With the rise in popularity of endurance rowing (yes there are those crazy enough to do this on an erg!), one of the more common questions we get is should I just focus on building distance on the erg or do something else to help me hit the distances I want?
This week we’re going deep and putting some science to the idea of endurance training first and then we can make an informed decision.
Endurance rowing requires a tremendous amount of drive and determination. In addition to mental toughness, endurance rowers require high levels of both cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance. An efficient cardiorespiratory system will improve peak oxygen uptake, stroke volume, and overall cardiac output. Collectively, this enables the heart to pump more blood to working tissues supplying them with oxygen and nutrients. A healthy neuromuscular system will help ensure proper strength, muscular endurance, and rate of force production (power). In order to improve both performance aspects a combination of aerobic and resistance training activities may be the best approach. Unfortunately, many endurance rowers tend to avoid resistance training out of fear it may hamper their VO2max or result in unwanted muscle hypertrophy (bigger muscles) and weight gain. However, research does not support the claim that resistance training will hamper endurance performance if performed in a systematic and periodized fashion.
There is convincing evidence that resistance training does not improve VO2max or lactate threshold for previously trained endurance athletes because the aerobic duration and intensity is too low. However, resistance training may improve rowing economy, and a recent study showed VO2max is not compromised when resistance training is added to an endurance program. Additionally, an athlete’s rowing economy has been shown to improve as much as 8% following a resistance training program, which may have a large impact given the extremes endured during endurance events. However, there is still much debate on how resistance training actually improves rowing economy. Some experts speculate it is caused by improved neuromuscular efficiency (coordinated movement) and force production.
In addition to improving neuromuscular efficiency, explosive resistance training has been shown to improve anaerobic power output for endurance athletes. A study performed by Mikkola et al., demonstrated a simultaneous explosive resistance training and endurance program improved power output of the quadriceps muscles for cross country skiers. Additionally, the subjects did not demonstrate a reduction in V02max even though endurance training was reduced by 20%. This is significant for endurance athletes who must demonstrate anaerobic capabilities such as a sprint to the finish line.
Similarly, a study by Millet et al.,found that heavy resistance training led to improved maximal strength and running economy with no significant effects on V02max for triathletes.
Given the evidence, endurance rowers may benefit by incorporating a resistance training program into their overall workout regimen. Resistance training and plyometrics have been shown to improve rowing economy, and enhance power without negatively affecting VO2max. Given these advantages, an integrated training program along with resistance, plyometric, and cardiorespiratory exercises may hold the key to enhanced performance for endurance rowers.
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Yours in training, education and lifting to get better at going longer.
Mikkola JS, Rusko HK, Nummela AT, et al. Concurrent endurance and explosive type strength training increases activation and fast force production of leg extensor muscles in endurance athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(2):613-620. 10.1519/R-20045.1
Millet GP, Jaouen B, Borrani F, et al. Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and VO(2) kinetics. Med Sci Sports Exerc.