Creatine in Rowing - Is it Worth It?

OK, so yesterday's post was long and involved. What does it all boil down to?

  1. Creatine probably works for those doing intensive strength training.
  2. There is little credible evidence that this effect carries over to rowing.
  3. There are risks associated with it, despite what the magazine ads tell you.
  4. It will get expensive - could you spend your money better?

I did a little on-line research - I'm guessing prices in your local health food store would be higher. Three different varieties of creatine (recall, research says all those expensive additives do nothing) were examined. Their serving sizes ranged from 2 g per day to 13.5 g per day. Again, recall even the lowest number here (2g per day) is at the high end of what researches suggest for maintenance doses in long term use. So, all but one company are encouraging you to take product that you will soon be peeing out. Looking at costs, without considering taxes you will be spending anywhere from $0.37 per day up to $1.37 per day.

Sound cheap? Less than a cup of coffee? OK, let's assume that the average cost in the store is on the high end of this range at $1.37 per day. That works out to $501.78 per year. $2508.90 in five years.

If you have unlimited funds I guess it's your choice.

If not maybe stop looking for a bottled edge and do some extra training! I'll bet it would be much more beneficial. How long before $500 per year in supplements will buy you your own ergometer? Or a single even?

If you are bound and determined to try it - go for the cheap stuff, research says it won't matter. Forget what they ask you to take on the bottle…take no more than 2 grams (that's 2000 mg) per day. While you're at it - go see your doctor and let him know what you're doing. I don't recommend taking it.

Creatine Supplements and Rowing

Rowing CreatineCreatine and Rowing
As with many topics I turn to the American College of Sports Medicine for information today about Creatine supplementation. I then look at a few studies involving rowers specifically that you might easily come across.

A number of young athletes have taken to using creatine supplements in the hopes of building muscle and enhancing performance. The numbers are growing, and increasingly they are being taken by junior athletes under the age of 18. What should an individual do? What should a coach say when approached by an athlete or parent?

A round table discussion paper that reviews the literature on Creatine is used for this posting. It is available at this link:

The physiological and health effects of oral creatine supplementation
Exercise Importance:
PCr (phosphocreatine) is the immediate energy source used to resynthesize ATP in the muscles. ATP is the immediate energy store used by contracting muscles. It is an important energy store for short-term (3-6 seconds) high intensity exercise as in the rowing start, or a sprint at the end of a race. It is important for all exercise well above VO2 max and in the initial transition from rest to exercise, or while quickly elevating power.  This system's importance continues as it provides up to 25% of energy used in a 30s sprint. It becomes less significant as duration of exercise extends and intensity decreases is a direct result of muscles' small stores of PCr.
Creatine Absorption and Supplementation
Creatine is synthesized within the body from amino acids (from protein). There is some evidence that muscle Cr content is lower in vegetarians.

There does appear to be an initial period of about three days where excess Cr is absorbed in the muscles - increasing PCr content up to 20%. After the capacity of the muscle to extract Cr from the blood is exceeded the rest is exceted in the urine. "…continued ingestion of large doses of Cr simply establishes Cr-enriched urine."

There is a wide range of increase in Cr seen from supplementation from 0% non-responders to 40% but the uptake appears to be inversely related to previous stores. i.e. muscles that had little will take on more - but there appears to be an upper limit for Cr stores in the muscle.

As after about 2 days there is spillover into the urine, there seems little need to extend supplementation. beyond this point.

Most studies used a "loading dose" of 20 g per day - spread out over 4-5 doses in the day, then single 2 g per day dose to maintain stores after a varying period of loading from 3-5 days.

Although commercially available with several different dietary additives claimed to augment the effects, there does not appear to be any evidence that it will help.

Muscle Growth

With increased Cr stores there is muscle enlargement "due to water absorption" and a resulting rapid increase in mass of 1-3 kg after only 4-7 days of supplementing.

There is no evidence of an anabolic effect (muscle growth) from supplementation.

Performance Effects
It is suggested that even a 20% increase in PCr from supplementing may not provide detectable performance gains - but in repeated bouts of exercise where resynthesis of PCr is needed, it may well help in subsequent bouts of exercise.

There is no evidence of an increase of muscle aerobic power.

Most, but not all, studies do show an improvement in performance from supplementation,  but generally these in the later bouts of a repeated series of high intensity exercises.

It does not seem to increase maximal strength or the rate of force production - but may increase 1 rep dynamic strength - tested with 3-6 progressive contractions to establish a maximum - could this mean it would help in rowing starts?

It did have a positive 30% improvement in anaerobic power production during short sprints within and at the end of endurance events.

May enhance normal adaptations to weight training - perhaps due to ability to perform greater volume of lifting, likely related to the help with repeated bouts of exercise.

Chronic supplementation

There are anecdotal reports of some negative effects - nausea, diarrhea etc.
Also reports of cramping, strains and stiffness.
Some evidence anecdotally of hypertension (higher blood pressure) in athletes supplementing.
Some evidence that there may be altered fluid balance with chronic supplementation…therefore: "our present recommendation for individuals wishing to control weight and who are subjected to strenuous exercise and/or hot environments is to avoid Cr supplementation. Further, high-dose Cr supplementation (i.e., 20 g per day) should be avoided during periods of increased thermal stress, such as sports activities performed under high ambient temperature/humidity conditions."

There is almost no evidence examining the effect in children less than 18 years of age.
Lightweights take note:
Wrestlers trying to lose 5% of body mass in 5 days (make weight) lost less while supplementing on Cr due to fluid retention.

ACSM Recommendation on Safety:
The fact that Cr is a naturally occurring compound does not make supplementation safe, as numerous compounds are good, even essential in moderation, but detrimental in excess. Further, the lack of adverse effects does not equal safety, since unending research must be performed to eliminate the possibility of all theoretical complications.
Studies involving Rowing

There have been a number of studies involving rowers, that are freely available. Three are listed here as examples:

1. The effect of oral creatine supplementation on the 1000-m performance of competitive rowers.

This was a properly controlled study, published in a "peer-reviewed" scientific journal, as such we can trust that it was a well conducted study.

The study found that competitive rowers following creatine loading saw an average improvement of 2.3 s in 1000 m erg time - though this was not considered statistically significant, probably because there was a large variation in results compared to the number of people in the study.

2. Effect of creatine supplementation on aerobic performance and anaerobic capacity in elite rowers in the course of endurance training.

This study was posted on the web site of a company selling creatine. As such its results should be considered highly suspect. One has to ask - if it were a solid study why is it not in a peer-reviewed journal?

16 elite male rowers (Polish) were studied.
They found no improvement in maximal power output.
Mean wattage at lactate threshold improved by some 24 Watts. This is big as it suggests a large increase in the power that could be sustained for a long period of time.
There was an increase in time to exhaustion of 12 s. in an anaerobic capacity test.

3. The Effect Of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation During Combined Strength And High Intensity Training On Performance In Rowers

- This study was also just posted on the web, not in a journal.

- No effects seen doing repeated intervals or a 2000 m erg test.


- There is some evidence of improved short-term athletic performance.
- There is evidence of increased muscle growth, probably because it improves the volume of training that can be handled in the weight room.
- There is evidence of weight gain from water retention.
- There is no conclusive evidence that this would translate to rowing, although there are aspect of the race that mimic the types of exercise seen to be improved by Cr.
- There are reports of complications - under no circumstances should anyone try it for the first time leading up to an important competition.
- Sustained periods of high doses will only lead to you producing expensive urine!
- It should not be used when competing or training in high temperature environments.
- Lightweights may have problems with fluid retention when trying to make weight.

Given the potential problems, and the relatively minor benefits is it really worth it?

Fluid replacement - What and when should I drink?

Here are a few things culled from the scientific literature recently that are interesting to athletes and coaches:

  • Fluid replacement is best spaced out over the available time - even though the natural impulse is to take as much fluid on board as possible right away. Because of the way the kidneys handle the excess fluid you will get more complete rehydration if the fluid is taken in over time.

  • As athletes prefer to take on fluid right after exercise, and as carbohydrate replacement is most effective right after exercise - a sports drink suits both needs right after exercise. Moreover, the small amount of sodium in sports drinks improves fluid replacement.

  • When competitions are spaced less than 24 hr apart - as often happens in rowing - fluid replacement must be well structured. For example, 2L of fluids are best replaced in four 500 mL increments every 20-30 minutes than one large consumption.

  • Rehydration within 6 hours of exercise requires consuming 125%-150% of the body weight lost due to fluid loss. Sodium needs to be a part of this replenishment. Only sports drinks, or sodium that is part of a normal healthy diet, would be adequate sources.

  • Drinking sports drinks compared with water during exercise 40-50 minutes or longer (i.e. in training for rowing) enhances performance.

  • For athletes prone to cramping there is no evidence that supplementing with minerals such as potassium have any beneficial effect, although sodium chloride as in food or a sports drink can help.

And now for the items supported in the literature, but perhaps somewhat controversial:

  • There is also a growing belief that caffeine is not the enemy is was once perceived to be. While high levels of caffeine can act as a diuretic, at normal levels, especially in habitual caffeine drinkers it is not a problem. Caffeinated beverages can be considered part of the normal daily fluid intake - but not if rapid fluid replacement is needed i.e. when dehydrated already.

  • While alcohol shouldn't be used to rehydrate the concentration in drinks such as beer will not adversely affect rehydration status.

  • The traditional recommendation of 8-10 glasses of water per day SHOULD include things like coffee and tea normally consumed or else you will be taking on too much water.

  • Use of a sports drink, especially when training is a good idea as it will enhance performance and time to exhaustion.

  • In multi-day competitions on hot days use a scale and plan your rehydration. Replace 125% or more of the weight lost and do it in a number of doses spaced out over the available time rather than in one large drink.

  • Heathly, but salted, foods OR a sports drink should be part of this fluid replacement strategy.


Hydration and Coxies

Hydration and Coxies - Important Information

Please read this important post on "hyponatremia"

Note this information for coxies:

"Consuming as little as 1.8 liters of water in a single sitting may prove fatal for a person adhering to a low-sodium diet, or 3 liters for a person on a normal diet."

The American College of Sport Medicine notes that people with small body mass would be especially prone to this condition.

How many coaches have asked their coxies to drink huge volumes of water to "make weight"?

I have certainly seen coxies consume more than a 2-L bottle of water in one sitting.

Now in recent years many have lowered the minimum wieght for coxies so that this parctice seems rare now - but it is well worth considering!

Is it likely to happen? No. Is it worth the risk? No way. Stop if you have ever encouraged someone to do this.

Hydration and Rowing Part IA

To follow up on the last post which looked at the need for maintaining hydration and the challenges in rowing we include a look at a few more resources.

From the American College of Sports Medicine

One resource that should be noted is the American College of Sports Medicine, who have produced a "consensus statement" titled "American College of Sports Medicine
Roundtable on Hydration and Physical Activity: Consensus Statements."

Whenever I look for a well-considered scientific position I go to the ACSM who publish the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise."

This paper covers all aspects of hydration including an assessment of how solid the research evidence is for each statement. If you enjoy this level of detail this paper is well worth reading.

Also, from the Gatorade Sport Science Institute:
An article on the Hydration Assessment of Athletes .

The first half of the article is quite technical and applies more to research settings. The final past titled "supplement" though is a practical, even if more technical, look at three issues to consider when assessing hydration: weight, urine, and thirst. There isn't a great deal of new information there from what most coaches preach…but it is much more specific and those who like to dive more deeply into a topic are encouraged to read this.

There is one part worth looking at more - urine. A common adage is that you should "pee clear" as an indication of proper hydration. So often you now see very keen athletes carrying their water bottle everywhere drinking religiously to maintain proper hydration.

So - is this research-based or just a common practice?

Consider USA Track and Field's new recommendations for distance runners - a good caomparison to rowers in training - on hydration.

They now recommend drinking based on thirst. To prevent a newly recognized danger known as hyponatremia. More on that later.

This posting for the Los Angeles Triathlon includes GSI recommendations for proper hydration in endurance athletes.

So - what about the old adage that you should "pee clear"? This paper, and the ACSM position paper,  makes the point that "clear urine" - for some time now an indication for athletes of proper hydration - is an indication of over hydration an a danger sign for hyponatremia. A better indication of proper hydration is urine that is light yellow "like lemonade."

Hydrate to replace the volume of fluid lost in exercise.
Assess hydration status based on thirst, weight and urine colour.
Athletes who travel around all day drinking until they pee clear may actually be harming themselves, or at least setting themselves up for impaired performance.
When exercising for a long duration some intake of electrolytes is important.

Too Much Water - Hyponatremia

In recent years it has become clear that it is actually possible to drink too much water. While the applications are more to exercise lasting longer than four hours in duration, there are possible applications to rowing. Note also the final resource from the American College of Sports Medicine that mentions this condition may be more prevalent in women with smaller body mass.

From USA Track and Field:

"A potentially fatal condition, hyponatremia most often occurs in exercise lasting four hours or longer and results primarily from consuming excessive fluids and is exacerbated by not replacing sodium losses. Severe cases of may involve grand mal seizures, increased intracranial pressure, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), respiratory arrest and even death."

From wikipedia:

Wikipedia notes that, "Consuming as little as 1.8 liters of water in a single sitting may prove fatal for a person adhering to a low-sodium diet, or 3 liters for a person on a normal diet." And refer to a famous case of fraternity hazing where a student, forced to consume excessive amounts of water died of heart failure.

How many coaches have asked their coxies to drink huge volumes of water to "make weight"?

This is worth at least keeping in mind for rowers even if it typically only occurs in exercise lasting longer than four hours.

It is one on the reasons researchers are now suggesting that athletes consume sports drinks rather than just water as sports drinks contain electrolyte and diminish the possibility of diluting ones plasma electrolytes.

Even if rowers will not reach this point in a 2+ hour workout one wonders if drinking too much before exercise (AS some athletes actually do) and then continuing strong hydration during training on only water could at least put athletes in a position of diminished performance.

For an even more detailed explanation see the American College of Sports Medicine: who have released this very important paper

Hydration in Rowing

Rowing Water Bottle and Hydration

Hydration in Rowing Part I

This will be a multi-part posting over the next few days:
Part I. General (but for many new!) Information and Recommendations
Part II. What to drink!

What is there to add about hydration? If there is one topic that coaches and athletes think that they have a good grasp of scientifically, it is probably hydration. How hard is it?

So what do people agree on?
  • Athletes sweat - a lot - even in cold weather.

  • Even a small loss in body mass due to fluid loss can affect performance significantly.

  • Athletes need to drink while training.

  • The body does not tell you it is thirsty soon enough – you need to drink before you feel thirsty.

And if you feel very scientific you might even weigh yourself before and after training, knowing that ever 1 kg loss in mass represents 1 L of fluids that have been lost.

On top of this of course is the lightweight component in rowing. Lots of lighties sweat down to weight - and the fluid loss can affect performance.

Is that it? Well if you are this much on top of things you are probably ahead of lots of others. But there is more that has come out recently that is worth noting. The special situation in rowing - athletes are in relatively small boats a long way from (drinking) water of course also affect how you approach hydration.

More information for you:

An excellent source of information is the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). They put a lot of money into supporting their athletes and produce a good deal of information that is freely available on the web.

One such report about hydration and rowing gives us an indication of exactly how much fluid is lost rowing. It presents somewhat technical information from their studies, but it all boils down to this:

Even in cold weather (well, for Australia) the athletes studied only replaced half of the fluids lost to sweat. And these were elite athlete who (presumably) are knowledgeable about such things. I would venture that the average junior or recreational adult is losing even more.

The AIS rowers lost 1.5 L per hour in warm weather and 0.75 L per hour in cool weather.

Recommendations - not rocket science, but well worth considering:
  • Rowers don't drink enough while training!

  • Schedule enough breaks in your sessions to drink.

  • One water bottle is not enough - even a one hour session is likely to result in a loss of fluids equivalent to more than a one liter bottle of water.

  • Carry an extra bottle in the coaching launch for each athlete in warm weather!

  • Have a fluid replacement strategy after practice to ensure that fluids are replaced quickly.

  • Lightweights - a loss of weight during a training session is NOT a good sign.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment by clicking the link below.

Stay tuned for Part II. What should a rower be drinking?

Overtraining in Rowing

As a follow-up to yesterday's post I include a number of links to sites or articles dealing with overtraining and rowing. The first article is of particular interest as it deals with Mike Spraklen's high volume program (while coaching in the US) and in fact clarifies that it is specifically structured to provide adequate rest.

Check these out - more to follow on overtraining in rowing:

Article supporting Spraklen's Methods as carefully organized to avoid overtraining.

Peak Performance Online

University of York Boat Club

Rowing Medicine from FISA

Steinacker et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1998 "Training of rowers before world championships"

Kellman et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, March 2000 "Changes in stress and recovery in elite rowers during preparation for the Olympic Games"

Welcome Rowing Service Readers

Thank you to Rachel Quarrell for linking to us on her famous "Rowing Service" site.

Today has seen a huge influx of new visitors.

While the blog began in concept for ergers a personal interest and experience with exercise physiology and coaching has led to several postings of a more general rowing nature.

Please treat the site as an idea exchange! No posting is nearly complete enough to be considered expert adivce - they are more like the ideas that are generated after reading something are sitting around the boathouse having a chat and you mention something you saw..."hey, I wonder if?" comes to mind.

So see what's down, and add comments to enhance the discussion. New posts could follow your lead, or go down a completely different path...

Welcome and check back often - new posts will be going up daily at least!

Training Volume - When is enough, enough?

I was reading the very interesting blog by Canadian National Team athlete and Stoke of the Cambridge University Eight, Kip McDaniel. His postings are regular and follow his feelings as he progresses through the season. It is very interesting reading. One post on injury and illness (see our posting on the same topic) got me thinking about training methods and volume.

Now, I'm about to stir up some differing opinions and I should state that none of this comes from McDaniel's blog. I am impressed at how a young man can move between three famous programs (Harvard, Cambridge and the Canadian Team) with such an open attitude and a desire to get everything that he can from each system. Far too many athletes experience one great coach and then spend the rest of their careers complaining that nobody else can come close. McDaniel's opinions are refreshing.

I would like this to be an open invitation to comment as opinion varies greatly on this.

McDaniel describes the immense amount of work done by the Canadian Heavies under coach Mike Spraklen, where three training sessions in a day can be considered a "light" day of training. Spraklen himself has been known to comment to his athletes that he doesn't believe that they can overtrain.

At the other end of the spectrum perhaps, but in the same camp now is the new coach of the Canadian Lightweight men, world-renowned coach of the Danish lightweights, Bent Jensen, who is known to believe in training volumes that allow his athletes a life outside of rowing.

There is an interesting, and perhaps at least in North America, little-known posting on Concept II's UK web site. It is an erg training manual that includes an excellent section on Physiology and Sport Science as it relates to rowing training. Do give it a read. It outlines interesting principles from the Danish system, note especially the Chapter on the "Bespoke Training plan" page 55 of the full-text PDF. The author notes that in the winter the Danish Nationals train "a total of eight to 12 hours" per week (all indoors) and when they are able to move outside "training time increases to 16 hours a week."

I wonder how the two opposing systems are working in Canada now? Are they working together and learning from each other? Is there division in the camp? Does Jensen really only row his athletes 16 hours per week? It sounds like Spraklen puts that in before Wednesday is finshed!

Certainly there are a tonne of opinions out there. Is the huge volume of training beneficial – some would say it increases the base level that the athletes can sustain aerobically and it ingrains great technique at higher intensities. Others would counter that beyond a certain point, training tired rowers can only lead to training bad technique, and can lead to the possibility of injury.

So often people cut short discussions on any topic by pointing out the results of a particular athlete or coach and suggest that any further debate - especially by someone with no similar track record - is pointless, even presumptious. OK, then we will say that Spraklen's results speak for themselves...but so do Jensen's. Now where do you take it?

When training for a six minute event is it really necessary to endure the volume of training done by Ironman triathletes?
What volume of training does a 5km runner do? Probably less. A 2 km swimmer? Probably just as much as the Canadian Heavies.

What about intensity? In Pinsent's excellent book, he describes the increase in training volume over the years, but the huge amount that is done at low intensity. The Canadian Heavies do huge volume but much of it is under racing conditions. The Danish way may be lower volume and lower intensity.

Which is better? Any opinions out there? I am only throwing out thoughts based on a great degree of hearsay - can anyone lend more insight?

Recovery During Repeated Intervals with Different Rest Periods

A study of Greek national calibre rowers doing 1000 m intervals was published this past March in the Journal of Sports Sciecne and Medicine

see the full text here

This is interesting because it shows us what happens when intervals are not used properly in training - and when they are used the way most athletes and coaches employ them. Only pure speed intervals are meant to be performed at 100% intensity. In this study the 1000 m repeats were at full intensity and we see the physiological result from such work.

For a more complete look at intervals and intensity see Stephen Seiler's Excellent Site

The authors looked at repeated 1000 m intervals with different rest intervals and examined the recovery after it in terms of power output and the heart rate response. Obviously power output is what we are looking for on the water and heart rate is of interest because many coaches and athletes use heart rate as an indicator of recovery and when to begin their next interval (depending upon the training effect that they are looking for).

Interval training comes in many flavours, with work to rest ratios varrying from 1:1 for aerobic intervals to 1:3 or more for anaerobic intervals.

This study used rest intervals of varrying lengths up to 6 minutes, which would work out to approximately 1:2 ratio. This is a length of recovery used by many coaches and outwardly it would appear that athletes are generally recovered after this period.

What a coach tries to accomplish in an interval session can vary. Traditionally, a 1:1 ratio is used for aerobic intervals. It is expected that recovery will be incomplete, but the athletes can work at a higher intensity that they normally would be able to doign steady state work.

Ratios may be manipulated so that athletes work at or just above the lactate threshold to work on their ability to clear lactate and maintan higher intensites duing sustained exercise.

Pure speed training on the other hand requires complete recovery. The goal is to deplete the system and train its abiltiy and capacity of recovery.

What did they find?

Recovery was incomplete even after 6 minutes of rest. In fact in the second 500 meters of the pieces there was NO EFFECT of the recovery time.

Unless the recovery was very short, no change was seen in the heart rate response during the next interfval.

What does this mean for me?

  • Doing 1000-m intervals with 6 minutes or less rest will result in incomplete recovery.
  • You can expect decreases in power output even in just the second interval.
  • 6 minutes rest or less will not be pure speed work - it will train lactate clearance as recovery is incomplete.
  • If your goal is complete recovery between intervals, more than 6 minutes rest is required.

Most Importantly...

This study did not examine the effect of the intensity of the interval. The intervals were "all-out" which is what many athletes do, but is not the preferred way to do interval training. This may be the key information here. Working at 100% - well above VO2 max - for intervals of 3 minutes duration and then trying for full recovery isn't focussed on anything in particular. Is it speed training? No - the recovery isn't enough. Is it anaerobic threshold training? No - the intensity is too high to come close to repeating performance even in the second interval.

More information is available:

Stephen Seiler's Site

Body Mass index and Rowing

I am just back from an interesting chat by Dr. Tony de la Mare who is doing research into the use of the BMI both for health and in comparison to athletic performance.

For those who are not aware the BMI is a simple and very general measurement taken as the subject's mass in kg divided by (their height in meters - squared). For more information see the entry at Wikipedia.

Now as many readers will know the BMI receives a great deal of criticism as being too general and not taking into account differences in body composition and genetics. Much ofthat criticism is valid but the general message of Dr. de la Mare's chat still holds:

Those outside the healthy range (certainly above 30) are at significant risk for disease and early mortality. Notable with the huge increase in risk for Type II diabetes as one's BMI increased. He explained that we are seeing a significant increase in dabetes in kids as young as 15 who overeat and undertake little or no physical activity.

One criticism is that large, well-muscled, athletes have their BMI skewed. The belief is that thier extra weight is muscle - good weight - and that it might put them intothe so-called "obese" levels of BMI.

Not so, in general. Dr. de la Mare presented BMIs from a variety of elite athleetes and all of their numbers were in a similar range - for men typically 20-24 and for women typically 20-22. Even ice hockey players and rugby players who are more muscular were in the 26-28 range - still well below so-called obese levels. There would seem to be an ideal BMI for aerobic performance at least, with runners (20), mountain bikers (22), and X-C skiers (23) all in the same range.

BMI and Rowing

As there were no data on rowers presented I did a little digging on the net. Data presented for the 1992 US Olympic Team at Dr. Stephen Seiler's excellent site suggest a BMI of 23 for both male and female rowers and data presented on the Cambridge University Crew from 2005 on the BBC web site puts them at 24. Again, despite being taller and more muscular these elite rowers have a BMI in the same healthy range as for other endurance athletes.

What does this mean for you?

Well, for the recreational athlete a high BMI is not likely to be because you are "big-boned." Don't fool yourself, and check with your doctor. At the same time, these are data for elite athletes. Most of us cannot expect to match them, but we should all aim to be in the healthy range nonetheless.

The BMI defines a place to be for both health and performance - but there is no correlation beyond that. If one were to rank the BMIs and erg scores of National Team athletes one cannot at all expect BMI to be a performance predictor within this group! In otherwords being in the ideal range is necessary for membership in this elite club, but it does not predict how you will perform once you get there.

Low Rate Inerval Training in Competitive Season?

An interesting study in cyclists provides food for thought for rowers in the midst of their competitive season.

High-Resistance Interval Training Improves 40-km Time-Trial Performance in Competitive Cyclists by Amy M. Taylor-Mason

Sportscience 9, 27-31, 2005 (

The author of the study substituted two days of "high resistance" intervals - akin to low stroke rate work in rowers during the cyclists competitive phase of training - a time most cyclists (crews?) are focussing on lower reistance high cadence work closer to race intensity.

She found an improvement of 7.6% in mean power during a 40 km time trial and 3.5% in peak power.

Implications for rowing? Those low stroke rate pieces may still have a place in your competitive season. Of course they have added benefits for rowers as they allow continued development of precise technique.

Of course the study was for cyclists competing over a longer distance, but the potential implications are interesting.

Can too much exercise make you sick?

A recent publication of the Gatorade Sport Science Institute titled Can too much exercise make you sick? By David C. Nieman, Dr. P.H. a well respected expert on exercise an immune function provides useful perspective for rowers and coaches. Rowing is a high-volume sport for both physiological and technical reasons. Even those who ever increasing volumes of exercise. How does this affect immune function?

Nieman’s report points out that a recent study at the Los Angeles Marathon reported:

  • One out of seven runners who participated in the event got sick after it was over.
  • Runners training more than 60 miles a week during the two months before the race, doubled their odds for sickness compared to those training less than 20 miles a week.
There is evidence that regular moderate exercise enhances immune function, but there is also evidence that too much exercise suppresses immune function.

What do you do if you are already ill?

He also has guidelines that are useful for coaches and athletes facing illness, including of course the proviso that one should consult a physician first:

  • If symptoms are from the neck up (e.g. nasal congestion) supervised exercise should be fine.
  • If symptoms are body wide such as fever, chills and muscle aches exercise should be avoided until symptoms are completely gone.
  • Trying to exercise out an illness can lead to “post-viral fatigue syndrome” that can persist for months or years.

While Dr. Nieman indicates that safe exercise levels are an individual thing, he gives the following guidelines, that are not much beyond the common sense approach taken by athletes and coaches. These include getting adequate sleep, and eating a well-balanced diet.

There are a few interesting points though that you can apply to your training:

Applications to Training

Using sports drinks (OK, he is sponsored by Gatorade) before, during and after heavy training. This is often overlooked by rowers and coaches since most rowing does not get into the zone that could result in complete carbohydrate depletion (“bonking”) which generally requires several hours of steady work. However, Nieman reports that “ingestion of carbohydrate beverages during prolonged and intense exercise keeps blood sugar levels up and stress hormones low, resulting in better immune system functioning.”

He also notes that athletes should “avoid rapid weight loss” which obviously applies to lightweight rowers who take significant health risks when they try to make weight too quickly – actually endangering their ability to compete if they induce sickness.

Read the complete text of this article at:The Gatorade Sport Science Institute

A related blog entry by Canadian Kip MCDaniel

The Valley - Decreasing Rates


A steady sate workout where you roll the rates for variation and neuromuscular benefits

1 min @ 24

2 min @ 22

3 min @ 20

4 min @ 18

5 min @ 16

4 min @ 18

3 min @ 20

2 min @ 22

1 min @ 24

And back up to 24 for a 25 minute piece. Rest 5 minutes between repeats.

Repeat 2+ times depending on your volume requirements

Duration: 50 min +

Stroke Rate: see workout

Heart Rate: 65% max and below up to 80% at higher rates

Physiology: Aerobic Base

Movie Marathon Erg


There’s nothing like a marathon! Try sitting down to erg through an entire movie. This can be done by just about anyone – if you take it easy – which is the entire point of a long distance workout. If nothing else you will impress your friends when they talk about a movie and you can boast “yea, I ergged through that”

Duration: 90 min +

Stroke Rate: Whatever you can handle, generally 22 and below.

Heart Rate: 65% max and below

Splits: 6K Plus 15-20 seconds

Physiology: Aerobic Base


Erg through another major event:

The Superbowl Erg

The Olympics Opening Ceremonies Erg

You pick ‘em!


Every training session should begin with a proper warm up. You've heard that before haven't you? So, why do so few people listen? Here are a couple of things to think about:

Do warm-ups prevent injury? - well believe it or not there is great debate in the scientific literature on this one - particularily the importance of stretching! Nobody debates the importance of flexibility in performance. More and more though are beginning to question warm up stretching's ability to prevent injury. For example:

No prevention of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)

Research still needed, but improper or excessive stretching can lead to injury

Warm-ups make you work more efficiently - i.e. they make you faster!

Have you ever done a long steady state piece without a warmup? What happens? Every time, you find that your splits drop noticeably after a fairly predictable period of time.

In the old days they called it getting your "second wind." Now it's called being warmed up. The temperature of your muscles goes up, your aerobic system is kick started into gear. Metabolic ensymes start working more efficently. More importantly to you - your splits magically get better with seemingly less effort.

Don't believe me? Believe the research:

A 2-3% improvement in cycling performance
25% Lower lactate production in runners

You wouldn't race without warming up would you?

So don't train without one either! You're putting in all that time and effort - you owe it to yourself to warm-up.

Most coaches advocate a moderately long (15 minutes or so) period of easy steady state exercise. That might mean your 6k pace plus 15 seconds or so.

Some would suggest a few short bursts (10-20 strokes) are also important. They shouldn't come within three minutes of your race or workout though to permit the ATP-CP system to fully recover.

The Quickest Way to Fitness

Research indicates the most efficient way to improve aerobic capacity is the three minute interval with three minutes of rest between intervals.

It takes about two minutes to elevate VO2 to capacity levels. So if you are going to train for capacity the real work begins when the work interval gets beyond two minutes. Unless the work is so short that the recovery is incomplete, in which case VO2 remains elevated throughout the workout.

Complete 3 min intervals at your 2 km pace + 10 sec.

Rest interval is also 3 minutes.

Begin with 6 intervals.
Include this workout once a week and add 1-2 intervals per session until you reach 12.

The Hour of Power

What else would you like to be doing in June? Ok, being out on the water might be best, but here's a well-known workout to get this site started.

The Hour of Power is a 60 minute piece at a fixed rate, usually 18 SPM.

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