In the world of competitive rowing, every single avenue should be explored in trying to squeeze out additional speed. Over a 2000m race it all comes down to optimally applying force repeatedly in order to maintain the highest overall average speed. Optimizing the performance around these repetitive moments is the goal.

The catch is undoubtedly the most important part of the rowing stroke. This is the point at which when the oar enters the water and force is initially applied for propulsion of the boat. Small variations in force application at the catch are argued to make important differences to high performance outcomes. Likewise, the relationship between perceived motion, oar placement and boat behaviour has an important role to play in the successful execution of the catch in rowing (Millar, 2014; Millar, Oldham, & Renshaw, 2013). Specifically, matching the passage of the oar going into the catch with the speed of the boat is part of a critical perception-action couplet, known to coaches as ‘rowing with the boat’.

A very interesting study was done by Sarah Millar in which contrasting textures between the water and striped markings or lines on the stern of the boat were examined. The aim was to explore the following hypothesis; by providing a contrast between hull and water, enhanced information about surfaces in the environment could be delivered to the brain during rowing and therefore providing strong cues as to the structure of perception-action relationships in movement tasks including interception. The aim would be to see if this could be used to improve rowing performance.

The theory with a rower who trialled five methods. The first was to row with no lines, the second with vertical lines, followed by a no-line trial again, then a horizontal trial and a final no-line run. Significant changes were noted with the horizontal lines suggesting a beneficial effect on boat speed.

The question was about how we can maybe help rowers detect the speed of the boat moving through water a little easier. So I hypothesised that lines on the boat will enhance the information about the speed of the water travelling past the boat,” says Millar. “When you are trying to judge speed off something, a textured background will give you feedback as to the speed you are travelling at.  Horizontal stripes on top of the boat give rowers the ability to row with their boat. It’s like when you drive a car close to objects, i.e parked cars, you get the perception of how fast you are driving and normally slow down a little.  I wanted to test if these lines would have an impact on a rower’s ability to slow down coming forward. And it did!

And so the question begs; will the touch of the Zebra become standard in rowing coaching programs in years to come?….

The below article was written by Bo Hansen and summarized for the Jeppe Rowing Community.

The Coach athlete relationship is recognized as a performance factor in today’s modern sporting environment. Like any other relationship it is defined by the quality of understanding, respect, trust and predictability that exists between two people.

What makes the Coach athlete relationship unique (when compared to relationships which may exist between two athletes or two friends outside of sport), is that it is drawn from our understanding of social science and how infants form attachment to their parents or what is also known as their primary care giver.

Coaches are known as an athlete’s primary care giver. They are the people in the athletes lives who are expected to provide security, safety and emotional support. The fact is, we as human beings are conditioned to wanting this from our Coaches as a result of how we have been parented in our early childhood years.

Athletes who are able to form close attachment to their Coaches are more likely to feel secure in exploring their role in sport, pushing their boundaries, taking risks to improve performance and being able to confidently give 100% effort. The same applies for children who have responsible parents who provide this environment and support. It is no wonder the Coach athlete relationship is a performance factor which extends beyond all other factors. It is literally hardwired into us from our very first hours of being born.

One of the most compelling studies of athlete performance was conducted by Penny Wurthner on the 2008 Canadian Olympic team. The study found the most significant contributor to a medal winning performance or personal best was a productive Coach athlete relationship.

The study consisted of interviews with 27 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and 30 Coaches which were then analysed. The study found there were five distinguishing factors standing out and exhibited by the athletes who delivered Olympic personal best or medal winning performances.

Five Key Themes for Success

  1. The Coach Athlete relationship: where a mutual trusting and respectful relationship exists between the Coach and athletes. Each knows what to expect from the other (predictability), they understand how the other communicates, the environment they work best in and how to maximize their strengths in the context of their sport.
  2. High level Athlete self-awareness: the degree to which an athlete understands how they behave, what their strengths and limitations are, what motivates them and how to adapt their behaviour to produce more effective outcomes.
  3. Quality of the training environment: this includes aspects such as athletes’ equipment, strength and conditioning programs and overall facilities used.
  4. The management of the competition environment: this relates to how well planned the competition environment was logistically and how difficult circumstances were managed so they would not limit the athlete’s performance.
  5. Support mechanisms: people in the athlete’s life. Everyone from family and friends to staff surrounding the athletes such as doctors, massage therapists, nutritionists, trainers, physiotherapists.

The Coach athlete relationship was found to be the most important factor and absolutely non-negotiable.

Having established how the Coach athlete relationship is a critical factor in an athletes’ performances in both practice and especially in competition, it is critical to realize this relationship does not happen instantly. Instead it needs to develop over time just like any quality, trusting relationship.

Maike Diekmann, Namibia’s first Olympic Rower

Growing up near Otjiwarongo, Namibia ,Diekmann was never exposed to rowing or any other water sports, for that matter. Her curiosity finally got the best of her in her third year of studies at South Africa’s Rhodes University in Grahamstown, and she decided to give the sport a go. 

“They put me in the smallest boat, the single sculls, straight away, which I think, when looking back, was the best thing,” Diekmann recalled.

“I had to learn in what is considered the most difficult boat. It is unstable, it is just you and no one else helping you balancing the boat. So I learned quickly about the basic things in the stroke, even though it was such a new sport and I’ve never been exposed to something like this.”

Mere months after her first strokes, Diekmann represented Namibia for the first time at the 2015 African Olympic qualification regatta in Tunisia for Rio 2016. She missed out on qualification, but the experience alone served as validation of her newfound dream.

“I remember that clearly because that was after nine months of rowing, and there I was racing for Namibia,” said Diekmann.

“That was exciting, and it was a big step in my career where I realised this was something I wanted to take further and get better for Namibia and see if I can qualify for the Olympics one day. 

“From there, that is where the dream of Tokyo and the next Olympic cycle was born.”

Maike qualified for Tokyo 2020 where she finished 18th in the world. A phenomenal result considering her short rowing career.

Her rowing exploits have made waves in Namibia, where she and her coach, Grant Dodds have been recognised for promoting rowing and advancing women’s sport. Dodds was named 2019 coach of the year at the Namibia Annual Sports Awards, while Diekmann was nominated as sportswoman of the year.

“It wasn’t an easy road. It’s been up and down, it has been quite a lonely path at times, but as I went along this road, many people became a part of it,” she said.

“I’ve made the best of what I had, and I did create everything I have because I never sat back. I want to get more girls involved in sport, and rowing especially. I hope people remember me as not always going after results but looking for the people at the bottom looking to get to the top.”

A big congrats to Maike on her first Olympics and look forward to seeing her in Paris, 2024.

Among strength, endurance, technique and mental toughness, one tends to forget about a very important aspect when racing in coxless boats; steering.

In coxless boats, there is a rudder connected to a cable which is attached to the shoe toe of one of the crew members. They steer the boat by swiveling their foot left or right to keep the boat straight. If you have ever raced a 2km rowing race, you can understand how difficult this may under normal racing conditions.

This was best illustrated on Wednesday 28th of July 2021 at the Olympic Games A Final for the Mens Coxless Four.

The men’s GB team had won every coxless four gold medal since the Sydney Games in 2000 but the quartet of Sholto Carnegie, Oliver Cook, Rory Gibbs and Matthew Rossiter finished fourth as their hopes of a sixth straight win ended in tatters. Australia took gold, Romania picked up the silver and Italy took bronze – but the latter have every right to feel hard done by as the British quartet nearly crashed into them during the final stages of the race, denying them the chance of a silver medal.

Oliver Cook, the bowman, was in charge of the steering and could not contain his emotions and said he had ‘screwed up a bit’ with the steering, claiming his actions cost him and his team-mates further Olympic success. 

The bottom line is that steering coxless boats is fairly difficult and even Olympic athletes don’t get it right sometimes!

A very interesting article was recently posted on row-360.com which investigates the different approaches to training by different high performance systems. Below are a few excerpts which shed a very interesting light on the thinking towards high performance training.

Recent tales of football coaches with camouflage outfits and binoculars spying on their upcoming adversaries’ preparations have received much media attention. In the rowing world, catching a glimpse of other crews is often a little more straightforward, and rarely requires wire cutters. While watching (and even timing) the odd session on a shared river will give you an idea of how well and fast your opposition is moving, understanding and learning from their training programme is rarely as public. When permitted, academic researchers have attempted to quantify the work of elite rowers so they can better understand the applied world and figure out why it works – or occasionally doesn’t. Summarising and discussing what has been peer-reviewed then published can provide useful insights into the evolution of training practices and offer some useful advice that is applicable to all levels of competition.”

Let’s start with training volume, and the adage that ‘mileage makes champions’. As you would expect, the literature tends to agree – with several papers associating distance rowed with success. Research from Juergen Steinacker, chair of the FISA Sports Medicine Commission and author of some classic rowing physiology studies, suggests that some eastern European teams completed over six hours of on-water rowing per day during the 1970s. Data from the German Junior National Team explains how they trained for 150 minutes per day in 1989 increasing to 190 minutes per day by 1995. As one of the most successful coaches in Olympic rowing history once said to me (in a German accent) “Mark, if there was a way of doing less and getting more, we would be trying it”.

However, while being an important contributing factor, quantity of strokes must be considered alongside quality. The way training is distributed across the various cycles within an Olympiad has been the subject of intense discussion within the scientific community. In most cases, the desire to complete high mileages has led to the evolution of a ‘polarised’ model of training whereby most of the endurance training is conducted at low intensity, with smaller amounts at higher intensities – generally following an 80:20 percent distribution ratio. Seiler has written some definitive articles in this field that include examples from rowing, among other endurance sports.”

Finally, how do we know what we are reading that the elites are doing is optimal? Could there be a better way or are coaches playing safe and sticking to what they know has worked in the past? Some research has compared different methods (generally using sub-elite athletes). Ingham et al (2008) found high volume, low intensity to be more effective than a threshold-based programme when attempting to improve 2km ergometer performance. This, among other evidence suggests that the elites are understandably on to something. Respected track coach Steve Magness, on Twitter, once said that “coaches figure out what works in training and then scientists come and figure out why it works”. This statement seems to apply to training methodology and some of sports science’s more radical ideas.”

To read the full article visit https://row-360.com/who-does-what-and-why/.

Rowing ergometer is used very frequently to evaluate the performance of rowers and to predict on-water rowing times. Mikulic et al. (2009) conducted a study on 562 rowers of both sexes and body-mass categories to compare their performance on rowing ergometer with their ranking at the 2007 World Rowing Championships.

Of the 562 rowers, 69% were male and 31% were female; 65% competed in open-category events and 35% in lightweight. A questionnaire was used to obtain the personal information and 2000 m rowing ergometer performance times of each athlete. Gathered data were compared with the rankings at the above-mentioned championships.

The main findings of the study were that of the 23 events at the World Rowing Championships, 17 correlated positively (P ≤ 0.049) with the rowing ergometer times and 12 events had a correlation coefficient greater than r = 50. The highest correlations were observed for lightweight men’s single sculls (r = 0.78; P = 0.005), women’s single sculls (r = 0.75; P = 0.002), men’s single sculls (r = 0.72; P = 0.004), lightweight men’s double sculls (r = 0.72; P = 0.001) and lightweight women’s double sculls (r = 0.69; P = 0.001). No correlations were found in four and negative correlations were observed in two events (men’s coxed pair and lightweight men’s coxless pair). Negative correlations could be the result of the small sample of rowers in these groups.

The correlations were stronger for smaller boats (single sculls, double sculls and pairs) – this was probably because rowing ergometer simulates on-water racing conditions better for smaller boats than for larger boats as the performance is dependant of only one rower. In larger boats, rowers have to coordinate and synchronize their movements which cannot be assessed on a rowing ergometer and could lead to discrepant.

What to learn from this?

In 12 of the 23 events the correlation coefficients between the 2000 m ergometer time and 2000 m World Rowing Championships rankings were positive and greater than r = 50. This indicates a moderate-to-strong relationship between the two types of rowing. Stronger correlations were observed for smaller boats. Although the rowing ergometer and on-water rowing are not exactly the same disciplines, from the physiological and biomechanical aspect they are similar. Therefore, these data must be handled with caution as the standard error in the study could be too large to accurately predict rowing performance on water.

Mikulic P, Smoljanovic T, Bojanic I, Hannafin JA, Matkovic BR. Relationship between 2000-m rowing ergometer performance times and World Rowing Championships rankings in elite-standard rowers. Journal of Sports Sciences 2009; 29 (9): 907-913.

There is limited published research on the practices of strength and conditioning (S &C) coaches in rowing. An interesting paper endeavored to quantify the training practices of coaches responsible for the S&C of rowing athletes. A questionnaire was developed that consisted of 6 sections: (a) personal details, (b) physical testing, (c) strength and power development, (d) flexibility development, (e) unique aspects of the program, and (f) any further relevant comments regarding the athletes prescribed training program.

Twenty-two rowing and 10 S&C coaches with an average of 10.5 ± 7.2 years’ experience agreed to complete the questionnaire. Approximately, 34% coached rowers of Olympic standard, 34% coached national standard, 3% coached regional standard, 19% coached club standard, and 10% coached university standard rowers. All coaches agreed that strength training enhanced rowing performance and the majority (74%) indicated that athletes’ strength trained 2-3 times a week.

Almost all coaches (94%) reported their rowers performed strength training, with 81% using Olympic lifting, and 91% employing a periodized training model. The clean (63%) and squat (27%) were rated the most important prescribed exercises. Approximately 50% of coaches used plyometrics such as depth jumps, box drills, and standing jumps. Ninety-four percent indicated they conducted physical testing on their rowers, typically assessing cardiovascular endurance (80%), muscular power (70%), muscular strength (70%), and anaerobic capacity (57%).

Based on this research, it is evident that strength training is commonly used in a rowing training program.

In various papers and research articles, the differences of the kinetics and kinematics between ergometer rowing and water rowing are highlighted.

First of all on an ergometer, the handle force has a higher peak and develops later, the stroke length tends to be 3-5% longer and the curve of foot stretcher force is considerably moved towards the beginning of the stroke. An important point is that the legs:trunk:arms proportions of power development on an ergometer are 37% : 41% : 22% compared to 45% : 37% : 18% for on water rowing. This means that the trunk is doing a larger proportion of the work on an ergometer. All of these factors potentially lead to an increased load applied to the structures of the trunk, and particularly the spine. Greater work done by the trunk could produce earlier fatigue of the trunk muscles, placing the spine at risk.

Interestingly, Holt et al (2003) studied the effects of prolonged ergometer rowing. Over a 60 minute piece there were significant changes in the way the athletes moved. Lumbar spine range of motion at the catch and total lumbar spine range of motion increased during the piece. The gradient of force production decreased, and the ratio of drive to recovery time increased, over the piece. The authors attributed these changes to fatigue of the trunk muscles during the piece, reinforcing that fatigued trunk muscles may lead to low back injury.

In addition, Teitz et al (2002) conducted a retrospective study of 1632 US intercollegiate rowers. By the use of detailed questionnaires they established that 32% of these athletes had experienced back pain of at least one week’s duration during their rowing careers. The use of rowing ergometers for greater than 30 minutes per session and free weights were the variables most consistently associated with back pain.

This research suggests that there perhaps is a link between the amount of time the athletes spend on the ergometer (under greater trunk load than when on the water,) with less desirable technique and postural positions. The end result is an increased load on the spine which may increase the risk of injury.

It is therefore essential coaches have the ability to coach the correct technique on the ergo taking into account the difference forces impacting on the body compared to rowing on the water.

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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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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