Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Training: Frandsen and Crosby on Cycling as Cross-Training

As we've discussed here on RR before, the best form of 'cross-training' for rowing is rowing on the ergometer. However, there are other activities that can be beneficial when used the right way, and to the right extent–cycling prime among them. Now is the time when most North American and European rowers are in the depths of winter training, with spring racing season seemingly distant on the horizon, and the hum of the ergs in the boat bay serving as a substitute for the sound of 'water boiling aft.'

Beijing silver medalist of Rowing Canada Aviron, Scott Frandsen, knows very well the demands that rowing places on athletes at the elite level. In a recent blog post, Frandsen discusses the benefits of breaking free for a while, while continuing to develop the aerobic base by means of the bicycle (video of the incredible landscape included below).



Frandsen also touches upon the need for rowers to structure their training plans according to the goals of the overall cycle. As Frandsen states, "There are only so many times through the year that you can do this and truly get the best out of yourself–beyond that, you become a bit stale."

In keeping with the cycling theme, long-time friend of Rowing News and RowingRelated, Josh Crosby (a former world champion rower himself), has recently released the second in a series of cross-training videos, entitled, 'Crossing the Line.' The video (embedded below), includes some tips for cyclists and rowers alike, citing the benefits of cycling as a crossover sport for rowers in need of some time outdoors–an idea that should not be altogether ignored, as ours too is an outdoor sport, and some time spent out in the elements can refresh both mind and body.



Coming this week to RR:
Updates from across the pond, as the first of the Trial Eights for the Henley Boat Races took place last week on the Henley Reach.

-RR

Monday, December 26, 2011

Video of the Week: Eric Murray's 60 Minute Test



Eric Murray of Rowing New Zealand called his shot recently, aiming to break the world record for 60 minutes. And he did just that, posting what was (of course) a very impressive distance (18,728 meters). While this alone is certainly outstanding, perhaps even more impressive is the heart rate data from the test, which shows Murray at 190+ for all but 10 minutes of the hour-long row, maxing out at 201. Following the test, he doesn't flop on the ground, but instead stays seated and maintains a grip on the handle, before moving the erg aside and receiving his trophy for a world-record performance–that being a mop.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays from Everyone at RowingRelated!

Rower's holiday (Illustration: B. Kitch)
Happy Holidays to all from the RR Editorial Staff!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Training, Olympic Trialling – Australian Squad Too Aggressive?

One of the most famous names in Australian rowing, Drew Ginn, has just completed the first stage of trialling for the London Olympic Games, and, despite doing quite well, he's questioning the system. The trials took place over the course of four days, and saw the rowers racing twice each day–the first day included both a 5k time trial and a 2000 meter race. Given the distance yet to go before London, Ginn expressed concern in a recent interview with Stuff.co.nz regarding the preparation of the athletes on the squad at this point in the training cycle. According to Ginn, this has been the most difficult series of trials since those leading up to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (when Ginn was training as a member of the 'Oarsome Foursome'). Even then, they were racing once per day, rather than twice.

It's one thing when someone new to the squad is having trouble making the adjustment to the senior level. It's an entirely different situation when a proven, perennial contender (and three-time Olympic gold medalist), still at the top of his game at 37 years of age (in his 17th year preparing for the senior level), asks questions like this. Despite the challenges, Ginn and pair partner Josh Dunkley-Smith performed very well across the four day race series, winning the 5k time trial and the 2k race to get things started right.

This gets at one of the themes we have returned to several times here on RR–that being that it is not possible to be at your physical peak year-round (so it's important not to train like it), and the necessity of building a training arc that develops physical peak at the right moment (this goes back to the idea of 'Periodization,' which has been in use for some time across a number of endurance sports). Ultimately, as Ginn knows, no one cares who is fast in December. The important thing is to be fast in July, 2012. What Ginn appears to be reacting to is what he sees as a departure from that ultimate goal, focusing too heavily on the here and now, rather than building the arc for the year–the most important year of the cycle. The Australian team is coming off it's most successful world championship regatta to date–no doubt Ginn would like to see that as a stepping stone to something even better, rather than a high water mark.

-RR

Monday, December 19, 2011

VOTWs: Sculling Technique with Zac Purchase



This weeks' VOTWs (yes, technically 'VsOTW,' but does anyone really say 'RsBI' in baseball?) come to us courtesy of Zac Purchase, and set the tone for winter training as we look to expand our capillary development at low stroke rates, building a base for the power to come as the weather warms up once again in the spring. The videos exhibit not only the precision with which Purchase (former holder of the world's best time in the LM1x, set in 2006 at Eton-Dorney–Jeremie Azou of France now holds the record from the 2011 U23 world championships of 6:46.93) executes the technique, but also the discipline that it takes to repeat each movement again and again, ingraining the proper muscle memory while expanding his aerobic base.



While there is much to learn from watching Purchase in the above videos, Zac was not in action at GB Rowing Trials over the weekend in Boston, Lincolnshire. There were, however, some very interesting results at the 5k time trial event. In the M2-, Andy Triggs Hodge raced with Alex Partridge (Pete Reed did not race), taking first overall ahead of Moe Sbihi and Alex Gregory, with the young 'pair to watch' Constantine Louloudis and George Nash edging Greg Searle and Cameron Nichol into fourth place. This puts Sbihi and Gregory into serious contention for the M4-, and Louloudis and Nash into the mix for the M8+. In the LM1x, Richard Chambers edged his brother, Peter (who subbed into the LM4- at this year's Lucerne World Cup, where the GB crew took first place), by just under three tenths of a second for first place in a time of 18:20.64, with Rob Wlliams of London RC in third place roughly one second back of first, and defending Olympic and World Champ Mark Hunter fourth in a time of 18:22.94–very close at the top end of British lightweight rowing these days!

For a recap and complete results, please visit the official site of GB Rowing.

Thanks to Theo for sending along the video(s)! Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, December 16, 2011

Film for the Weekend: Bled 2011, Thanks to Mike Nicholson



Having been fortunate enough to attend the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia, I can say that Mike Nicholson has done quite well here, capturing the sights and sounds around the race course, as well as catching up with a number of the top athletes on the outstanding Australian national team. Bled is, without question, one of the most picturesque rowing venues in the world, and the weather cooperated beautifully this year, making for good racing (and reporting) conditions. In case you missed it, or would like to relive it all once again, check out the coverage of the 2011 World Rowing Championships from the course on RowingNews.com (opening ceremonies, and days one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight are a click away), with links to over 40 video interviews with athletes and coaches.

After an extremely successful 2011 campaign, Team GB will be in action over the weekend, with national trials taking place in Boston, UK (the original version). Pete Reed's Twitter indicates that he will not be racing (instead, Andrew Triggs Hodge will race with Alex Partridge), and there are a number of top athletes that will not be in the mix due to illness/current training cycle, leaving some room for ambitious U23 athletes seeking to place their names in the hat for 2012. It will be particularly interesting to see how Constantine Louloudis and George Nash fair in the M2- field. More updates and analysis to come.

-RR

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Importance of Recognizing Hard Work, Across All Sports

Obvious, right?
As we get into the swing of winter training, we begin the the most grueling period of preparation as we aim to peak in late in the spring, or early summer. Lots of mileage must be logged in order to build the aerobic foundation that will allow us go as fast as possible during the racing season. In the midst of all this, it is acceptable, and even good, to appreciate the difficulty of the work that you are doing and to understand the commitment and drive it takes to succeed as an athlete.

But don't be Captain Obvious.

Everyone knows it's hard. We don't have to constantly talk about how hard it is. This includes talking to teammates as well as your inner monologue. The more negative we become regarding what is simply the required level of training to succeed in our sport, the more it is going to make that training difficult to accomplish.

I believe there can be a significant benefit to treating the 'daily training grind' as no big deal—just doing what is required to put the money in the bank–rather than constantly patting oneself on the back for working so miserably hard. By talking about the sport and its training in these terms, and by thinking about it as some incredibly difficult feat, I think it makes it harder than it needs to be and, subconsciously, makes it something that we can despise doing at times. Thoughts like these might lead us to question why we do it, or how much longer we can do it. Yes, it's difficult and challenging for both the mind and the body, but that's the deal. Mens sana in corpore sano. That is how training and racing works and that is the beauty of sport—we push ourselves to the limit to see what we are truly capable of. It's often been said that 'sports don't build character, they reveal it.' I'm inclined to say that they do both.

We know that building endurance, strength and fitness is a process that takes time, dedication and good old hard work. We push our bodies in this way so that they must find a way to adapt, and become more efficient. You have to force yourself into this state as an active, daily pursuit. Training is not a passive exercise.

The goal in training is not to beat ourselves up and see how badly we can make it hurt. Sometimes I think people forget, or misunderstand, that reality. I find this to commonly be the case with young rowers, who often approach racing and training with the above mindset—i.e., 'this is going to be really hard, and it is going to hurt a lot.' While this may be true, is that the right mental approach to a race? The pain and physical difficulty is a byproduct of the work that it takes to train your body to adapt to become efficient, powerful and fast. It is important to keep the focus on going fast, a byproduct of which will include a significant amount of discomfort in the form of fatigue, pain and soreness as a result of putting significant demands on your body's systems.

Don't be a victim. Every elite athlete in an endurance sport trains very hard. It is not unique to rowing, yet sometimes I think rowers like to think they work harder than every other sport. That is simply not true in my opinion. There are two problems with this belief. First, it will stop you from achieving your best. If you believe what you are doing is harder than it actually is or should be, I believe it will limit your ability to perform well and excel. Whereas, an approach or belief that the training is challenging but completely doable, will lead to more success. Second, it leads to a lack of appreciation for other elite athletes and other sports, which stunts athletic maturation.

I have often heard rowers take shots at athletes in other sports, saying things like, "He has no idea how hard rowing is. If he got on the erg he would last for about 250 meters before realizing he couldn't do it." Is that true? And if so, maybe it is because they haven't logged the hours dedicated to training and preparation that the rowers have. Here is an example of a non-rower (who clearly has very little idea what he is doing) performing quite well on a 2k ergometer piece. Somehow, he's managed to get himself in pretty good shape without doing the same training that rowers do on a daily basis. I think the driving force behind this negative mindset with respect to other sports is the lack of attention and respect rowing gets from non-rowers, who don't understand the sport and have no idea what it takes to be good. While others may not understand or appreciate rowing, we shouldn't attempt to disparage their sport, or take away from its value, in an attempt to legitimize our own.

Elite marathon runners and swimmers log incredible volume, as do elite cyclists, triathletes and cross-country skiers. There are many ways to work hard and train your body to do amazing things. Anyone telling you that rowing is more difficult than sports like swimming, or track, is off base. At the Olympic level, and even at the highest level collegiately, runners, swimmers and other athletes work just has hard as the top rowers, if not harder. Yes, I am aware that the guys at the University of Washington train incredibly hard to be the best in the nation. I am also aware that the top 5k and 10k runners in the NCAA log up to 110-120 miles of running per week (an average of over 15 miles a day) in addition to supplemental work including strength training, stretching, and core strength. The amount of hours spent in the pool and cross-training at the top swimming programs in the NCAA is equally if not more impressive. Sports like football log a tremendous amount of time on a daily and weekly basis on the practice field, in the weight room, in film sessions, and in team meetings to get to where they want to be (add to this the fact that, in addition to training, there is often significant recovery from injury that must be compressed into the schedule). It's all grueling. Rowing is not unique in this respect.

Yes, rowing is hard. Yes, it is impressive what rowers accomplish in terms of their mental and physical fitness and discipline. But rather than seeing it as some kind of 'quién es más macho?' contest, rowers should see themselves within the larger context of endurance athletes, who work tremendously hard, pushing themselves to their physical limits to accomplish some very impressive things. The next time you see an athlete training hard in another sport, appreciate the work that he or she puts in, just like you, and resist any urge to compare his/her work to yours. There is a lot to be gained from having a greater understanding appreciation of, and ultimately respect for, all top flight athletes, in all sports.

-Justin and the RR Team

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trial VIIIs on the Tideway: Cloak v. Dagger, and Hell v. High Water

Clouds over the Tideway (Photo: B. Kitch)
The Trial VIIIs for the 2012 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race took to the waters on the Thames earlier today, despite very difficult conditions. The races, which are intra-squad and typically feature pithy names (this year was no exception), help to determine lineups, and give the athletes their only chance at the full 4.5 mile Boat Race course on the Tideway, from Putney to Chiswick, before the main event. This year, the CUBC eights ('Cloak' and 'Dagger') took off first, at 1:15pm. The race featured a clash and several lead changes, with Cloak leading by more than a length at one point, but Dagger, stroked former Wisconsin Badger Stephen Dudek, making a decisive move near Barnes Bridge to secure the victory. CUBC president David Nelson (a veteran of the Australian junior and U23 national teams, as well as last year's Boat Race), who sat at seven in the Dagger crew, will undoubtedly be pleased with the efforts of his boat in rough water, as they responded well to a strong challenge from Cloak to win by three lengths in 20 minutes.

Oxford's crews set off from Putney at 2:30pm, at the top of the tide. 'Hell' and 'High Water' (aptly named given the weather/timing) were very evenly matched out of the start, with a clash occurring near the Mile Post. Hell, which featured OUBC president Karl Hudspith in the seven seat, former Yale lightweight and 2011 Rhodes Scholar William Zeng in the six seat, and former Dutch international Roel Haen in stroke, pulled away as they crossed underneath Hammersmith, and established a lead from which they were able to react to the repeated pushes of High Water, which featured German international Hanno Wienhausen, and Harvard alum Justin Webb of Australia (who rowed on the 2004 undefeated Crimson varsity eight, and who has won a world championship as a member of the Aussie surf boat team). In the end, Hell took the race by 1 and 3/4 lengths in 17:08.

For more on the 2011 Trial VIIIs, visit the official website of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, and see Martin Gough's informative piece on his blog. For a gallery from today's racing from Crewroom, please follow this link to their Facebook page.

-RR

Monday, December 12, 2011

VOTW: Support the U.S. National Team Women as They Pursue Glory in London



It goes beyond 'The List.' Beijing Olympian and 2011 U.S. national team member Megan Kalmoe is at it again, this time publishing a video promoting the 2012 'Power and Grace' Calendar. This is the second year of the project, which is a fundraiser for the U.S. women's team, with the proceeds going to help the athletes (who are committed to full-time training in what is, in the U.S., an amateur sport) in any number of ways–Kalmoe herself lists a few. The video includes footage from both training and racing, with clips of from Bled as well as the weight room in Princeton.

For more information and to order a copy of the 2012 calendar, follow the link below:
http://www.thetimefactory.com/products/us-womens-rowing-team

And for more videos featuring the U.S. women's national team (not to mention the 2011 edition of 'The List'), check out Megan's YouTube channel. Also, see Bryan's interview with Kalmoe about 'The List,' Movember and international banter in the upcoming issue of Rowing News.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race – Part 2 of 6



The second installment of the documentary on the Oxford crew as it prepares for the Boat Race in April has been released, covering the rigors of the student experience at England's oldest university as well as the intensity of a one-year program. Roel Haen of Skadi ARSRV, who rowed on the Dutch national team from 2004 (when he competed at the U23 level) through 2007, walks us through a typical day of training, while OUBC head coach Sean Bowden discusses the body's adaptations to the training and some of the overuse injuries that can occur as a result of such a repetitive sport, as well as the sacrifices that are made to produce the best possible outcome on the water.

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is on for 7 April, 2012 at 2:15pm GMT. For more information on the crews and the upcoming race, check out the official website of the Boat Race.

-RR

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moving Rowing Forward: Drew Ginn Leading the Way Again

Sculling silhouette (Photo by Kosala Bandara/Flickr)

In our sport, there is a pervasive feeling that some magic is at work when we watch fast crews perform. While there is certainly splendor in watching great athletes achieve to their potential, both on their own and as part of a unit, the secret is that there are no secrets. There is only work. Drew Ginn–a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and bronze medalist in Bled earlier this year–knows that as well as anyone.

Perhaps that's the reason he's so willing to share.

After all, as Kevin Light says in a recent interview about his new film on Mike Spracklen for RowingNews.com, "I don't think showing people from other countries that we trained hard to achieve what we did will make it any easier to do. In some cases it may make it even harder to do."

Ginn has been hard at work training lately, and I can say this definitively given his most recent blog posts. On Monday, Ginn posted an article to his blog, Rudderfish, reflecting on a recent 6k test, and sharing both previous scores as well as his results from the current test on sliders. Earlier today, Ginn posted the results from his 2k test (also on sliders), which is, to date, quite revolutionary for any elite-level rower. It's great to see that one of the most accomplished athletes in our sport is willing to share so much, and push the envelope, and it also points out just how far behind the curve we are in that respect, when compared to other sports.

Take the NFL Combine, for example. Everyone knows the specific, raw data that each athlete entering the NFL draft has produced following a series of physical tests. While that is a 'ball sport,' and there is less of a direct correlation between testing and playing the game, it is still public knowledge and gives the opposition an idea of an athlete's physical capabilities. There are comparable examples in nearly every other major sport. In cycling, they even go so far as to broadcast the heart rates of the athletes during racing–something that could certainly be used to gain an advantage, or even time an attack in a given stage.

While, in my opinion, going to the level of sharing vital signs for athletes during competition is too far, it seems to me that the greater rowing community benefits when athletes are willing to share test results and analyses in the manner of Drew Ginn, as the community can gain a better understanding of just how much work (and how much physical talent) it takes to succeed at the world level. At the same time, it helps the wider community to identify more closely with elite athletes, as the elites suffer the same trials and tests that all rowers go through, albeit at a different level.

With that shared experience comes a greater appreciation for and knowledge of the sport, and a better understanding across all levels, which moves the sport in the right direction. So, thank you, Drew, for taking what many would consider a risk in posting articles like the ones mentioned above. In so doing, you're moving world rowing into the 21st century, and giving athletes at every level a window into the highest level of our sport.

-RR

Monday, December 5, 2011

VOTW: World Cup Racing Set for Sydney, Australia in 2013 and 2014



The 2013 and 2014 summer racing seasons will feature action in the Southern Hemisphere, on the international regatta course in Sydney. As the video explains, a invitation will be extended to all medalists at the London Games for a subsidized trip to the first World Cup of 2013, set to take place in March as part of an expanded 'Sydney International Regatta Festival.' In addition to a great deal of footage from the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, there's also an appearance from Drew Ginn, as well as a number of shots of the venue in Sydney. With Australia coming off its most successful World Championships to date, the Aussie team will look to continue to build momentum through London, bringing elite, international competition to Australia for the first time since the Sydney Olympics. For more information see the official website of the event at rowingdownunder.org.

Coverage of the USRowing Annual Convention, which featured presentations by Mike Teti, Tim McLaren, Liz Trond, Kevin Sauer, Tom Bohrer, Harry Parker, and many others, upcoming on RowingNews.com.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, December 2, 2011

On the Road Again: The 2011 USRowing Annual Convention

Airport Sunrise (Photo: B. Kitch)
Rowing News is on the move once again, this time attending the 2011 USRowing National Convention in Hartford, CT. There are a number of extremely influential coaches presenting throughout the weekend event, including Mike Teti, Tim McLaren, Kevin Sauer, Tom Bohrer, Liz Trond, Lori Dauphiny, and Harry Parker, among others. Sara-Mai Conway of Flywheel Fitness and the Austin Rowing Club will also be in attendance, giving a presentation on the business of rowing. See here for a complete schedule, and look for updates from the convention via @rowingrelated and @RowingNews on Twitter, with further updates to RowingNews.com to come.

-RR

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Learning the Difference between Pain and Injury

In all sports, and especially in endurance sports, it is important for coaches and athletes alike to be able to differentiate, as much as possible, between pain and injury. The higher the level of training and the heavier the training load, the more difficult it becomes to walk this fine line. In rowing, as in other endurance sports, success is largely determined by mental and physical toughness, in both training and racing.

No matter how healthy or injury-free you may be as an athlete, achieving to your maximum capability on race day comes down to the ability to push through pain and discomfort. Rowing, like any racing sport, requires pushing up against one’s physical and mental limits (for a related article from The New York Times, click here). However, in addition pushing through manageable barriers, there are often instances in which the athlete, doctor/trainer, and coach must determine whether it is 'normal' pain or an actual injury that could detract from training and performance if not properly handled.

What is the best thing to do? Stop? Keep pushing through and hope the pain goes away?We’ve all been there, during a heavy training cycle, in the middle of a long, hard workout in which we experience a slight twinge, or even sharp pain somewhere in the body. What is the best thing to do? Stop? Keep pushing through and hope the pain goes away? Sometimes these moments are just minor pains that go away with normal rest following a workout, or work themselves out after a few days of subsequent/differentiated training. Other times, they are the beginning of a significant injury that only gets worse. It is an important part of athletic maturation to be aware of these differences, and be able to take part in the decision-making process.

Ideally, there will be a symbiotic/cooperative relationship between athlete, medical professional, and coach with a mutual understanding between all three parties despite their different priorities. The athlete will naturally be biased toward continuing to train through injury, as he/she will not want to lose any hard-earned edge in training or in competition. The medical professional will likely lean the other direction–now, more than ever, given the litigious nature of modern society, doctors are conservative with their recommendations. The coach, then, often takes on the position of fulcrum in this delicate balance, taking into account both his/her knowledge of the sport and the particular athlete (with which/whom the doctor may not have direct experience) as well as the information presented by the medical side.

The most important part of all this is that each figure in the triumvirate described above must play an active role. The athlete must learn to take on some level of personal responsibility in terms of identifying, to the greatest extent possible, the difference between pain and injury. Obviously, no athlete is going to be able to train or compete at a high level without pain, discomfort, soreness, and varying degrees of injuries. The key is to be active in identifying and treating them, and to be intelligent in dealing with them. It is up to the individual to know his/her own body, and discover the difference between pain and injury, which may take trial and error over time. The medical professional must be available to provide the data necessary to make a rational decision regarding continuing to train or altering the training plan, and the coach must understand both sides well enough to advise the athlete in either circumstance. For this reason, it is often most useful for a coach in any given sport to have a general background in exercise physiology.

Nicholas Purnell and Drew Ginn (right) in Bled (Photo: B. Kitch)
These questions arise at every level of competition, and affect every level of athlete. A prime example of this is Australia's Drew Ginn, who has battled injury throughout his career, winning multiple Olympic gold medals along the way, and who is likely to bring home more hardware from London next year (he recently took home the bronze in the M4- at the 2011 world championships–for a video interview with the Aussie M4- following their race in Bled, click here). Coincidentally, Ginn was also the World Rowing 'Athlete of the Month' for November, 2011, and his interview for the FISA website (quite comprehensive and very well done) covers a great deal of his training through injury over the years. During the Olympic regatta in Beijing, Drew and pair partner Duncan Free were unable to practice due to the condition of Ginn's back, but had done enough work leading up to the racing that they were able to put it together when it mattered most (more on this from The Canberra Times). Ironically enough, it's now Ginn who is awaiting the return of Duncan Free, as Free suffered a broken leg in a bike accident prior to the international racing season last summer (fortunately, he is recovering quite well).

Muscle imbalances and strength deficiencies can also lead to injury.To be sure, the goal is to be preventative and avoid injury as much as possible. The important keys for doing this include rowing with good technique, not increasing volume too rapidly, not doing hard sessions day after day, paying attention to core strength, getting enough sleep and proper nutrition so that the body can repair itself, etc. Most injuries occur either after a long break, or when an athlete or coach revs up the volume and/or intensity too rapidly for the body to handle, or in the middle of heavy volume training cycles when the body is fatigued and in a weakened state. All it takes is one bad stroke in the middle of a long, hard workout in a heavy volume week, one heavyweight squat with poor stability/core strength, or repeated strokes with deteriorating form in the middle of a workout to lead to injuries that require time away from training. Muscle imbalances and strength deficiencies can also lead to injury. Injuries, outside of freak accidents, typically don’t just happen–more often, they are often a result of or a response to something that could have been altered in hindsight. By keeping this in mind and staying smart, injuries can be avoided.

While it is important not to generalize, given that every athlete is different, and every athlete's body will respond in different ways, it can be said that, if you are suffering from a sport-specific injury, then there are nearly always ways to train around that injury, which will maintain overall fitness through periods of altered training. As Ginn describes in his interview, he suffered a rib injury early on in the 2011 season, limiting his ability to row, but, in his case, not limiting his ability to utilize the watt bike. Cross-training becomes extremely important to maintain base fitness, and, as long as it can be done without affecting the existing injury, can often be done at a higher volume to compensate for the loss of sport-specificity. This will not only help with performance upon making the transition back to rowing training–it may help the healing/recovery process as well.

-Justin and The RR Team

Monday, November 28, 2011

VOTW: 2012 Olympic Hopefuls Training at California Rowing Club



This week's VOTW comes to us from CRC head coach Bernhard Stomporowski, and features 16 athletes in contention for eight seats in London, at the outset of training camp (the number of athletes will likely grow next month). In addition to shots of the rowing (controlled rate pieces, roughly 26 s/m), there is also footage of the facilities and the available stretch of water, which we featured on RowingNews.com when Stomporowski first arrived in Oakland. While the group is not yet fully assembled, there is already a great deal of talent on hand (including David Banks, Josh Inman, Ty Otto, Mike Gennaro, Nareg Guregian, Steve Kasprzyk, Tom Peszek, Joe Spencer, and the Winklevoss twins, among others)–Mike Teti will have plenty of horsepower from which to mould an eight, and we are very excited to see what he can do in 2012.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The 2012 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: The Challenge Has Been Accepted



According to the official Twitter feed of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the Challenge has been accepted as of 2pm PST today, and the 2012 edition of the regatta has been scheduled for 7 April at 14:45. The above video takes a look inside the Autumn training 'programme' at Oxford, with some insights into the nature of the competition from Oxford Blue and GB international Andrew Triggs-Hodge, OUBC head coach Sean Bowden, as well as 2012 OUBC President Karl Hudspith. This piece is the first in a series of six that will be produced by Oxford University.

For more on the Xchanging Boat Race, please visit the official website of the event. And stay tuned for more updates from the Tideway as we draw closer to the main event!

-RR

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Movember Updates: British and Canadians Going Stache for Stache

Megan Kalmoe's rating system is back in action, with the top 'tash talent' from the GB squad under scrutiny on her blog as the final days of Movember approach (see here for Kalmoe's latest post)–see the 'Rowing Chat' Twitter widget on the right side of the page for more updates. Not to be outdone, the Canadian men's team is also testing the limits of social awareness with some outstanding mustaches of its own, as evidenced by Kevin Light's classic photo of Rob Gibson and Will Crothers. While it's all in good fun, there is still time to support the cause that has given rise to the competition, and there are a number of athletes with fundraising pages in the fight against cancer–for a list of those mustachioed GB rowers seeking donations for cancer research, please see the official website of British Rowing.

So far, we're giving the edge on 'Movember Photo of the Year' to Crothers and Gibson–if you think you've got what it takes, then ship it on over, but the above is going to be a tough one to top this year!

Speaking of Kevin Light, he has just released his full-length DVD, 'The Spracklen Philosophy.' We've seen it, and it's good. Look for an interview with Kevin coming this Friday to RowingNews.com, about what inspired the film, how it was put together, and what it means in terms of Spracklen's legacy.

-RR

Monday, November 21, 2011

Video of the Week: The Men's Eight Final in Barcelona



This week's VOTW comes from the 1992 Olympic Games, which are on our minds as we draw ever closer to London 2012, as it was in Barcelona that Great Britain's Greg Searle won his first Olympic medal–a gold in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport (for our VOTW feature on that race, click here). The men's eight in '92 was extremely aggressive, with stroke ratings sticking to 38 and above from the leading crews, and markedly different technique from what we see from the majority of international crews today. The race also features one of the smallest margins between gold and bronze of any Olympic final–as the saying goes, it's a 'game of inches.'

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 18, 2011

RR Interview: Beijing Gold Medalist and Reigning World Champion Mark Hunter of Team GB

Hunter (left) and Purchase after the A final in Bled (Photo: B. Kitch)
Mark Hunter is a racer, through and through. From his earliest days in the sport, he exhibited the right combination of talent and determination that it takes to succeed, and in September of this year he and fellow GB lightweight Zac Purchase successfully defended their world championship title (for a video interview with Hunter and Purchase from Bled following the race, click here). Next year in Eton, Mark and Zac will look to defend their Olympic crown on home water–something that means a great deal both of them as they embark on the path to London 2012. Here, Mark shares a little about his past, present, and hopes for the future with RR.

RR: You've been involved in the sport of rowing for quite some time now, and are currently among those GB oarsmen favo(u)red to win a second gold medal in 2012, in your home town (well, I guess technically closer to Slough, but near your hometown, anyway). How did your experience of rowing begin, and how much does the possibility of winning on home water add to your own and to team GB's determination to succeed in London?

MH: My experience of rowing began way back in 1992 when I was 14. I started the sport at a place called Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club on the River Thames. I use to wade in the mud to boat and then row between the Thames Barrier and Tower Bridge with ships and tankers creating a lot of wash. The thing that made me want to be an Olympian was watching the Barcelona Olympics on TV, watching the Searle brothers win gold made me want to embark on that journey to becoming an Olympic Champion.

Winning gold in Beijing was incredible and to achieve that was too special for words. London is the only thing that will be able to top that. Winning on home water would be something utterly unique and special in a very different way, with all my family, friends there and the immense support that every British athlete will be getting from the British public.

RR: In the US system, there is a tendency to change lineups nearly every year. When you and Zac Purchase first rowed the 2x, was there an immediate sense that it could work? Has the lineup ever changed during training?

MH: When we first got together we were two very fast single scullers who could move our sculls quickly, but we didn't have the skills to harness that in the 2x with other people. From the moment we got in the boat together, however, we knew it could go places. There is a saying that 2x either works or doesn't; and it's not something which you can make, it just clicks. But a double does need time to progress and develop so each athlete can learn about the other and work on helping each other with their weaknesses, and, most important of all, how to get the best out of each other. We have tried other combinations in training, but we know ours is unique as we have worked hard to establish ourselves as the best at what we do and the way we move and work together. It's about us as a crew now–not as individuals.

RR: During the journey toward Beijing, you and Zac posted better and better results on the World level, in pursuit of what had been a very dominant 2x in Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist. After taking bronze at Worlds in 2007, was there a feeling that all you two needed was time together in the lineup to find yourselves on the top of the podium?

MH: Our results did improve over the 18 months leading in to Beijing, and if you look back at the event all bronze medalist crews bomb out the following year, so we were up against it. We worked really hard behind the scenes with our coach and support team, we had a great plan on how we were going to improve and change the colour of our medal from Bronze to Gold. We covered every angle possible so we could give ourselves the best chance of Winning and make British rowing history.

RR: 2008 was a golden year, with three World Cup wins going into Beijing, and an Olympic Gold at the end of it. During that run, did you feel any added pressure being at the top of the heap? Or were you feeling still more confident as you were clearly at the top of your game?

MH: It was a perfect World Cup season in terms of results but we were never totally ready for those events, and to be honest we won most of the races because we are a good racing crew. But arriving in Beijing we were favourites and back home we were one of Team GB dead certs for Gold, so the pressure was building along with the expectation.

It was a strange week of racing at the Games. I felt in the shape of my life and somehow knew it was our time to win and the only way it wouldn't happen would be if we did something stupid. But the pressure was mounting as the week went on, and I became quieter and quieter because at my previous Games I came last in the LM4-, so this was truly my chance of going from the very bottom to the very top! The easiest way for me to give people an idea of being favourites at the Olympics, would be comparing it to sitting your college/school exams. Your studying is my training, every day turning up doing the best job possible to learn and improve. The world cups are like mid terms, and the Olympic final is like doing the final exam hoping the work you've done day to day will pay off on that final test where you have to get 100%. The only plus side of an Olympic final you know the result straight away and picking up your degree with the world watching!

RR: After Beijing, you took a year away from the UK and from training at the elite level, in order to pursue coaching in Los Angeles, California as a member of the UCLA Women's Rowing coaching staff. When you returned to full-time training after the Spring of 2009, it was clear that you were ready to pick up right where you left off in 2008. How important was it for you to have that time away, and how do you think it helped you as you stepped back into the Olympic training cycle?

MH: My time coaching at UCLA was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. To leave the UK after all the expectation of winning at the Olympics and be able to completely switch off and, in my eyes, have the best job in the world was unbelievable. I was living the Californian dream in Santa Monica by the beach, coaching in Marina del Ray then on campus coaching at UCLA– how does it get any better then that? At that point I had no interest of competing in London as I was enjoying normal life and I'd accomplished my life-long goal and dream. The Chief Coach at UCLA Amy Fuller Kearney was the one who planted the seed in my mind of a home Olympics after she told me about her experiences of stepping away from the sport, and the WOW factor of a home Olympics (Atlanta). Then after watching my novice/freshman girls race made me remember why I started rowing and why I enjoyed racing so much. Looking back now, that break helped me hugely as you realise that there is a real world out there, let me know that I can survive in it, and also that I had some unfinished business with rowing and needed to come back to defend my title in front of a home crowd.

RR: While you were away, Zac Purchase struggled for some time with a viral illness that hampered his training, and caused him to take Spring and Summer 2009 off as well. When you returned, was he ready to jump back into training? How long did it take until the two of you were once again physiologically ready?

MH: We started at a identical points having missed a year of racing and both believed the standard of the LM2x hadn't moved on. It was pretty much where we left it, but the depth of the event had grown.

We knew we had a lot of work to do as we were there mentally, but not physically, up until the World Champs in New Zealand. Winning at our first world cup back racing in the 2x in Munich was great but we purely did that with our skill of racing as a double. Then in Lucerne the bubble of winning was burst when we got 5th. We hadn't lost in 19 races until that point. That was really the turning point and what we needed. After that we trained better and harder than we ever had before and it was amazing and exciting to see how much more we both were able to get out of ourselves compared with 2008.

RR: Your performances in Karapiro and in Bled have strongly stated that you and Zac are the 2x to beat in the coming season. In the US, we often use the saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' With things going so well, has the structure of your training plan changed at all? Or has it remained consistent?

MH: We performed well in Karapiro and due to the challenging conditions we never got to race over the full track, due to winning all our races in the first 1000m. We didn't get to use all our hard work from our intense training because we were never really pushed. As a combination I suppose we are the crew to beat, but the event has other great combinations which we always respect and enjoy racing against.

Going in to this year's World Champs in Bled we had no racing from the World Cup season to look back on. We got back in the boat 6 weeks before Bled and were essentially starting from scratch. We knew we had a lot to do and we knew it was going to be quite stressful and challenging, but it would put us in a position to challenge the inform crews.

Our speed over the 6 weeks was increasing all the time, but we wouldn't be the fittest crew in the event, so our skills of racing as a unit would need to be even better than before.  We progressed really well through the regatta and made improvements and stepped up each round.

In the final we knew what we had to do and how we would win. When I look back I think this was our most satisfying victory as we were nowhere near our best, but could still turn it on and make things happen when we needed to. For me this summed up why we are such a unique and successful combination, and showed our total belief and trust in each other.

At home we still have to go through the selection process just like anyone else, which can make it difficult to totally focus on the big races at London 2012. The people after your seat don't look at the bigger picture they just want to beat you there and then, so it's always important we put in solid performances as individuals at trials and testing along the way. I can't tell you about the training plan as it's top secret, but all you need to know is we are working very hard!

RR: Following the London Olympic Games, do you have a sense for where you'd like your rowing career to take you? Did the experience of coaching at UCLA spark an interest in future coaching opportunities, at home or abroad? Or are you purely focused on your preparation as you build toward defending home water at Eton?

MH: After 2012 I'm keen to enjoy life once again, but I won't be dashing off and leaving the UK in the same way. It is hard to think about things after as I'm totally focused on having my ultimate row on August 4th, 2012!

I did enjoy my experience of coaching at UCLA very much, It would be something I'm keen to carry on with and maybe try and get to the top in once I'm finished competing. With my free time outside of training I do enjoy talking to youngsters and trying to inspire them in to following their dreams and making them understand it's a lot of hard work but anything is possible. I also enjoy speaking at corporate events, which involves me telling my story of how you can turn things around (Athens to Beijing), using certain attributes in the right way -- so I'm keen on some (or all) forms of teaching!

Thanks very much to Mark Hunter for taking the time. Also, along with many other members of the GB national team, Mark has a 'mospace' in honor of Movember, through which you can donate to the fight against cancer (direct link: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/1870014/)


-RR

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Avoiding Burnout

Tideway from Putney Bridge (Photo: © B. Kitch)
Frankly, I think avoiding burnout in rowing is pretty simple–don't expect to get burnt-out and you might find that you'll do just fine. Like lots of things in life, the more people talk about a concept or phenomenon, the more likely it is that it will come to fruition. I think 'burnout' is a prime example of the power of suggestion at work.

Look at some of the all-time greats in rowing, like Steve Redgrave, Elisabeta Lipa and Drew Ginn. Ginn, for example, has gone through about as much as anyone can go through in terms of adversity, battling serious, career-threatening injuries again and again, and yet he continues to not only row at a high level but also produce podium results (as has his Beijing pair partner, Duncan Free). We can also look to other sports, such as running, which is much more intense in terms of the toll it takes on the body over the long-term (given the impact to the lower limbs). One of the world's most famous runners, Haile Gebrselassie, who grew up running 10 kilometers to school and back daily as a young child, has continued to have tremendous success in the marathon at the age of 38. Although he is continually asked by the media when he is going to retire, and actually announced his retirement in 2010 after the New York City Marathon, he reneged on that announcement only a few short days later.

Of course, it is normal to be overwhelmed and exhausted at times, both mentally and physically, especially in the midst of a difficult training block, or in the moments right before or after a major peak. However, instead of expecting to be burnt-out at some point, simply allow yourself to step back and take a break. That is, give yourself a breather when this happens, but don't be so quick to pull the trigger and call it 'burnout.' The feeling of being overwhelmed is natural–it is a product of the necessary training in what is certainly a demanding endurance sport, which features peaks and valleys in intensity. The danger lies in the mental perception of being overwhelmed–once you tell yourself that you have reached the semi-permanent state of 'burnout,' you'll have trouble changing your outlook, and perhaps end a career in rowing prematurely because of it. How often does someone finish a collegiate rowing career, only to never take another stroke on the erg or on the water ever again, save the random alumni row once every few years? I don't think collegiate swimmers or runners stay out of the pool or off the roads as much as rowers stay away from the erg and boat. Because aerobic endurance and technical skill/savvy are huge factors in rowing, it is important that elite athletes stay in it for the long haul if they are going to reach their best. The commonly held belief is that it takes something in the range of 10,000 hours of practice to attain a level of expertise in a given exercise.

How common is the phrase, "I'm burnt-out from my high school rowing career, and I've lost the passion," or the ever popular, "It isn't fun anymore," when someone decides to 'hang up the spikes?' If you find yourself saying this, I would venture to bet that you probably never had the passion. Whose job is it to make it fun? In the simplest of terms, rowing is a racing sport. It is fun to challenge yourself and to race others. The nature of the sport itself doesn't change–the difference is that the level gets higher, the training gets harder and the competition gets better as you progress. As a result, it becomes harder to win, and harder to have success.

I understand the idea that heavy training loads in a highly demanding and competitive environment without perceived success can wear down one's psyche, but I don't see how it can lead to a permanent state of burnout. It's as though there is a perception that we each have a finite amount of energy to be spent on a given sport, like a light bulb. What's in order, when this happens, is a chat with a coach and a re-evaluation of progress, focusing on the positive, and addressing any problem areas with practical, potential solutions.

If we look at rowing compared to other sports, it becomes clear that, especially in the United States, rowing is not among those sports pursued the longest. By the time gymnasts, soccer players, tennis players or swimmers get to college, they have probably been involved in their sport for something in the range of 10-12 years. By the time the most experienced rowers in the United States get to college, they typically have less than half of that experience in their chosen sport. And while rowing is certainly intense in terms of year round training and racing, it is common for top-prospect Division I athletes in sports like swimming and soccer to train twice a day year round, and to play on club teams as well as high school teams. Obviously, the phenomenon of burnout is not unique to rowing, but it is alarming how prevalent it is given the relative length of the average career in the sport among young Americans. Simply removing the potential roadblock of 'expected burnout' will not solve the problem entirely, but I believe it could have a substantial impact. The problem of burnout can further be avoided by structuring an informed and balanced training plan. If coaches constantly push athletes too hard, it will expedite the 'burnout' process.

It is every individual's prerogative to do something with his or her life for a finite period of time, but just call it what it is–say that you don't want to do it anymore. I think that, in many ways, burnout is a construct of our increasingly cautious society. We are constantly living in fear of asking too much of people, or pushing them too hard. Yes, it is important to be wary of pushing young children too hard in year round sports before they can make the decision for themselves about their desire to participate, but, with high school age and older I think we need to take off the 'kid gloves' and let these teenagers and young adults participate in sports as intensely as they wish.

People often find what they are looking for, and if they are constantly checking their figurative pulse to see if they are burnt-out yet, they will most likely discover that they are–like many aspects of sport, and of life, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-Justin and the RR Team

Monday, November 14, 2011

VOTW: 2011 Head of the River Fours, Courtesy of Upper Thames Rowing Club



This week's VOTW comes to us from the Tideway in London, where the 57th Head of the River Fours was held just over a week ago. The video takes us past the Harrods Furniture Depository on the way up to the start, into the starting queue upriver of Chiswick Bridge, and down the course through Barnes and Hammersmith, all from inside the boat–nice bit of editing as well. For complete results from the Fuller's Head of the River Fours, see the official website of the regatta at hor4s.org.uk, as well as Bryan's coverage of the event on RowingNews.com, and check out stelph82's YouTube Channel for more 'first-person' videos from the Thames, including the HOR4s race in full (in two parts), and the Henley Head.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 Fall Speed Orders, and Issues with 2012 Selection



The 2011 Fall Speed Orders are underway, with rumors of 6k times flying around on the Rowing Illustrated boards already (according to these rumors, Warren Anderson and Glenn Ochal posted the top two times, both of them in the 18:30s). (For some footage, courtesy of CRC Head Coach Bernhard Stomprowski, see above.) There are a number of issues to discuss regarding speed orders, but perhaps nothing so grave as the flaws inherent in the selection procedures approved for the men's eight and men's four camps in 2012. While it is obviously an attempt to make the best of a complex situation, it fails in terms of generating clear guidelines for the country's best athletes, for reasons to be discussed below.

The interesting items at the speed order in Chula Vista include Glenn Ochal and Jamie Koven making the switch from sculling (which they have been doing throughout this quadrennium) to sweep, choosing to race in pair combinations (Ochal is paired with Josh Inman, and Koven with Silas Stafford). The broadest interpretation of this move might be that the two scullers feel they have a better chance at a medal next year if they are part of the sweep group, which is a natural conclusion, based on the current situation. Fewer athletes will be selected in the sculling group, and given the job that Mike Teti has done in the past when given the opportunity, he may just be able to pull it off again in London with the men's eight. It seems to me, as an outsider, that the athletes have faith in Teti's ability, and feel that they stand a greater chance at a 'fair shake' in Teti's camp. However, this is speculation on my part.

Getting down to more serious issues, the 2012 selection procedures have some clear flaws that no one seems to be discussing. According to the literature, which has also been posted to the Rowing Illustrated boards, the selection for the M4- will be conducted as follows:
Eight athletes will be invited to a M4- camp in Chula Vista; two athletes will be cut from this camp by January 30th; the final selection will take place in Chula and the four will be named by June 22nd. 
On its face, this seems reasonable. However, now read the selection procedures for the eight (which must be compressed due to the eight's failure to qualify for Olympics):
12 athletes will be invited to final selection camp by January 2nd; Camp may include up to 18 athletes, depending on coaches' discretion; final selection and naming of the eight by April 30th (for Olympic qualification regatta on May 20th).
See any problems with this overarching structure? The athletes that are invited to the fours camp (which will presumably be given 'top priority,' as it is a boat that is already qualified, and the head coach of the men's national team will be running the camp) should be the top athletes in the U.S. going out for sweep boats. The first cuts (Jan 30th) will allow time for those athletes to make the move north to try to break into the eight camp before the boat must be selected, but the final cuts will not be made until June 22nd. This is after the M2- Olympic Trials take place (set for June 11th-15th), so the men from the fours camp would have to take time away from their selection for the four to race the M2- at Trials (it is manageable, however, and should one of the Chula pairs win, they could always turn down the spot, but it would spell an unnecessary training disadvantage for athletes in a boat that is already qualified). There is speculation that Justin Stangel and Tom Peszek have elected to train in the M2- in OKC all year with the goal of winning Trials (and who are moving the boat quite well), though they are racing this weekend in Princeton. Should the two elect to stay in the pair, there would be risks involved, as USRowing literature states that athletes training specifically for the M2- (one of the U.S. men's boats that qualified in Bled) will not be allowed to train in Chula Vista, presumably because it is a Trials event (though this is not stated specifically).

If the four is the priority boat, it simply has to be selected before the eight–if the eight qualifies at the regatta on May 20th, it qualifies the athletes in the eight as well as the boat, not just the boat class (i.e. it must be the exact same lineup that races in London). If you select the 'priority' boat after having chosen the eight, then clearly you are risking losing two of the best athletes in the entire system, as the final group in Chula is cut from six to four, and the M4- is named.

Does this seem like the best possible way to attract the best talent to your 'top priority' selection camp? How is it that none of this is being discussed or addressed anywhere? Thinking from the perspective of the athletes, I would prefer the eight camp, where the selection would be conducted early enough for me to put something else together if need be, and I'd not be at risk of being the fifth-fastest rower in the U.S., sitting at home on my couch and tuning into the television broadcast from London next July. But, then again, that's just me.

As we've stated before, the good news is that there is a great deal of talent in the mix. Here's hoping that the best talent is given the greatest opportunity to succeed at the Olympic Games next year–the real reason for asking the above-posed questions.

-Bryan and the RR Team

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Is it best to be even-keeled?

Sunrise at California Rowing Club (Photo: B. Kitch)
It's 'common wisdom' among top coaches in major professional and collegiate sports (often echoed by athletes) that it is best to avoid letting the highs get too high and the lows get too low in reference to the emotions that accompany successes and failures. While there can certainly be value in not always succumbing to one's emotions, and reacting impulsively and irrationally in the wake of what appears to be an especially good or poor performance, I disagree with the oft stated cliché and feel that coaches and athletes need to both celebrate the successes and take time wallow in the sorrow and disappointment of the failures.

Rowing, as with all sports, is a competitive endeavor. The very word 'athlete' comes from the Greek verb athlein (to compete for a prize), derived from athlos (contest) and athlon (prize). Athletes, then, are those who compete for a trophy. It takes a lot of effort, talent, and hard work to succeed at any level. Winning in rowing is not easy, and as a result the successes should be celebrated and thoroughly enjoyed by all involved. This doesn't mean that every time you win a race or set a personal best in the weight room or on the erg, you should throw a party and proceed to rest on your laurels, but it does mean that you should allow yourself to feel the sense of accomplishment, and fully realize the connection between the work that was put in and the result of that hard work. Although it might be impressive to others as an external show or façade that you aren't celebrating a big win, there is nothing wrong with enjoying something you have earned, whether you wear it on your sleeve or not.

Similarly, the losses and shortcomings should also be recognized with the appropriate emotional response. Failure to let yourself fully embrace the gloom that accompanies a loss or failed performance can be even more detrimental than failing to enjoy the successes, as that period of gloom can also foster new thinking and a new approach. This is not to say that a reactionary approach is best–sometimes it is good to stay the course, even through minor failures, because reacting to every bump in the road is not a good strategy. However, if things are really on a downward path, something needs to change in order to prevent further poor performances in the future.

For example, if you lose a race to an important opponent whom you could have beaten by a couple of seconds, it probably isn't cause for panic. In such a case, athletes and coaches are usually best served to stay the course and maintain consistency in order to get the payoff down the road that often results from consistency and dedication. But, if you lose a string of three consecutive races by significant margins, it may be appropriate to re-evaluate things and think about trying a new approach. As the saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is 'the definition of insanity.'

If you fail to let yourself be emotional when it is appropriate, you are limiting yourself and your growth from those moments, whether they are successes or failures.

While I can understand why coaches cite the mantra of not getting too emotional one way or another as a means of staying rational and objective, I think that often this is simply because it seems like the right thing to say. When a coach or athlete wins a big race or game in another sport, it might be the cool thing to say, 'it was just another race, that is what we expected and that's what we came here to do,' in order to appear in control and composed. 'Act like you've been there before,' as people say. However, I think that not letting oneself enjoy hard earned success can have a negative impact rather than a positive one. In fact, I find it funny that some of the best coaches and athletes in the world are the ones who most commonly use the phrase 'don't let the highs get too high or the lows get too low,' because they are clearly driven by success and failures. The top coaches and athletes in the world have a tremendous desire to win, and hate to lose. So, somewhere inside, they are constantly pursuing the successes and working to learn from the failures.

Let's be clear–I am not advocating extreme, impulsive reactions one way or the other based on whichever side of average a particular performance falls. It is always important as a coach and athlete to maintain a level of objectivity and realize that a performance is never as bad as you initially think and never as good as you initially think. Usually, they are somewhere in the middle. This is where a level of objective rationality is important. It's not always easy to take a step back to try and really understand whether a performance is good, bad, or just average. With time and experience, however, this can be learned and used as a tool to spark change when necessary and reinforce success when necessary.

The next time you win a big race or set a personal best on the erg, allow yourself to celebrate and fully enjoy it as a positive reward for success. This doesn't have to be a fist-pumping, chest-pounding outward show of exuberance–it can be as simple as a smile–but it should be honest. What is important is allowing yourself to feel the weight of your accomplishments, as well as failures along the way, as both will further motivate you to succeed and allow you to fully live in the moment–to to draw determination from difficult defeats, and fully experience that rare, sweet instant when victory is secure.

–Justin and the RR Team

Monday, November 7, 2011

VOTW: NARF Interview with Brian de Regt, John Graves as 'Movember' Begins



This week's VOTW comes from the 2011 Newport Autumn Rowing Festival, which featured what was perhaps the largest field in the regatta's history, racing through stormy conditions (but, let's face it, how bad can it really be in Newport Beach?) on Sunday. Among the racers were several members of the Graves family, who teamed up to form an extremely competitive 'Little Knights' crew that took second overall in the men's open eight. John Graves (who represented the U.S. in the LM1x in Munich and Hamburg at the World Cups earlier this year) and Brian de Regt (who stroked the U.S. LM2x in Bled) joined Pete and Tom Graves (U.S. M2x at Worlds this year) in the lineup, and the crew was able to take second place behind California, ahead of Stanford's entries in the event. Not only this, but the Graves/de Regt duo are sporting some of the most 'Movember-appropriate' facial hair around, adding momentum to the movement that is taking off at home and overseas (here's a link to GB oarsman Chris Bartley's Movember fundraising page, by way of example).

For more on the weekend's racing, check out the weekend recap on RowingNews.com.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 4, 2011

Updates to RR: Coaching Page Added, Coverage to Come from Newport

This Fall has been quite a busy one at RR, with a great deal of new content on the way (currently in the editorial stages), more traveling to do (this weekend we are headed down to Newport, CA to cover the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival for Rowing News), and a new page added to the RR masthead–the Coaches' Corner page. Your requests have been answered and we've made it easier to find some of the more useful articles for coaching and training on RR by giving them a standalone page, to which we'll add any subsequent articles of a similar nature.

While the Fours Head on the Tideway will feature of host of GB international talent, NARF looks to be a 'mini hub' of international rowing in itself, with much of USRowing's men's squad now located in Southern California, and several 2011 U.S. national team members in the mix this weekend, including Peter and Tom Graves (who represented the U.S. in Bled in the M2x, and who just won their third straight title in the men's championship double at the 2011 Head Of The Charles–see Bryan's interview with Pete here from Rowing News' coverage of the event), and Brian De Regt, who stroked the U.S. LM2x in Slovenia. California and Stanford will also be in action, as will the Connecticut Boat Club junior women, coming across for another shot at a very talented Oakland Strokes team that just edged Marin for the top spot in Boston, while the Marin Junior Men will look to stay dominant.

Also, we have our hopes up for big things this Movember, with the GB squad already sculpting some wicked facial artwork (see Bill Lucas' cancer research fundraising page here, and the official site of GB Rowing for further examples), and we're looking for the best your can muster by the end of the month. Put something together on YouTube, send us the link, and the best of the best will be featured on RR in December.

More to come from SoCal–check out Rowing News' coverage through the weekend with additional updates to come on RR.

-RR

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Setting the Standard, and Building Mental Toughness

Mentally tough, to be precise (Photo: © Kate Mead)
Mental toughness is a necessary trait of all great athletes. It is a trait that, unlike many other important characteristics, is not based on genetics or natural ability. Anyone can be tough, be disciplined, and possess great work ethic if he/she makes the decision to do so. Mental toughness, resilience, tenacity–all are important in terms of pushing one's body through physical pain in training and racing.

It is also of the greatest importance to have the resilience and fortitude to be disciplined with respect to the technical aspects of the sport, in order to focus on all the details, with the goal of refining one's boat moving ability.

As a coach, the key to ensuring that the athletes develop this mental state of focus and attention to detail is having high expectations–do not accept anything less than the necessary standard. Obviously, it is important to make sure the standard is achievable and realistic–novice rowers cannot be expected to row like Olympians. However, I think the expectations can and must remain very high. In this way, the athletes will be pushed to achieve to their fullest potential.

I think that often times, coaches are guilty of not expecting enough from their athletes in the early stages of development. As a result, these coaches let the athletes get away with undisciplined rowing, which can develop into bad habits that not only become ingrained into their muscle memory, but also become a part of their level of expectations, and their understanding of the allowable standard. It only does the athletes a disservice to let them row at a level below the necessary standard, as they will be under the false impression that what they are doing is good enough.

So, while it is important to keep the standards achievable and within reason, it is also important that coaches push their athletes, from both a technical and physiological standpoint. It is amazing what the human body and mind can do. When you think about the fact that the body heals itself when sick or wounded, regulates itself in terms of chemical and hormone levels, and is a true biomechanical system, where usage strengthens rather than weakens, you begin to appreciate just how much you can accomplish. The body does these things because it has to in order to survive. So, if more is asked or required of the body as an athlete in order to have success in training and racing, the body will respond.

It's amazing what people can do when the bar is set at a high level. It has been said before, but I have found that people will rise or fall to wherever the bar is set (within reason). Lots of what separates different programs is the level of coaching, and the level of expectations. Expectations inform the athletes not only what is okay/acceptable, but also what is possible. It can be surprising how much of an impact can be made on performance, technically and physically, merely by raising the standard of what is acceptable. If a coach expects a lot out of the athletes, and knows how to go about teaching them the way to get there, they will rise to that level of expectation. If we make the mistake of having expectations that are too low, it will affect the ability to perform and achieve. If you don't first expect yourself to be great, you will lack the confidence necessary to achieve at a high level, and will naturally doubt yourself and your abilities.

If, in a given program, one only needs to go 6:20 on the erg to make the varsity eight, the athletes might not perform as well across the board as if they were in a different program, where an erg score of 6:05 or better was required for the varsity eight. There are two reasons why this would impact performance: first, by having no chance to get in the top boat without going a certain speed, the athletes are left no choice but to find a way to achieve that or get as close as possible–so, even if an athlete can't achieve the level required, they will likely push themselves a little bit further than if they could get into a top boat without going as fast; second, in an environment where athletes are going faster, the athletes will realize what is possible when they look around at their teammates.

This is why world records will continue to drop over time in all sports. Of course, technology and training methods help performance to increase over time, but merely having the bar set at a certain place will cause people to find a way to rise to that level. Even though things like training methodologies, technology and nutrition have improved significantly over the last 60 years, I don't think they are the sole reason we have seen the world record in the mile or marathon drop so significantly in running. The four-minute mile was a perfect example of this. Roger Bannister became the first to break four minutes for the mile on the track when he did it in 1954. Once he broke the magic barrier that top runners had been pursuing for some time, it opened the door for many others to go well under that mark with others doing it that same year. The world record in the mile has since been lowered almost 17 seconds under the four minute mark to 3:43.13. A similar progression has taken place in every nearly every other event in all sports. As the bar gets raised, so does the performance of the top athletes because what it takes to be successful is constantly improving.

This also applies to technical standards. If rowers can make a boat without being particularly disciplined or technically savvy, they may have unnecessary inefficiencies in their technique. These same rowers, were they in a more competitive environment, may be capable of eliminating those inefficiencies, and would be pushed to do so more quickly because of their situation. While some of this may be the result of complacency, a large majority of it is a sort of Darwinian-type 'survival of the fittest' phenomenon, by which people will achieve more if they are required to do so. It is part of the coach's job to create an environment that encourages this kind of evolution of athletic performance. This is a large part of the difference between collegiate club rowing programs and top varsity level programs.

We see it in many team sports, when a coach is fired and a new coach begins, takes the same athletes that couldn't win under the old coach, and turns those same athletes into winners by raising the bar, demanding a certain level of performance, and, most importantly, creating an environment which both forces and allows the athletes to find a way to succeed.

-Justin and the RR Team

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Edition VOTW: California v. Nereus, Henley 2011, and Movember Begins



This week's (slightly delayed) VOTW comes to us from the 2011 Henley Royal Regatta, and features the undefeated Cal frosh eight taking on Nereus in the Temple Challenge Cup final on Sunday, 3rd July. The video is shot from the official's launch, and gives the viewer both a sense of just how good the Bears were last season, as well as a virtual tour of the HRR course, form start to finish. For more content about Henley 2011, check out the 'On The Water' series–personal take on the regatta and the racing–that we put together with Matt Miller of Virginia men's rowing (The UVa men raced to Saturday in the Temple, when they were defeated by Nereus).

Also, today marks the first day of Movember, giving men everywhere an excuse to grow facial hair in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer research. See below for some inspiration:



CHALLENGE TO ROWERS: SUBMIT YOUR OWN Movember video to RR!
Here at RR, we are awaiting attempts from rowers to come up with quality Movember videos–break out the cameras, and get in touch via our contact page, or via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated) with submissions, and the top Movember rowing spot will be posted as an RR feature in December.

-RR

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Update from the Road: Upcoming Coverage from Philly and Princeton This Weekend



I've not yet figured out a way to write while driving, but I'm working on it. In the meantime, the above is a video from the trip down to Philadelphia from Boston, moving on from coverage of the Head Of The Charles to the Schuylkill and the Princeton Chase this weekend. The weather men are predicting snow storms, but (fortunately) we're well equipped with waterproof gear and will be bringing you more coverage of the racing on RowingNews.com throughout the weekend–and stay up to date with @RowingNews and @rowingrelated on Twitter for updates on the action as it happens out here on Boathouse Row.

More to come as the racing kicks off Saturday morning in Philadelphia.

-RR

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coaches' Corner: How to set your athletes up for success, mentally and physically

Drysdale leads through the enclosures (Photo: B. Kitch)
Whether you are coaching athletes or you are an athlete yourself, it is always important to set yourself up for success. What this means is not putting yourself in a position where your mind or body will fail by trying to do too much, too soon, or biting off more than you can chew, from a training and racing perspective.

Examples of this include trying to handle a larger workload than is practical in terms of training volume, expecting to beat competitors that are several levels of skill and ability above you and trying to make too big of a jump in performance (like a third year rower trying to go from a 6:30 2k to 6:00 in one year). It is, unfortunately, common for athletes, and even coaches, to set overly ambitious goals and to attack them with palpable vigor only to end up too tired, injured, beat up or demoralized having only scratched the surface of their proposed training plan.

Why does this happen? It happens because anyone can say that he/she wants to do 200k per week, and train harder than anyone else in the country, but not everyone is capable of doing that work. This is especially true with young athletes, who are immature physically and mentally in their training. I would rather an athlete say, "I am going to train 5 days a week during the summer by doing 5k a day," and actually do that training consistently than say "I am going to train 7 days a week all summer and twice on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays," and end up only training three-four days a week with little-to-no consistency. There are two reasons I prefer the former to the latter: for starters, clearly, the first scenario will end up with more training, and more consistent training; secondly, the former scenario will result in the athlete staying positive and feeling accomplished, whereas the latter scenario will result in the athlete feeling negative, leading to failure.

When coaching athletes, I always want to know how much they can actually handle, both physically and mentally. It is not my goal to simply push them as hard as possible in an effort to force them to be tough–often this has the opposite effect. My goal is to push them as hard as possible while having them feel like they are successful. Just to be clear, I do not advocate going easy on athletes in order to give them a false sense of success, but rather setting realistic and achievable goals, which build toward their potential. This is where coaching skill comes into play: determining where to place the bar so that it is not out of reach, but isn't so low that it prevents the athlete from reaching his/her maximum. There is an interesting phenomenon in training, whereby if the bar is set too low, athletes will subconsciously place the mental ceiling on their performance potential lower than they should otherwise. This is precisely why I never tell beginning rowers what a 'good erg score' is. Inevitably. when working with novice rowers, they will ask, "What is a good erg score?" It's only natural, as they want to know what to aim for. It is nearly impossible to know what an athlete is capable of physiologically in such early stages of working with him or her, and if you give the athlete too low a mark capability, he/she will subconsciously think there is something special or difficult about that mark, even though it might be relatively easy for that athlete. Conversely, if you give an athlete a number too ambitious for his or her potential/capabilities, there is a significant risk that he or she will get discouraged and go into a negative spiral, which can damage self-belief. When a novice rower asks me how fast he or she should go, I always tell the athlete the same thing– that is, "as fast as you can go." The important thing is to focus your athletes on achieving their personal best, whether that leads to a new world's best time, or the slowest erg score on the squad. In other words, the key is to focus on the individual athlete's maximum performance rather than something external, which is all you should ever ask or expect from an athlete.

The Roman Forum, from the Capitoline Hill (Photo: B. Kitch)
Rome wasn't built in a day.

There is a common problem among athletes that stems from frustration regarding day-to-day improvement: they want to be better yesterday. However, training takes patience, and it takes a mature athlete to understand this process. The closer an athlete gets to his or her physical peak, the harder it is and the longer it takes to make relative improvement. The amount of work that it takes to go from bad to average is not much compared with what it takes to go from average to good. And this is still not nearly as much as it takes to go from good to great. It is common for athletes who are trying to go from good to really good, or good to great, to experience this frustration, which can end up negatively affecting their training. In reality, many times these people simply need to stay patient, and stay consistent, knowing that training takes time and putting faith in their coaches' training plan.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The mind is a powerful thing. We have all seen it and experienced it. When things are going well with training, and, more generally, with life, it is amazing how much better we can get, and how easy it is to have confidence that we will continue to progress. Think about the times when you have had your best training, and I bet there are many times when you just felt so strong and fit that you were training well and knocking out personal records ('PRs') left and right. Rarely does this happen when you are negative/down about your training. Negativity and failure build on themselves, just as positivity and success do. Now, of course, part of why you might be negative is that the performance and training is not going well, but a lot of performance is affected by attitude, and importantly what the athlete and coaches perception is. For instance, if a coach and athlete feel that they are doing well and progressing nicely, they will be more likely to continue the improvement. On the other hand, when things aren't going according to plan, things can spiral out of control, and we can stagnate. Take the following example: imagine a coach tells an athlete that he should be able to go 6:10 for 2k, and the athlete goes 6:14. He would probably be pretty disappointed and feel like he didn't perform. However, imagine the perception and feeling if the athlete went 6:14, but the coach told him before hand he should be able to go 6:16 or faster. The athlete would feel completely different mentally in both scenarios despite having gone the same speed and being in the same physiological shape. His 'mental shape' would be completely different in each scenario.

As a coach, this doesn't just play out if/when you set goals before performance. It is about the language you use after a performance or training session in talking to the athletes about their performance. Let's take the same scenario with the athlete going 6:14 for 2k. If the coach tells him afterwards he should have done better because he only PRs by 1 second, and that he needs to be in 6:08 shape to win anything, it will have a different effect than the same coach being pumped up and excited and giving the athlete a high five for a PR performance even though it was not by as much as expected. As a coach it is easy to get too ambitious in expectations of athletes. Be careful to be realistic and objective in assessing improvement rates.

Sometimes the best way to overcome what appears to be a plateau in training is by dealing with the mental perception of it. If there is a growing frustration resulting from a lack of improvement, try shifting the paradigm of what is deemed successful. Sometimes a perceived plateau is merely an individual having expectations that are too high. If that individual was willing to accept smaller more gradual improvement they would still be positive and improving rather than at a frustrated plateau.

Obviously, you must balance this need to set yourself up for success with realistic bench marks and performance marks. I find it most effective to do this by focusing on individual improvement relative to oneself, rather than focusing strictly on the competition. If you are constantly measuring yourself against someone else, it is easy to get discouraged. Of course, if you completely ignore the competition, then you won't know where the bar is set and you won't know what to eventually aim for.

There is also the danger of making up excuses for poor performances. Sometimes, training simply isn't going well, and it does not help to find a way to tell yourself it is a good performance. So, it is not always easy to tell the difference between poor performances and expectations that are too high. You must have objective standards and be realistic when things aren't going well, and be willing to change things up if the current plan isn't working. Part of successful coaching is having the ability to evaluate performances that aren't good enough. When things aren't going well, the coach needs to know. Going into a race of any kind, the coach should have some realistic expectations of the athletes' ability.

It drives me crazy in all sports when coaches seem overly optimistic at the beginning of the season, even when there are signs that things are clearly not going that great. It seems like every football team in the NCAA is planning on winning its conference championship before the season starts. This immediately sets the athletes up for failure. On the flip side, I love it when, before the season starts, I hear a coach say, "you know what, we aren't very good right now. We have a lot of work to do." If you start to think/hope you are better than you are you will be sure to fail. Instead, it is important to have the ability to objectively evaluate where one stands relative to the competition and take realistic steps, lest risk being constantly disappointed. The point is not to 'lower the bar' or do away with your ambitions–I think it is absolutely necessary to be ambitious in order to have a chance to be the best. But it is also important to be rational and realistic, because if you can't tell the difference between a team that is good and a team that is subpar before going into competition, you can't appropriately prepare your team/athletes for that competition. When things aren't going well, coaches and athletes alike must be able to identify it before it is too late, and apply themselves to better the situation.

-Justin and the RR Team