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 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.


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

Monday, October 24, 2011

VOTW: Motivation for Winter Training, Courtesy of Rowing Canada Aviron

Canadian lightweight Cameron Sylvester gives us an inside look at what it takes to train for an Olympic medal, with the Canadian men's team–each athlete has been interviewed for the video, with the audio from each interview spliced together. Not only do these athletes follow the same training plan, they also think alike, as all echo one another throughout this nicely edited piece. Need some motivation to hit the erg this winter? Watch, listen, and learn.

For content on the 47th Head Of The Charles, check out the coverage from Saturday and Sunday, with results, photos and interviews, posted to the official website 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 (


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Charles Chat: Tips on Taking the Right Course from Five-Time Champion Leigh Heyman

Heyman's collection of HOCR 1st place medals (Photo courtesy of Leigh Heyman)
Yesterday, I put together a piece for Rowing News with Ned DelGuercio (coxswain of the U.S. men's eight) on how to tackle two of the most important bridges on the course at the Head Of The Charles. Today, five-time HOCR champion (see image above), and 2007 U.S. National Team member Leigh Heyman of NYAC shares his take on navigating the Charles, which spans to use throughout the race course, and his personal list of do's and don'ts with RR.

From Leigh:

I'll start off with Weeks and Eliot, since these are the two bridges that are the hardest to navigate, and the source of the most anxiety.

Everyone looks at the course map and says, "it's a no-brainer–never take the right hand arch at Weeks or Eliot." And this is true–they are the arches of last resort. The only reason to use them is to avoid a collision. But then on race day, there you are and you have to make a fast decision. So, how do you avoid needing to use the right hand arches at Weeks and Eliot?

An alternative choice to avoid crashing here, that not everyone considers, is simply backing off or stopping. I realize it's a hard call to make in the middle of an intense race, but paddling for a few strokes, or stopping for 1-2 seconds will still cost you far less time than taking the right hand arch at Weeks or Eliot, which can easily cost you 10-20s. Always remember, the faster crew has right of way, and if they're passing you, they're already ahead of you in the standings, so backing off and letting them through, instead of forcing a bad situation, is in everyone's best interest.

Planning ahead really matters here too. Weeks has a 1200m straightaway as you approach it, and Eliot has a long slow steady turn. Both situations give you plenty of time and space to evaluate your boat's speed in relation to those around you, so this is a chance to anticipate the tactics you'll need to get through the "good" arches, without ruining your day or anyone else's.

The other big question everyone asks is about the right-hand arches on the Powerhouse straight. There are more differing opinions about this than blades at the regatta. Though, the consensus seems to be it doesn't make much difference–what you lose by traveling a slightly longer course, you gain by having an easier, and thus faster, turn through Weeks. In other words, your decision to take the right-hand side of Powerhouse should be based on the traffic around you, and not on any notion that you can shave seconds off your time. The main thing is to look for the clearest water to row in. But if you do choose the right hand arches on Powerhouse, then it is critical that you keep tabs on the other crews going down the center so that you can evaluate and execute the Weeks turn safely.

The only time you may get an actual advantage from racing the right hand side of Powerhouse is when the wind is from the East or Northeast, but those conditions are relatively rare.

Finally, everyone should know that the right hand arch of the Lars Anderson Bridge is not permitted. Violation is a 1-minute penalty, plus 10 seconds for every buoy you miss in the process. Also, while the right hand arch of the BU bridge is now permitted (for years it was not), it's best to just race as though the old rules of the start are still in effect–no right-hand arch at BU and no passing before the bridge–both of these are guaranteed to give you a slower time for your race.

Thanks very much to Leigh for taking the time, and coxswains out there, take note! 


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Managing Team Dynamics

Isis trains in Putney (Photo © Bryan Kitch)
Taken together, coaching team dynamics and dealing with different personalities form a very important aspect of coaching in any team sport, and rowing is certainly no exception. With so many people from a variety of different backgrounds, high school, collegiate and national teams always contain a large mix of personalities and abilities. Teammates who might have different approaches and different motivations must find a way to work together and have a sense of cohesiveness if they are to succeed. Finding a way to walk the line and balance these differing individuals is the difficult task of the coach. While a large part of coaching in any sport is taken up with the "Xs and Os" and technical aspects, it is as important, if not more important, to be a great leader. To be a great leader, one must not only have the charisma to teach and inspire, but also the ability to understand and facilitate the creation of team chemistry. This is why the best athletes who have tremendous knowledge of the fundamental and technical aspect of a sport don't always make the best coaches. To be a great coach, one must also have superior understanding of the human psyche.

Managing different personalities within the team
Not everyone is cut from the same cloth; every individual is unique in some way. There are certain psychological characteristics that make each person who he or she is. These variations in psychological makeup mean that coaches cannot treat athletes like robots. It is why, if you have two crews coached by the same person with the same training program, and with the same erg scores and boat moving ability, it does not mean you will get the same results in competition. There are lots of variables in team and individual mentality and team chemistry that have a lot to say about ultimate success at the end of the day.

On almost every team, in every sport, as well as in most work environments, the spectrum of different personalities extends from those who are laid back to those who are high-strung, and everywhere in between. Not only are there different temperaments among teammates, but there are lots of other significant differences that will play a role in the creation of team chemistry, such as different views on politics, different religions, different ethnicities, different class and family backgrounds, etc. In rowing, there is another, quite unusual, team dynamic that is present on many men's teams and that is the phenomenon of having female coxswains on male teams. This can be very difficult as men and women have certain important differences and often approach things in different ways. What is important to remember is that everyone on a team is in it for the same fundamental reason at the end of the day. The problem is that this may be not be readily apparent at first and may be difficult for athletes to understand. Now, one athlete might be involved in rowing because he/she loves competition and testing his/her limits, one might be rowing because of the camaraderie, another might be rowing simply in order to stay in shape. The list could go on and on, but the key is that somewhere deeply rooted there is a similar, fundamental, unifying connection among all athletes on a team. The key is to discover that and to get everyone to understand that. Everyone on a team does not always have to agree with everyone else, and everyone does not have to be friends with one another, but what there must be in order to be successful is a mutual level of respect and an understanding that there is a common, unifying force among every member of the team.

To illustrate this point: I'm sure everyone can imagine a very intense, dedicated, blue-collar athlete on the same team with a laid back, 'class clown' athlete, who is very talented and likes to win but has a certain disdain for hard work. These two athletes could run into trouble and become frustrated with each other in a situation where the intense athlete is always demanding more work and thinks of his teammate as lazy or not passionate about winning. On the other hand, the laid back athlete could find himself very easily annoyed with the intense athlete and think that athlete is too highly strung. It might be difficult for these two to gel together because of their different approaches and strengths and weaknesses. Instead it would be beneficial to themselves individually as well as the team if they could learn to embrace the other for what each brings to the table and adds to the team. They should be allowed and encouraged to complement each other rather than cause conflict and tension within the team.

While it is certainly important for coaches to understand and influence these things, it is also important for the individual athletes on a team to be able to recognize that others are different and be able to embrace them for their strengths and what they bring to the table, rather than focus on their shortcomings.

Creating the right environment
It is the coach's job to create an environment in which all can understand that they are all fundamentally on the same page and foster an environment in which trust is created. Trust is of the utmost importance in rowing. Not only does the work of your teammates affect your ability to succeed, but it can also affect your own attitude and motivation. For instance, it can be difficult to train your hardest if the teammates surrounding you are not committed to working hard, and cannot be trusted to complete training assignments. But, if an athlete believes that everyone is on board (or, alternatively, that someone not buying into the training/coaching will not be given a seat), then that individual can feel completely comfortable training hard, because the fruits of his/her labor are likely to matter. It doesn't matter much how hard one individual trains if the rest of the squad cannot be trusted to complete the training program as laid out by the coach.

'Rowing doesn't build character, it reveals it.' While this is an oft quoted phrase in the rowing world, and can be very helpful to a certain extent, I believe rowing can also help build character if managed the right way, and if the right environment is created. It is the coach's job to manage his/her athletes and sense problems before they arise, quickly dealing with any problems in a manner that allows everyone to understand the common thread that unites the team. Rather than force non-compliant team members to adapt to a certain philosophy, it is often helpful to 'kill them with kindness.' In other words, create an encouraging environment based around positive reinforcement that indirectly alienates and discourages negativity and strife.

-Justin and the RR Team

Monday, October 17, 2011

VOTW: Red Bull XRow 2011 in Switzerland

This week's VOTW comes to us from Switzerland, where the 2011 Red Bull XRow covered 18 kilometers on the water, as well as 7km on land, broken up into six stages (three rowing, three running)–the added twist is that the eight-man crews must carry their boats across all the running stages (note the foam padding lining the gunwales expressly for this purpose–and don't try this at home). The course runs from Zug, south across the Zugersee to Immensee, overland to Küssnacht am Rigi, south along the Vierwaldstättersee to Meggen, overland to Wartenfluh, and then west on the Rotsee to Luzern (Lucerne), before a final mad dash off the water and up the hill to the finish. All together, it makes for quite a spectacle, as well as an intense training session for the athletes involved, as they expand and develop their aerobic base over the course of the Fall season. This year, competitors included members of the Swiss national rowing team, André Vonarburg among them.

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 (


Friday, October 14, 2011

Head Racing: The Coxswain's Perspective, with Phelan Hill of Team GB

Cranking through Weeks at the Head Of The Charles (Photo: P. Biro)

The Head Of The Charles is just over a week away, and it's known as one of the trickiest courses around for the coxswain, who has to navigate bridges and traffic on the narrow stretch, always keeping in mind that the most direct route is key, while keeping his/her crew focused on the task at hand. Like the Head of the River Race on the Tideway in London, there are a huge number of crews to contend with, hordes of spectators, and much to think about while executing your race plan. Phelan Hill, the coxswain of the GB men's eight (silver medalists in Karapiro and Bled), has a great deal of experience guiding crews through head races, winning the 2011 Head of the River with Leander Club last April. Here, Phelan shares some of his knowledge with RR, from establishing the rhythm through the start, to the final build toward the finish.

Getting Started
RR: When it comes to head racing, there's much more time to make adjustments, but how critical is it to execute the right start as you establish your rhythm for the piece?

Phelan Hill: Getting the start right is important, but it's not the be all and end all. A good start can always set you up for a great race and the race pace rhythm that will take you over the course–certainly, if you have a target race pace rate, it's far easier to set off with real intensity and settle on something rather than going off too soft then chasing to get the rate; however, a race is not a linked, continuous chain from start to finish–you can always make a change in a race. From a coxing perspective you shouldn’t be scared to say the race rhythm isn’t right and push for a change.

How Much is Too Much?
RR: Guiding rowers over a three or four mile course poses a different kind of challenge for a coxswain. How much energy should be spent on technical points, and how much motivational content is too much over a 20-minute race?

PH: There is always a fine balance to play here. I always think of coxing a head race as a gradual crescendo, starting with a real technical focus as the race develops, and, as you get closer to the finish, building in more motivational calls. I focus on technique at the beginning, getting the start right, finding the rhythm through the technical focus. Then, as you pass halfway, bringing in more motivational calls as the crew gets tired–though its still important to remember technique as fatigue sets out in order to maintain speed/rhythm.

RR: Sometimes it comes down to the wire, but often in head races the critical moment is somewhere in the middle of the piece, passing another crew or choosing the right line. What's been your experience of this and how would you recommend that a coxswain prepare to hold the best line through a race?

PH: Before you get on the water, prepare! If you are going to hold the best line you need to know where it is, so study and visualize the course so that even under pressure you can recognize what the best line is.

In terms of picking the best approach when overtaking, it’s a difficult one. I would say don’t always just go for the line. Sometimes it's best to lose one second going slightly wide and avoid a collision that could cost five seconds. There is no hard and fast rule but you should take the following factors into account:

-How much quicker are you? If you are substantially quicker then going off the best line is going to be less costly as you’ll pass quicker.
-Is the crew in front a major rival? A rival is always going to make it harder.
-How many other crews are going to be in front?
-Where is the course going? Where is the next bend? Is it to the left or right? Sometimes you can go out of the best line in one part if you know you’ll have a better line for the next bend.

Passing Lane
RR: Elevate the stroke rate and make a shift to pass? Or manage the course and try to move within the base rhythm? When you do make a shift up, how to you bring your crew back down into their longer rhythm?

PH: My initial starting point is to stay in the rhythm when passing a crew–your base speed is clearly faster as you’ve caught them up, and so you need to stay confident in what you're doing. But remember that the other crew is going to start working harder if that happens, and if you end up just “sticking” with the other crew, it's then good to call for a push–any change has to be in the rhythm.

Clashing and Recovery
RR: There are many tight spaces and narrow margins for error when passing other crews, which sometimes lead to clashes. How do you guide your crew out of a clash and get your rowers back into rhythm as quickly as possible?

PH: If clashing make sure firstly your crew stays calm—getting back into your rhythm really falls back on your hard training you’ve been doing. Go back to basics on what your crew has been focusing on in training and really bring them back into the boat with that in mind. This is something you can visualize and practice in your mind; for example, if you’ve been focusing on your finishes in training and that’s one of key points then you can say something like, “We need to relax now and find our rhythm again, lets feel those finishes pressing out together. Ready... GO... Press... Press... Press... feeling that rhythm come through again...,” and then just keep working on them like that.

Also, remind them a single clash might not cost them the race, keep the heads up they can still win, places still up for grabs.

Finish Line
RR: How early should a coxswain talk about the finish (only when he/she can see it?), and do you have any advice on sprinting to finish a distance race?

PH: Personally, crews I'm in have a progressive build to the line; for example, a 20-min race we’ll start building 3mins from the line, then moving up every minute, and with 500m to go that’s when we make our final sprint. Never go off sight–always have some specific markers in mind. Again preparation is so important–know your course and finish markers so you can say pass a tent, or come under a bridge, and know at that point its 500m to go, or 2 mins, or whatever it may be, but have a clear idea.

If you haven’t been to the course before and are unsure, go on the organisers website to look at maps and check historical data on results for your category so know what people have done in previous years, and have a rough idea of what to expect.

Thanks very much to Phelan for taking the time. You can find more coxswain and coaching resources via our Coaching page.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Autumn Racing and Peak Performance, Workout Structure

Evening light, Eliot Bridge (Photo: © Bryan Kitch) 
As we get into the Fall head racing season on the collegiate and high school circuit, programs are training for longer distance races, which are ultimately secondary in importance to the Spring championship races. In order to build aerobic base fitness, emphasis should be placed on long distance workouts–volume is key, but it should be tempered with more aggressive work. Many people run afoul here, in that they are afraid to train hard enough, and end up holding themselves back too much in the Fall.

With a Championship peak as the ultimate goal, it is certainly important to avoid getting into 'race-shape' or being 'race ready' too soon. How do you avoid this as a coach? In order to understand this, one must understand what makes one race fit and ready to achieve physiological peak. We know that race pace work and lots of rest counterbalanced with great intensity will get one physiologically ready for a peak performance. Because we know a peak cannot be held for too long, we want to put this off until it's time. Not by downplaying the workouts or telling rowers ease off the pace, but instead by making sure that they are too tired to go too hard, or dig too deep, in any given workout. For example, you can still do 500m intervals in the Fall, but you'd better have lots of reps and very little rest. If you were to do 10x500m intervals with 30 seconds rest in the middle of a high volume week, then you would get the physiological development you are looking for without allowing the athlete to peak. On the other hand, 4x500m with 3 minutes rest would not be a good workout in the offseason, because it will allow rowers to dig too deep and work to close to their sprint maximum.

Good offseason workouts will vary greatly depending on the level of athlete, his/her physical maturity, and what he/she can handle, but should generally include longer intervals with short rest. Workouts like 3-5 x 2500 meters w/ 2-3 minutes rest, 8-12 x 2:30 on, :30 off, 6-12 x 1k w/ 2 min rest would all be great when training to build aerobic strength. 1-2 workouts of this nature per week surrounded by as much volume as appropriate would be good. It is also good to have one longer session every 1-2 weeks when building aerobic base. Long workouts should be between 50-100 minutes depending on experience level and physical maturity. Maybe elite level athletes can benefit from up to 120 minutes straight through a few times in the offseason, but even this is not really necessary when the ultimate goal is just 2000 meters. Going longer will only serve to dull the edge on any power and speed ability. The longer workouts obviously work the endurance ability and tend to slow-twitch muscle. Although rowing requires great endurance, it also requires great power and speed. At a certain point, pure endurance training and pure power/speed training are working against each other. It is important to find a balance. Plus, the longer you go, you run the risk of starting to burn muscle as fuel if there is no chance to refuel with carbs, fat and protein within the workout. This process is known as rhabdomyolysis, which causes muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) to be released into the bloodstream, which can dangerous, and even lead to kidney failure.

People often want to know what successful coaches' favorite workouts are. It's not about magic workouts, but about how many workouts are put together, how workouts are set relative to one another, and how one recovers from the work and responds to the training. It is sometimes wise to pull a rower from a hard session before it is finished if they have blown up, or have not recovered from a previous session. Because there is a general mindset and mentality of toughness and beating people into the ground in our sport, coaches and athletes often push beyond the point of diminishing returns. This is rarely a wise thing to do from a physiological perspective. Sometimes it is good to train the mental side of things by asking a rower to push beyond the point of blowing up. However, it is important to know that blowing up is most commonly a physiological reaction more so than a psychological reaction. If you bonk simply because you have gone too hard for your fitness and cannot recover, there is no going back – that workout is done. Many coaches are not leery enough of this, and constantly push their rowers too hard, causing them to blow up before the workout is over, meaning they will not get the most out of the workout, and, as discussed above, could actually find their training stunted/hurt in the following days, as it takes the athletes longer to recover. If a rower overloads himself/herself with too much lactic acid, spikes his/her heart rate too much, too soon, or depletes his/her glycogen stores, there is no recovering from that in the same workout. Forcing rowers to do one or two more intervals when they have tapped out their energy, or yelling at them to be tougher, is not going to replenish their glycogen stores. It will simply make it harder for the athletes to recover.

Once you have built your base as strong as possible in a given training cycle, you can start to put the speed on top as you build toward the peak. The stronger and bigger the base/foundation, the higher the possible peak can be. Of course, speed must be put on in the right amounts, at the right time, to get the optimal, highest possible peak.

-Justin and the RR Team

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Evening Post: RowingRelated's First Birthday Today

The original RR banner, 10/11/2010
One year ago today, I started this website as a simple blog, having drawn the original logo on a piece of binder paper. Over the past year, it has grown more than I ever could have imagined, and for that I am both gratified and extremely thankful. The format of the site continues to evolve, and we'll be hard at work developing more content in the coming weeks and months, covering regattas for Rowing News and adding our own take on a host of subjects, related, of course, to rowing. From training and physiology, to technique, indoors and on the water, to breaking news and challenging the status quo, there is so much in store, and we're very excited to begin.

The second iteration of the RR banner, circa 1/1/2011
From day one, we've done our best to remain true to the original mission statement of RowingRelated – that being delivering thought-provoking content, and sharing our opinions honestly and openly (for the first ever post to RR, click here). The goal is, and always will be, to provide a resource for the greater rowing community, and to help develop the sport from the perspective of the athlete, coach, and the media at the junior, collegiate and elite levels.

Thanks very much to all from everyone at RowingRelated!


Monday, October 10, 2011

VOTW: Tour of the Devon Boathouse in OKC, with Ryan Monaghan

The VOTW this week is a guided tour of the Devon Boathouse in Oklahoma City with 2010 US National Team member and two-time Cambridge Blue Ryan Monaghan, who is currently training with the High Performance group at the facility. The Devon Boathouse was designed by renowned architect Rand Elliott, who gave the building its distinctive shape and lighting in order to evoke the bow of a boat cutting through the water. The training facilities, which are shared by the OKC U.S. National High Performance Rowing and Canoe/Kayak teams, as well as the varsity programs at Oklahoma City University, are extensive and well-maintained, as the video will show. For more on the Devon Boathouse, check out the official website of OKC Riversport, and see the online coverage of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival on, with further photos and video interviews from the event (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) that included the annual OGE NightSprints (500m racing under the lights at night on the Oklahoma River).

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 (


Friday, October 7, 2011

Rumor Mill: Teti to Coach U.S. Men's Eight at CRC for 2012 Olympic Games?

Ever since the boats were selected for the 2011 World Rowing Championships, there has been controversy surrounding the U.S. men's rowing team. We published an article in August (prior to Worlds), asking questions about the nature of selection, which seemed to be producing inconsistent results within the team from year to year, and which hasn't, during the McLaren era, produced many notable results internationally, despite the talent within the U.S. system. The article sparked a discussion that continued through the World Championships, and things didn't settle down following the performance of the U.S. men in Bled – in fact, things have heated up across the board.

After coming back from Worlds, I headed over to CRC to meet the newly appointed head coach, Bernhard Stomporowski, who comes from the German system, and whom Mike Teti greatly respects as a coach. Following the interview and tour of the facilities that I put together for Rowing News, there was some speculation about the nature of the training that would take place at CRC, and about upcoming moves involving the High Performance Committee. The announcement about the changes is scheduled for tomorrow (October 8), and the rumor mill seems to indicate that the changes will include the transfer of the coaching responsibilities for the U.S. men's eight to Mike Teti, who (as we've noted here before) is one of the most successful eights coaches in the world (crews that Teti has coached hold the world's best time at both the U23 and senior level, and his Cal MV8 set a new standard for speed at the 2010 IRA National Championships). Given the consistency with which these rumors are circulating, and given Teti's success and continued involvement with the U.S. National Team, we think that the HPC will confirm these rumors tomorrow.

The situation at CRC is certainly a very workable one, with all-but-unused, excellent facilities at the disposal of Teti and his coaching staff, as well as one of the most competitive men's teams at the collegiate varsity level with which to train and build a culture. While McLaren is commonly regarded as one of the best technical coaches in the world, he seems to struggle with selection – exactly where Teti excels – and Teti's ability to coach the eight is a known quantity. As we pointed out in an article following Worlds, there is certainly more than enough talent in the U.S. system to medal in at least two events in London next year, and if this new arrangement, outlined above, becomes a reality, we think that USRowing will be much closer to accomplishing that goal than in the previous three seasons.

Perhaps we are wrong. For now, we'll have to wait and see – but it looks to us like the writing is on the wall.

-Bryan and the RR Team

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Coaches' Corner: How to Manage Offseason Training and Fall Fitness

Part I: Pitfalls in Structuring Training Plans
When structuring a training plan as part of a longer term goal, it is very important to always keep the big picture in mind. For coaches and athletes at both the high school and college levels, who have their championships in the Spring (around the end of May or early June), Spring must be the goal and all training and racing must be conducted with that goal in mind. For elite athletes, training and racing internationally, the championship or goal race might be at the end of the August.

Regardless of the level or timing of the yearly cycle the training must be responsive to that primary goal race. Most coaches know this, and know the basic principles behind training cycles, and many people have done enough research to know all about microcycles and macrocycles, and about what many think of as the 'scientific' basis behind training at different points of the year. Most people are familiar with terms like 'aerobic base,' 'anaerobic threshold,' and 'VO2 max,' but I'm not sure everyone completely understands how they all fit together in the grand scheme of things. It is very helpful, and even necessary, to have done a great deal of research, and crunched numbers/data, in order to learn how the body physiologically responds and adapts to various training practices, but it is arguably more important to understand the art behind coaching an athlete and creating a good training program.

I am of the opinion that training and coaching is more art than it is science. Although the body's biology and scientific processes are largely measurable and predictable, there are a great number of variables that affect training from person to person, and can even influence the same person differently in varying circumstances. Two people who have different genetic makeup and predisposition, or who have a different training background might respond to the same exact training program and workouts differently. For instance, someone might have more fast-twitch muscle and be a better sprinter, someone else might have more slow-twitch muscle fiber and have better endurance. Things like how much sleep an athlete gets and how much stress the athlete is under will affect chemical/hormonal levels in the body that will affect response to training and recovery.

Not to mention the mental aspects, which vary from person to person and even within the same individual depending on emotional state and things going on in his/her life. For example, if you are having a difficult time with your family, or school, or a personal relationship, it may affect your state of mind so as to mess with your training. As a coach, you must be aware of these variables and have a training program that can adapt, not a rigid program that requires you to know exactly what you will be doing on a Tuesday six weeks from now. How could you know exactly what the best workout will be six weeks ahead of time when you haven't seen how the athletes will respond to the training based on the influencing variables that will happen over the course of that six weeks? Maybe the training will not go well, and the athlete will get slower because of lack of sleep, sickness, or some other reason. On the other hand, there is not only the negative to consider. What if the training goes better than expected, and the athlete is further along than you originally anticipated? You must be willing and able to adapt in order to have the ideal training program and coaching methodology. Now, obviously, it is good to have a general skeleton and outline of what training will look like in the future, but to have it written in stone so as to be completely rigid and unchangeable is problematic to say the least.

There are many examples of people who don't understand the degree to which training is an art as opposed to a science. People often ask me to write a canned training plan for them, sometimes for an entire season, or training cycle, without knowing all the specifics about the athlete and their goals, or how they will respond to the training. I see and hear about lots of rowers and coaches at the high school, college and masters level wanting to follow training programs from elite national team coaches and athletes. In sports such as running, swimming and triathlon as well as rowing, I often see canned training programs published and used by the masses to prepare for that next Olympic distance triathlon or that next 5k road race. This is a problem, because these athletes are all over the place in terms of their experience in the sport, their volume of training, and their skill level/fitness in the given sport. How is it possible that there could be a one-size-fits-all training program for all ages, abilities and commitment levels? This is very troubling in the sport of rowing, where, many times, there are a variety of different experience and skill levels within the same team. This is especially true at the college level, where you might have on the same team someone who is a first year walk-on, an average second year collegiate rower who rowed for four years in high school, and a U23 national team rower. I don't believe it is possible that the same training program is ideal for each of these athletes. In my mind, this is a failure to understand all the nuances that go into structuring a good training program.

Obviously, in a team sport like rowing it can be a challenge to individualize training, especially on teams where elite athletes are in the same boats as novice rowers. So, while there is no way to completely tailor individualized training plans to individual athletes, it is good to be aware of the differences and make adjustments when possible, and, most importantly, simply be aware that different athletes can handle different things. A rower who has been rowing for seven years can physically handle more training than rower in the first year of rowing. If you don't believe this, just look at the progression in an individual rower from year to year. Pick any individual, and that person can handle more training in their second year than in their first, and again can handle more in their third year than their second. There are necessary developmental physiological steps that must be undergone, and that cannot be rushed. The more training one, does the more the body adapts and becomes stronger. For example, perhaps an average college freshman novice rower can handle up to 100-110 kilometers a week of quality training in the peak of their first season without breaking down the body too much and getting sick/injured. That athlete can probably handle 110-130 kilometers during their peak training weeks their second year and by their fourth year handle up to 160-180 kilometers a week.

Now, some people might debate that, and argue that rowers can handle whatever volume and intensity is thrown at them. I don't believe that. Sure, anyone can do a large amount of volume in terms of performing every task in weekly training and logging the mileage, but is that training actually quality training? Is it necessary for them to go as fast as they are going? Could they be going as fast or faster with less volume? I think there are plenty of people who log lots of volume, but because it isn't structured right, they don't get all the benefit of it and end up underperforming relative to their potential. I don't think enough coaches pay attention to this. However, I am not asking anyone to baby young athletes.

Part II: Fall Training Regimens 
When it comes to Fall training, the focus should be on building strength and aerobic base. I always like to analogize building aerobic base to building a large, strong foundation for a house. However, it must be realized that once the house is built to its peak, it can only stay up for a short time, before it begins to crumble. In other words, one can only hold a peak for so long, so timing is important. Before you can build the superstructure of your house, which must be completed just in time for the Championships (and not too soon) you must build the stable platform and foundation. The foundation is built on aerobic strength and fitness.

How do you build aerobic strength? Volume, with the appropriate amount and type of intensity. Volume should be comprised of quality mileage based on what the individual athlete can handle. Quality mileage refers to mileage which the athlete can handle without going so slow that it becomes 'junk mileage,' and without suffering from too much technical deterioration. Junk mileage refers to simply going through the motions in order to inflate volume. There must be sufficient aerobic stimulus. More specifically, junk mileage is mileage done at 'recovery,' pace which is roughly less than 60-70% of maximum heart rate, when recovery is not necessary. Recovery paced workouts are only necessary when the body has really been pushed to a point at which it can't recover well in 24-48 hours without backing off.

There must also be intensity when building aerobic base. A common mistake in attempting to build a strong aerobic base is exercise with little to no intensity. Many times, I hear of people building aerobic base who simply try to log low intensity miles as much as possible. All this is going to do is make the athlete slow and lethargic, with no top end speed. It is important to train all systems, to a certain extent, throughout the year. Don't completely ignore higher heart rates and intensity just because you are in the offseason, and are training to expand your aerobic base – just be careful with the type and frequency of intensity in the training program. Obviously, a national teamer who has been rowing for 7-10 years can handle a lot more training volume and intensity than a first or second year high school rower. This is because experienced rowers' bodies are stronger, so they can tolerate more training volume, but it is also because they can recover from workouts much faster than their younger, less physically mature, and less experienced counterparts.

This phenomenon can be seen when looking at the following example: let's take a novice collegiate male rower who is capable of a 6:15 2k on the erg when rested and at maximum, and a fourth year collegiate male rower who is also capable of a 6:15 2k when rested and at maximum. If these guys were doing a hard interval session with a good amount of volume on the erg, say 6x2k or 6x1k with 3 minutes rest, I would bet that in most cases, the experienced rower would be able to do better on the interval workout than the novice rower, even though they are both in the same shape for an all-out 2k. Part of this may have to do with the veteran rower being more mentally prepared for the pain and difficulty of a hard session like that, and part of it has to do with the ability to recover and ability to handle more volume than the younger rower. It may be appropriate for the novice rower to do only four of the intervals where the senior rower should do all six.

Now, many coaches would be hesitant to do this because they would think if they were both of the same 2k ability they should both do the exact same workouts. However, by forcing the novice rower to do more than he can handle to match the fourth year rower, it might have negative physiological repercussions for the novice rower in the days and weeks to follow. If the novice rower blows up on the workout, he might take a lot longer to recover than the fourth year senior. This will be a big deal if the two athletes are in the same boat, or the same training program, and must two days later do a set of race pace intervals at 2k pace, because asking the novice to do this when he is still a day or two away from being recovered will send him into a fatigue induced funk that could prevent him from hitting his highest peak that season, or could generally dull the razor's edge to prevent him from optimal performance on race day.

If you race too hard and too much in practice, you run the risk of being too tired on race day. Coaches must be able to monitor their athletes, and know who needs more, and who needs less. Avoid painting all athletes with one brush.

-Justin and the RR Team

Monday, October 3, 2011

VOTW: The Spracklen Rowing Philosophy - Motivation, Thanks to Kevin Light

It has been said before, and it will be said again -- the Canadians make good videos. This week's VOTW comes to us from Beijing champ and 2011 World bronze medalist Kevin Light of Rowing Canada Aviron, and features some excellent insights into the coaching mind of Mike Spracklen. The video also showcases some of Light's photography, which has been featured in Rowing News magazine, among other places. For more of Light's work, check out his Flickr photostream.

Also, check out Rowing News' online coverage of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival, with two weekend interviews that Bryan has posted from Oklahoma City, featuring U.S. U23 World Champions Mike Gennaro and Ty Otto on their outstanding summer and plans for the coming year, as well as Beijing Olympian and U.S. lightweight national team member Tom Paradiso on his comeback to elite level competition.

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 (