If you’ve followed my blog and the block periodization method, you know that for most spring 2k rowers, the summer season general preparation block is one of your most productive training times to set up the rest of your year. The main goals of the general preparation block are:
Rest, recover, and heal
Build a foundation of strength and aerobic capacity
Correct imbalances that result from rowing
Enjoy summer and maintain your enthusiasm for the sport
In case you missed it, here’s the recap from episode 3 of the Strength Coach Roundtable with our links added in below. In this episode, we discuss strength training for the purpose of preventing rowing injuries. What can we do in the gym as rowers, coaches, and strength coaches to help athletes stay healthy?
Rowers love the core. No rower disputes the merit of having strong trunk muscles of the rectus abdominis, obliques, and muscles of the lumbar spine. The purpose of this article is not to convince you to train your core, because chances are, you already are!
First, let’s talk about spinal flexion training, with exercises such as crunches and sit-ups. Much has been written about this topic from a spine health perspective and whether or not loaded spinal flexion puts excess pressure on the intervertebral discs. From a rowing performance perspective, I don’t feel that it’s a movement all that useful, as spinal flexion is not a desired part of the stroke. There are plenty of other ways to train the trunk muscles that don’t risk excess spinal loading or train movements with limited carryover to rowing.
Every sport relies on a foundation of basic skills that must be mastered for continuing improvement. As the level of play improves from youth to JV to varsity to college to professional, individual ability becomes less about how strong your strengths are and more about how strong your weaknesses are. A player with one very strong strength may be able to rely on that at lower levels of the game, but will struggle to keep up with teammates and opponents if he does not also improve his weaknesses.
Relying on one pet dodge, pet shot, or takeaway check will only be successful for so long. Players who want long-term success will dedicate themselves to improvement in the following six fundamental skills.
The previous excerpt from “Rowing Stronger” discussed training and strength training at a broad level for masters rowers with topics of recovery, exercise progression, and injury prevention. After I got a shout-out from renowned masters coach Marlene Royle on a recent Rowing Chat podcast, I received several questions from masters rowers about specifics of strength training and how to start training if you are 50+ years old and have never really lifted before. Here’s my advice for how to start strength training for a male or female masters rower.
I think that Marlene’s opinion of strength training in her podcast was spot on. Strength training is a vitally important part of masters training, especially for injury prevention, but it is small in comparison to technique, aerobic endurance, and ability on the water and on the ergometer. If you aren’t technically sound on the water or on the erg, you won’t be able to display the full potential of your strength. However, if you’re a masters athlete who has spent a lot of time in the sport, developed great technique and aerobic base, but hasn’t been seeing improvement, strength training could be the missing ingredient. Read the first chapter of Rowing Stronger for free to see why training endurance from the top-down with strength work is so effective.
Technique is the first thing I emphasize with an athlete of any age. Technique is important to develop the movement patterns that will help you both in and out of the boat. I’d suggest working with a personal trainer or qualified coach on lifting technique, because it isn’t intuitive or natural to a lot of people and there are many ways to go wrong when learning a new skill. You can take this article to a personal trainer or qualified coach so they can teach you the proper technique on these simple exercises. (more…)
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…)
This series of exercises is designed to stretch and activate target muscles of common problem areas for rowers to be used before rowing, erging, and strength training. Warming up is an important part of maximizing performance in the short-term and health and longevity in the long-term. In the short-term, warming up helps prepare your body to execute the coming workout as effectively as possible. This is especially important for rowers who practice or train first thing in the morning. For rowers, this means activating the glutes, stretching the hip flexors, and getting the muscles of the upper torso firing. This sequence should take no more than 10 minutes.
3-5 minutes of low stress aerobic activity
Before putting strain on the muscles, increase your core body temperature with 3-5 minutes of jump rope, jogging, light erging, or stationary cycling. You should have a light sweat and slightly elevated heart rate by the end of the 3-5 minutes. (more…)
Snapping Hip Syndrome (SHS) is another common injury in rowing. The most noticeable characteristic of SHS is a palpable or audible “snapping” sensation around the hip joint that may be painful or not painful. This is a common injury in rowing due to the seated and bilateral nature of the sport, resulting in chronically tight hip flexors that can lead to SHS. Prevention revolves around care of the hip flexors and muscles involved at the pelvis as well as strengthening of the antagonist groups to prevent chronic hip flexor tightness and move through a full range of motion.
There are two types of SHS, Internal and External. Anecdotally, External SHS is more common with rowers than Internal SHS. The snapping sensation in external SHS is felt on the outside of the thigh around the head of the femur, and is associated with the IT band tendon or gluteus maximus tendon. Internal SHS is felt more toward the groin and is associated with the iliopsoas tendon. Both forms of SHS are uncomfortable, often painful, and are usually a chronic injury, not a traumatic injury. 
I personally dealt with external SHS as a rower after a particularly vigorous early winter season of training. I have since learned a lot about the mechanism of injury and the anatomical causes, but the real problem was adding too much training volume too quickly. In Part 1, Blake mentioned the 10% rule for increasing training volume. I ramped up volume quickly on my own, adding sessions of lifting and erging to my coach’s team program without her advice or input, and suffered the consequences. This is lesson #1: always consult with your coach before adding extra work on your own. (more…)
The rib stress fracture is a rowing injury that plagues up to 24% of rowers and is to blame for the most time lost from on-water training and competition . Because bone injuries can only be healed by time, prevention, not treatment, is everything for this injury. In 2007, the Journal of Sports Medicine claimed that, “the pathology and prevention of rib stress fractures will be one of the most useful areas of research in rowing training.” It’s been nine years and we’ve gone through two generations of rowers since then, and where are we on that? Dr. Anders Vinther has done extensive research on this topic and I agree with much of what he says regarding the merits of dynamic ergometers and the detrimental effects of upper body-heavy rowing technique. While his explanations of rowing training and bone healing with regard to stress fractures is very thorough, he makes only passing mention to the role of strength training in preventing this injury. US Rowing’s article by Boathouse Doc provides some great tips for training around the injury, but gives similarly brief treatment to strength training.
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…)