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…)
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.
0:00 — Brief update and news from our coaching and learning
3:15 — Overview of the deadlift and why it’s beneficial 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. The 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…)
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.
#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.
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…)
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.
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…)
There are a number of chronic and acute pains and injuries in sports that result from a problem in the hips.
The hip girdle is quite complex, with its four directions of motion and dozens of muscles inserting, attaching, and acting on the various structures. However, don’t get bogged down in complex analyses of each individual muscle and joint. There are a few common practices that most athletes would benefit from in their training to enjoy happy and healthy hips for a long career and great performances.
The hip hinge is a key basic athletic movement that must be mastered to perform many strength training exercises in the weight-room. Squat, deadlift, push press, and Olympic lift variations are all highly reliant on this fundamental ability, plus, a rock-solid hip hinge has numerous benefits to whatever sport you play. The hip hinge is the basis of the fundamental athletic position. Building strength and endurance of the back, glute, hamstring, quad, and calf muscles involved in hip hinging will make you powerful in many elements of your game.
What is the hip hinge?
The hip hinge is the movement of pushing the hips back, maintaining a neutral spine and no more than a slight bend of the knees, balancing bodyweight between forefoot and heel. This is the power position and is a part of almost every sport–NFL combine athletes hit this position when testing their vertical jump, baseball players prepare for a ground ball in this position, sports like football, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer play defense from this position, volleyball players bump from a hip hinge, tennis players serve return from the hinge, Olympic lifters hang clean from this position, and finally, this is the deadlift position. The hip hinge is the point of optimal strength of the main muscles of the lower body: calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.