The interference effect is the phenomenon by which adaptation to concurrent strength training and endurance training is diminished compared to separately training only strength or endurance. This is important for sports like rowing, which requires both great power and great endurance. Rowers must train both strength and endurance, so the challenge of the interference effect in rowing is how to maximize adaptation to, and minimize conflict between, the different forms of training that must necessarily occur concurrently.

Coffey and Hawley (2017) have provided the most basic explanation; single-mode training sends one stimulus to one receptor area, stimulating one set of physiological responses and concurrent training sends multiple stimuli to multiple receptor areas, stimulating multiple responses which may conflict with each other. The principle of specificity of adaptation suggests that the volume, intensity, frequency, and specific mode of training should be as close to the goal outcome as possible for the best results.

However, we know it to be more complex than that in actuality. If it were not, rowing training programs would be nothing more than max effort 2,000m pieces to train for 2,000m performance. Even if you followed this absurdist training approach, you would still find grey area even within specific modes, volumes, intensities, and frequencies of training. Research suggests that a max effort 2,000m rowing performance is around 70-80% aerobic, and around 20-30% anaerobic, so there is a mixed stimulus even in the most specific training situation. Very few activities are 100% aerobic or 100% anaerobic, and even if they are, it’s rare that athletes only train in one modality. Most sports involve concurrent training to some extent, which means managing the divergent stimuli from aerobic and anaerobic training.

The best advice is to master the basics first. Do basic strength training, improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness via multiple means, develop great technique on the water, and of course, make rowing a positive part of your life or the lives of the athletes you coach, and this will yield the greatest results in rowing and beyond.

If you have the basics down, if the athletes you coach are sufficiently advanced, and if you have the ability to structure your training program and organize your sessions, research on the interference effect offers us takeaways that might yield small performance improvements that add up in the big picture.

If you are interested in further rowing research, a great resource is https://rowingstronger.com

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