part 1: Thoracic Spine

Basics of Strength Training for Rowing

All About Overtraining

Exercise Selection for Athletes

A big thank you to everyone who has read, shared, liked, or bookmarked a post here, and to those of you who have purchased Rowing Stronger. With all of your support, Rowing Stronger has become the 9th most popular item in the whole Rowperfect e-store and their #1 bestselling non-free e-book. Two of my articles also made Rowperfect’s Top 5 most popular articles. I’m thrilled with the book’s reception and look forward to continuing to produce the training content to help you improve as an athlete in 2016.

One of my first exciting projects of the year is producing real physical copies of Rowing Stronger. I prefer a physical book to a digital book, as I’d imagine many of you do as well, and with the e-book’s success it now seems possible. The prototypes are sturdy and spiral bound for gym-friendliness and will contain some extra materials such as fillable-outable workout charts and some of the infographics from the blog. I’ll have more info out about this later this month.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for my email newsletter here to stay up to date on my 2016 coaching, whereabouts, and to get advance notice on other projects. I’m planning on attending some more regattas and rowing events in 2016 with the book and will keep you posted via email and Facebook.

I’ve spent the last month working on one of my most research-intensive posts so far, breaking down a common, though misunderstood, rowing injury and how to prevent it. Stay tuned for that next Monday.

Wishing you the best in 2016!

Will Ruth

Interview with Coach Kathy Flores

Interview by Will Ruth, original date: 2/9/14

4 National Championships with Florida State U (player)

1991 Rugby World Cup Championship (player)

Player Berkeley All Blues 1994-1998

Head Coach of Berkeley All Blues 1998-2007



11 National Championships with All Blues as a player and coach

Head Coach of US Women’s National Team 2002-2011

Brown University Women’s Rugby Coach, 2013-Present