Training Before Rowing
Training for the rowing season starts long before the first day in the boat. Competitive rowing combines two major characteristics: technique and strength. The skill technique can be improved with on the water training, but the strength and endurance is achieved through working up the muscles many months before the oars even touch the water.
It has often been stated that the three physically fittest athletes who employ the body’s foremost groups of muscles are cross country skiers, long distance speed skaters, and indeed, rowers. This extra-long winter should have produced the fittest crews possible.
It is commonly thought that rowing strength comes from the arms. This would be a mistake. The drive that propels the boat forward is a combination of 65% leg strength, 25% arms and 10% back. And with this mixture of physical forces, rowing is a terrific anaerobic low-impact workout.
The foremost training vehicle for on-land training is the dreaded ergometer. Casually known as “the erg”, it is a piece of equipment perhaps more often simply known in the fitness gym as “the rowing machine”. It gives the athlete as close an experience to the actual technique of rowing as possible. The monitor, seen here, has a number of settings, the most common of which, and all equally important, are shown. They even allow you to compete against your teammates or workout rivals, whether they're in the same room or on another continent.
Strokes per minute (SPM): On the erg, rowers will vary their stroke rate doing “pieces” of several minutes at 24 SPM, raising to 28, down to 22, and like the start of an actual race, may attain a rate as high as 38 strokes per minute.
Metres: Since a competitive regatta will have rowers race 2000 metres from start to finish, indoor rowing championships are also based on the fastest times for erging 2000 metres.
Distance: This shows the number of metres the athlete has rowed with a typical workout being in the 5000 metre minimum. Some ergometers allow the rower to key in a card that remembers his or her length of workout cumulatively, sometimes with a goal of achieving one million metres in a year.
Split time: This shows the average pace time it would take to row 500 metres if that particular combination of stroke rate and strength are maintained for a full 500 metres. It is a good marker for knowing how you are doing on a moment to moment basis.
Total time: This lets the rower know how long he or she has been working out. It will stop and start as the rower takes time to pause. At the senior high school levels heavyweight boys can time a 2000 metre race at between 6.5 and 7 minutes, and the senior girls at 7.5 minutes, though elite rowers may have even lower results.
But the erg is not the only conditioning tool for rowers over the winter. Nutrition is extremely important. Good nutrition is a key ingredient for all athletes. Foods that are high in carbohydrates are an essential source of energy. Foods such as rice, grains, vegetables, and fruit contain unrefined carbohydrates. These foods have essential vitamins and minerals, and not too many calories. Unrefined carbohydrates are an important source of energy. Some foods often recommended to rowers are: pasta, bagels, bread, yogurt, cereal, bananas, and apples. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
Cardio exercise also helps build endurance. As well as the erg, it is important to work the legs and lungs with some energetic blood flow from running, or stationary biking, or if it is available, the rowing tank at facilities like Brock University, the Don Rowing Club, and Leander Boat Club.
An excellent 2 minute video on erg training and proper technique is seen at