For the longest time coaching rowers both indoor and on the water, the question we often get asked is “what sort of training do I need to do to get better?” Of course the answer to that question is like asking someone “how long is a piece of string?” and expecting the exact measurement down to the millimeter.
For a majority of people the real question is, “What else can I do to help me achieve my rowing goals?” and of course this generally comes down to the additional work they can schedule in either at home or in the gym environment.
So here we go with the ultimate 101 guide to how strength training can improve your ability to row and get strong at the same time.
Let’s look at the basics first. As already mentioned, strength training isn’t all the same; there are several different types of strength you can, and should, work on. As each training method targets specific neuromuscular characteristics, you should plan your workouts based on your individual goals.
Just like UT2 rowing, this form of training would be your foundation if we were looking at building a pyramid. Lighter loads (20-50% of maximum) for 15-30 repetitions per set with 30-90 seconds rest (or even no rest if doing circuit training or supersets) will stimulate “muscular endurance” adaptations.
A “bodybuilding” workout using moderate loads (50-85% of maximum) for 8-12 repetitions per set and 1-2min rest between sets will stimulate increases in both strength and muscle mass.
To develop the ability to activate the muscles rapidly, each repetition should be performed as fast as possible.
People typically use light to moderate loads during explosive strength training, particularly if the sport requires a lower force level, such as running or long-distance cycling.
Training with very high loads (e.g. >90% of maximum) for 1-4 repetitions per set and allowing 2-5min rest between sets will develop the ability to activate and coordinate muscular contraction to allow us to lift heavy loads, i.e. develop maximum strength.
Using this type of strength training will limit the amount of muscle growth, and has been classified as “neural strength training”.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR RECREATIONAL EXERCISERS
For recreational exercisers, it’s relatively simple to integrate strength training e.g. twice per week into your normal training program since your overall training volume is quite low. Here, I’d recommend that you perform a total body workout that targets all major muscle groups, but, of course, you can focus on certain muscle groups within the total body workout for variation and/or continued adaptation. This practice can continue throughout the year for recreational exercisers. Within this practice, it would be beneficial to follow either a linearly periodized program or a non-linear periodized program to ensure progression.
A linear program basically begins with a few weeks of muscle endurance training, followed by a few weeks of a “bodybuilding” workout, followed by a few weeks of maximum strength and finishing with a few weeks of explosive strength training – and then repeat with some slight variations in key training variables from the first cycle.Non-linear periodization is basically mixing up these different workouts so that you do something different each time you visit the gym.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR ENDURANCE ATHLETES
It seems that scientific research on strength training for endurance athletes and endurance athletes themselves favor maximum strength and explosive strength training workouts.
But, that is not the whole truth.
Don’t be frightened that you’ll suddenly become overly muscular even when using the moderate load “bodybuilding” workout, actual muscle growth is blunted when high amounts of endurance training is performed so even bodybuilding workouts won’t turn you into Arnold.
If you’re a competitive athlete looking to integrate strength training into your training program, try prioritizing strength training blocks, e.g. 8-10 weeks in duration, where 2-3 strength workouts per week are performed concurrently with a small (20-30%) reduction in endurance training volume.
These strength-focused “blocks” can be inserted throughout the year where most appropriate, e.g. post-season or pre-competitive season where high-intensity endurance training is at a minimum, or during periods of injury when you can’t perform your normal training program.
Want to know how we train our athletes? Sign up for The Crew, where we’ve laid out the entire 12-week process in our Strength & Rowing Program, which you will get instant access to. This is the exact plan that took our US national team members from 5.56 to 5.50 over the 2km distance, so you can rest assured it’s built to work.
Yours in training, education and a bit of strength work