The Kiwi Pair,” the New Zealand pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, was the most successful men’s pair in the history of rowing. In addition to world records, gold medals, and total dominance during their unbeaten streak of 2009-2016, the duo are known for shaking things up and not being afraid to train differently, and for openly questioning some of the dogma in rowing training. It became known at some point that the duo were not doing traditional strength training with barbells and free weights. “The Kiwi Pair Doesn’t Lift” then became a meme around the Internet to justify a lack of strength training in rowing programs.

Fortunately, Eric Murray himself had a chance to set the record straight when he appeared as a guest on Rowperfect UK’s “Rowing Chat” podcast. Host Rebecca Caroe was kind enough to read the question verbatim, and it has been reproduced the discussion below with some additional notes to follow.

RC: “Our next question comes from Will Ruth, who says, “The Kiwi Pair Doesn’t Lift” is often bandied about on the Internet as rationalization for lack of strength training in other rowing programs, elite and otherwise. I’ve only been able to find passing mentions in interviews and articles, so I would be interested to hear his own account. Did you ever do strength training (bodyweight, bands, weights, etc.) in your life or career? Where does strength training fit (or not fit) into your philosophy of rowing training?

Murray didn’t say exactly when he started strength training, but he rowed and played rugby in high school before graduating in 1999. If he started as a high school student-athlete, he may have had up to 11-15 years of strength training before he cut things back to plyometric, bodyweight, resistance band, and core exercises in 2010.

He specifically says that he doesn’t think the absence of strength training would work for big boats, only for singles, doubles, and pairs.

Murray talks about maxing deadlift at 200kg (440lbs). It’s not clear if this is hypothetical or actually what he was able to deadlift, but that’s a very reasonable number for an elite rower to be able to lift for a max, and also a very reasonable number at which a rower might say, “hey, I’m strong enough for rowing, adding more to my max is going to require a significant amount of work and may not help me as much on the water,” and begin prioritizing other forms of training that will yield greater returns.

The Bottom Line:

Use strength training as part of your rowing training to build your base of strength and muscle and improve performance especially in bigger boats. When you’ve done this for YEARS, consider your strength training in the context of the rest of your training program and maybe, if you’re on a high-performance track in small boats, consider cutting it down to “just” bodyweight, plyometrics, resistance band, and core work. If “years,” “high-performance,” and “small boats” doesn’t describe you and your training…it’s probably best to get back to strength training

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