Rowing Psychology - Competition Preparation

The 30+ minutes from when a crew pushes off until a race begins can be the toughest of all for a coach as the control is handed over to the atheltes and the coach has no ability to step in if unforseen events occur. For athletes as well, there may have been precise preparation for the race itself and perhaps even a scripted warm-up to follow but the mental side of race preparation is often ignored. How well has the mental aspect of your preparation been looked after?

It is important for athletes to be properly prepared mentally so that they have reached the optimal mental state for competition. It is also imperative to have a mental plan in place to deal with unexpected occurrances. Finally, crews need to communicate well as each athelte will have their own best mental preparation for a race.

A related article appeared in the same journal referenced in the previous post titled, "Bring Your Mind to the Line."

Mental Preparation is highly individualized.

The few athletes and coaches I know who do follow a mental preparation plan tend to script it as much as any physical warm-up. They follow either what worked best for them, or what they read in a particular book or article with little attention to the needs of a specific individual or crew.

Research shows that every athlete has their own mental state in which they perform best. One rower may need to focus on who they are racing against and need to be highly energized to race well - like going into battle. Others perform best when they take a more cerebral approach - focsing on technique and their own best race. Still others are best when distracted and relaxed. There are as many approaches to mental preparation as there are rowers.

Having these individual mental states blend well in a crew is a key to the art of coaching. Coaches have their own way of mentally approaching a race and if they don't fit well with a particular athlete it is unlikely that a top performance will ensue. Even if a coach is flexible in her approach, how do they deal with the one or two atheltes whose best mental preparation is at odds with the rest of the crew?

This is doubly difficult if the coach and athlete have yet to work out the best mental preparation strategy. Having younger, or less experienced, athletes recognize their own optimal state is a significant challenge. Without a delibarate approach to this it can take a young rower many years to really learn about themselves.

How can an athlete identify their optimal state?

If you have enough experience to draw on, think back to past strong performances. How were you feeling on the day of a top performance. How did you go about preparing yourself? Do you row best under the direction of a certain coach - perhaps their approach to the race fits you well.

A journal is a valuable tool to have for exercises like this. I would also add that you should consider your optimal state in strong training sessions. How many crews perform well in training but not in competition? Perhaps the rowers’ actual best mental state came about in training. This often means that this athlete needs a mroe relaxed atmosphere in terms of race preparation, or one where they feel in control of all variables.

The reverse can also be true – athletes that "bring it on race day" may actually need to consider their mental plan for training sessions. Perhaps they have made less than optimal use of their training plan because they dd not properly prepare for practice sessions.

Develop a Routine to Attain the Proper Pre-competition Mental State

Should you review the competition before the race or think about your own race, or perhaps even be completely distracted? Many coaches would choose one of these specifically - but for different athletes the correct answer could be any one of them.

Is it useful to have a mental rehearsal of the race? If imagery is part of the plan - consider how that imagery will affect you - there are so many things that can be said in a visualization session that can put an athelte in a variety of mental states.

I would encourage you to consider the mental approach to various situations at the competition site - weather changes, schedule changes, equipment issues, and so on. Having prepared yourself for each of these is key to a successful race.

Consider the Individual

It is important as well to discuss these things between coach and all members of a crew. This can be an important part of early season racing, debriefing and learnign how the various members of a crew need to approach race day before the big competition occurs.

Similarily coaches need to understand that their own preferred aproach to a race may not be the same as some of their atheltes' approaches. A fire and brimstone, marines landing to take an island speech works for some crews - but not for others. How well they can work together may determine the success of a crew on race day.

While the level of excitment and general preparation for individuals matters a great deal - there is important information in the details of the day as well.

For example, Johnny needs his whole crew to be clear that he prefers not to talk if there is a race delay on the water. Jimmy though needs his crew to know he likes to get excited and do a lot of positive self-talk. Some athletes will want to kill extra time with easy paddling and trying to put the race out of their minds. Others will want to do a few more starts or simulations of key parts of the race plan. If these things have been discussed ahead of time and an approach ageed upon then a crew is far more likely to succeed in different situations.

What is key is that you have a plan and that everyone in a crew is a part of that plan. It can make the difference between winning and losing, before the race has even begun.

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Rowing Training - Fractal Nature of Periodization

Although it is more about strength training, and not very detailed at that, an article in the NSCA's Performance Training Journal titled Fractal Periodization is interesting. Fractal images are "self-similar" as you magnify them increasingly. In other words, keep zooming in and you see essentially the same image.

The article suggests that this is true of a proper training plan. This is the first such description I have seen of the idea of periodization, but it fits the bill nicely. From a four year cycle, to an annual plan, to a macrocycle and a mesocycle, to an individual workout the alternating periods of rest and work, of balancing the various energy systems in a workout and muscular requirements there really is a self-similar nature to the phases of training.

Does this help your training? Is there a practical nature to it? Perhaps not a great deal, but it does remind you to keep the balance in mind in all facets of your training and planning. Indeed, there are several people now who consider periodization important in all areas of training including nutrition and psychology.

Take a few minutes to ask yourself, how well your training is periodized? What aspects can be better planned?

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World Championship Women's 8+ Splits

Not to appear sexist I now provide the 500 m splits from the women's 8+ as well:

Women's 8+

1 USA 01:25.6 01:29.5 01:30.9 01:29.5
2 GER 01:27.5 01:29.9 01:30.5 01:29.4
3 AUS 01:28.2 01:30.0 01:31.5 01:30.6
4 CHN 01:27.9 01:31.5 01:32.0 01:29.6
5 CAN 01:29.5 01:31.8 01:31.8 01:30.2
6 ROM 01:29.3 01:31.7 01:33.4 01:33.8

The women appear far more consistent than the men do, with the possible exceptin of the Romanians - who I expect aren't used to being where they were!

The USA actually had the worst change from first 500 to second 500, although we should note that they probably knew at that point that they had a good lead.

There are many interpretations - what's your take? Hit the link below marked "comment" - please.

World Championship Men's 8+ Splits

This is the 100th post on Rowign Science - a bit of an anniversary!

So what does a true rowing geek do after races? Well, put the results in a spreadsheet and play with them of course!

So - thanks to I took the results of the men's 8+ at Eton and decided to see what the 500 m splits were for each crew:

GER 01:18.3 01:21.2 01:21.5 01:21.0
ITA 01:18.6 01:23.4 01:21.6 01:19.7
USA 01:19.2 01:23.0 01:21.8 01:20.2
AUS 01:19.8 01:23.8 01:23.1 01:23.2
GBR 01:20.9 01:24.5 01:24.2 01:22.8
POL 01:20.6 01:23.3 01:25.3 01:24.8

Transition Phase of Training

The World Championships are over, as are all the major summer regattas. It is now time that most athletes should have either just completed, or now be entering a "transition phase" in their training.

A key phase in an annual plan, the transition phase allows for recovery and rejuvination both physically and mentally after peaking for the major competiton of the year. It is the precursor to another general phase when the aerbic base is rebuilt - or one hopes, built upon. Not long ago coaches would suggest a 3-4 week period away from the major sport and while staying active a drop in fitness was expected as athletes take a very significant drop in their training.

Now, it is important to look at the transition phase as another step in a long-term plan. Training plans often look far beyond a year now. Athletes look to improve over a four year (or longer) cycle. The transition phase is important for recovery, but it is important to maintain fitness so that the upcoming phase of building the aerobic base is not a period for making up for lost fitness thanks to a virtual layoff from training for a month.

Coaches now will encourage some brief break after the final competition followed by a period of reduced volume and intesity and perhaps an extra rest day each week - but the maintenance of fitness is important. It is also likely that any highly trained athlete will actually recover better by staying active.

In the coming days we will look at some recommendations for the transition phase and some publicatins with interesting findings that impact this time. For those in schools and colleges about to hit the water again, we will soon get into the beginning of season training and how best to build the aerobic system.

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Small Boats Poll Closed

The small boats poll is now closed.

75% feel small boats are the best for technique training.
18% seem to agree, but feel they are unfair in selection.
7% simply feel "big boats rule."

Look for a new poll soon.

Rowing Nutrition Train Low - Compete High

Those familiar with altitude training will have heard of "Live High - Train Low." This is the practice of living at altitude (or simulated altitude), but returning nearer to sea level for training so that training intensity remains high enough.

"Train Low - Compete High" is a play on words, but actually refers to sports nutrition.

Bente Pedersen has done research on single-leg exercise showing that endurance performance benefits from some training sessions in a glycogen-depleted state. In her work Pederson had subjects exercise one leg once daily and the other leg twice every other day. The total amount of training was equal for both legs, but the leg that was trained twice every other day was forced to train in a glycogen-depleted state in that afternoon workout. After several weeks of this, subjects engaged in an endurance test with both legs. Pedersen found that the leg trained twice every other day increased its endurance 90 percent more than the other leg.

Why is this the case? The link might be in a "cytokine" called interleukin-6 (Il-6) - part of the immune system. Pederson is also reasearching this immune factor which is released by skeletal muscle when training as a potential mediator of the health benefits of exercise. These benefits range from increased fat burning, to greater resistance to muscle damage, to improved cognitive function. By "mediator" we mean there is a direct link - exercise causes Il-6 to be released, and it tells the body to adapt.

Interestingly, Pedersen's research has shown that supplementation with drinks containing carbohydrate inhibits the release of Il-6 - so they may also inhibit the training effect.

In practical terms, she said, athletes should do some workouts within a few hours of their previous workout, so that there's not enough time to replenish muscle glycogen stores between workouts. They should also leave their sports drinks at home for some workouts - that is, intentionally under-fuel their muscles during training.

Nonetheless, there is not enough understanding to suggest that an athlete should train glycogen depleted all the time. Evidence suggests that replenished athletes can handle higher training loads (although this may actually mean they NEED more training - see below). Athletes can also train with more intensity when fully replenished. This is probably important and could be somewhat like the "live high train low" concept where it has been shown that the increased training intensity is important enough to return to sea level for training.

Stephen Seiler produced a commentary about this topic. In it he comments that this line of research has led him to question "is part of the reason that modern elite athletes 'need' so much training volume that they eat so well?" In short, all our great nutrition may act counter to the normal training signals our body produces - thus resulting in a need for greater training volumes to produce the same effect.

He points to training systems, periodization and the use of long slow intensity training as having eveloved quite separate from science - and that they may well have an evolutionary explanation.

"Meanwhile, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some famous athletes (like Indurain in his day) train intentionally with low carbohydrate availability in preparation for competitions, where they eat lots of carbohydrate. I contend that these behaviours by athletes are Darwinistic in the sense that they represent a selection process towards some optimum achieved over years of trial and error in the elite athlete population."

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90 Degree Turns in a Head Race - Reader Question

I received an emailed question from a reader today asking if there is a known fastest method for 90 degree turns in a head race:

I live in Maine and here there is a series of stake races that runs throughout the summer. Also, in the fall the Green Mountain Head, a stake race, attracts some excellent competitors (past and present national team members, etc.). Is there any reliable information about the fastest way to round a stake buoy for a 90 degree turn?

I've been favoring approaching it from and angle and then holding hard with the inside blade. People I've spoken with have found no difference between rowing through the turn with pressure on the outside blade or checking the boat down with the inside blade and, if needed, doing a "river turn."

Many thanks for any thoughts or information you could share on this

I coached crews at a race that was out-and-back including a 180 degree turn that would be even stronger than the one this reader describes. I have no scientific data to support any particular method, but we felt hard rowing on one side and air shots on the other combined with a wide approach worked best. Having said that, weather conditions greatly affected the turn and this method with the wind in the wrong direction could be suicidal.

I also have heard from a member of a Canadian National Team Women's 8 from many years ago who entered the Head of the Charles (I think it was!) and their coxie used a canoe paddle to back down on one side for a faster turn - since of course ruled illegal - but what a site to see the coxie carrying a paddle down and getting into the boat.

I also imagine that the particualr boat you are in would greatly affect things - obviously a single is far easier to turn than an 8+. Different boat manufacturers have also experiemented with different fins and rudders for such races. I saw a Dirigo fin/rudder combination on a Hudson 8+ once for just this reason.

So this is a question to readers - What is the fastest way to turn 90+ degrees in a race? Of course I mean head race - in a 2K race the answer is: "catch a crab!"

Please add comments or email me your answers.

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Rowing Takes Heart - Elite Rower's Hearts May Appear Pathologic

If you have a strong interest in Sport Science you may well have heard a story about someone you know going to the doctor and inciting some degree of panic when tested. One colleague of mine was almost given an injection of adreniline when he went to hosital for something and his (perfectly normal) heart rate was measured in the low 30s. In another case, a clinical biochem professor showed his blood data to his class and pointed out how to an untrained doctor it would look as though he had a heart attack - he had finished third in the Boston Marathon.

Another measure that can be similar with athletes and unhealthy patients is heart size and thickness. In a failing heart you see enlargement - lengthened muscles contract stronger so it is an attempt to preserve cardiac stroke volume. Of course athletes hearts enlarge to pump more blood where it is needed also.

This article from back in 1991 in the New England Journal of Medicine sought to use imaging to separate the fit from the sick heart. They looked at 947 elite athletes from various sports looking at the thickness of the left ventrical wall. When it is greater than 13 mm it is considered to be a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Interestingly, only 16 of 947 athletes would have been seen as over 13 mm - 15 of them ROWERS or CANOEISTS.

If you are a highly trained rower and you have to see the cardiologist this is worth knowing. For most of us it is just an interesting bit of trivia...I suppose it is true that rowing takes heart!

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Medical Resources at EIS - Bird Flu, Jet Lag, and more

Related to the last post the EIS has several medical resources for athletes and coaches. It stood out as one reader inquired recently as to my thoughts about Bird Flu. While I don't feel personally qualified to answer that question there is a bird flu update on the site.

This site looks well worth checking out for those of you who like to leave no stone unturned in your preparation.

Resources Available that might be interesting:

Flu Vaccine
Bird Flu
Jet Lag
Hay Fever
Autologous Blood Injections - "Blood Doping" - don't do it, but I know several of you might be interested in reading more as it has been in the press recently.

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English Institute of Sport Biomenchanics for Rowing

Dr. Valery Kleshnev who interviewed with Rowing Science, is featured in this piece on the English Institute of Sport site about preparing British Rowers for the World Championships.

There isn't a great deal of detail in the piece, but you certainly get a feeling for the intensity of the British effort. Dr. Kleshnev describes a number of people involved in the effort and the importance technology plays in providing athletes and coaches with biomechanical feedback.

(Image from EIS Article)

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Welcome Gold Medal Films and the Everett Rowing Association

Welcome to readers who have linked to us through the Gold Medal Films site and the Everett Rowing Association. I can tell you I have great respect for your crews earned over the past few seasons - you only seem to know one speed - fast. It is flattering to be listed under "Best of the Rowing Web" - it'll help keep the postings coming on those tough days when writers block hits!

Regular readers who are looking for video check out their site. I just watched the IRA finals there!

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Vitamins - You May Not Need Them While Training Hard

Charmichael Training Systems publish a nutrition newsletter monthly that has some interesting information in it.

This month's newsletter writes that when you are training hard a multivitamin might not be needed - the opposite of what many would assume:

If you're like most people, you probably assume that you need a supplement-store's worth of extra vitamins and minerals when you're burning through so many calories in a day. But here's what's missing from this assumption: you're also eating a heck of a lot more food when you train hard, and if you're downing quality fuel from a variety of healthy sources such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, lean meats, and fish, then you're already taking in high doses of vital vitamins and minerals.

Check out the newsletter for more information on this and other topics.

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Podcast: Coffee, Safe for Some But Not for Others. A Genetic Link

While I enjoy posting on a variety of subjects and would hate to overburden readers with more on caffeine, this one seems too interesting to pass up.

I came upon a podcast on the Canadian CBC site from their science show "Quirks and Quarks". You can listen to it here.

They interview the Canadian author of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which wanted to find why there is such variation between studies on the risks associated with coffee drinking. Some studies find that there is an increase in risk of heart attack, while others seem to find a preventative effect.

"...for those with the 'slow' form of the gene drinking four or more cups of coffee ... is equivalent (risk) to that of a heavy smoker."

This study by authors from Toronto, Harvard and Costa Rica looked at a genetic link. Some people have a so-called "fast" form of the enzyme that metabolizes caffeine while others have a "slow" form. The results were, in my opinion, astounding:

For those with the "fast" form of the gene drinking 1-3 cups of coffee each day decreased the risk of heart attack by 50%

BUT for those with the "slow" form of the gene, drinking four or more cups of coffee resulted in a four-fold increase in the risk of heart attack which is equivalent to that of a heavy smoker.

The authors note that in a multi-ethnic city such as Toronto where they live, the two forms of the gene appear each in about 50% of the population but that it is likely more prevalent in some ethnic groups. They did not mention any in particular as this is the first study of its kind, but they suggest that this is the reason for conflicting results from different studies. Some would have been conducted in groups with a high prevalence of the "slow" gene and thus found negative effects from drinking coffee. Other studies would have been conducted in populations with a high prevalence of the "fast" gene and thus foudn beneficial effects of coffee drinking.

The authors mention that that expect this study is just the beginning of a new era of personalized nutrition where we find that for genetic reasons different people need to have thier diets tailored specifically.

I can't help but think that these two forms of the gene may have an impact on athletes' performances as well. At the very least, if you believe caffeine is ergogenic (aids performance) one would expect these two forms of gene would effect either the timing of when it is ingested before a race - sooner if you have the fast form, longer before with the slow form. Alternatively, it could affect how much caffeine is beneficial to performance for similar reasons.

Have a listen to the podcast and see (ah, hear) what you think.

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New Site for Rowers - - Interview with Jeff Wagner.

I have been speaking today with Jeff Wagner, the creator of There isn't a whole lot of competition on the web in rowing and as far as I know the Concept 2 logbook is about all there is in terms of free services for logging and analysing your performances. So I took note of this new site and Jeff was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rowing Science.

I know Bill Patton the creator of the Concept 2 logbook is a reader and a subscriber - Bill, would you care to offer a comment?

Interview Follows:


Today we have Jeff Wagner of to tell us a bit about his new site. provides a free service for individuals to track their erg scores. Welcome Jeff - can you tell us a bit about your background - both in rowing and technology?


I was a four year oarsman at the University of San Diego. While there we won the WIRA (Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association) Novice lightweight 8, the Varsity lightweight 8 (twice) and the Dad Vail lightweight 4.

I graduated in 2001 with a degree in Computer Science. It was at USD that I first started writing code for -- if only I had backed it up! I spent a lot of late nights hacking code in my door room to analyze the day's erg data.


What motivated you to start


When I graduated my programs were lost or abandoned (they were pretty cryptic back in those days), and the team was back to Excel, or forgotten completely. I had registered several years ago but didn't do anything with it. I was shocked to find that rowing technology hadn't advanced much over the years and decided that now was a perfect time to put something together.


Can you tell us a bit about the site and what it gives rowers?


I know a lot of rowers who still use pencil and paper to log their workouts. As a computer scientist I find this absurd. How do you sort that data? How do you compare your 2k score from 3 years ago with one from last week? solves those problems for you -- and it's even easier then pen and paper. When we finish off the team functionality rowers and coaches will see even more of a benefit.


Do you have a target market? All rowers? The health club set? Master's? Elites? If you do - how have you tailored yur site for them?

JW: is open to all rowers. High School rowers may benefit most as they'll have access to potential college scholarships. But rowers of all abilities -- from Olympians (we have a few registered) to indoor rower who will never step foot in a boat.

I think the user will tailor the site. If you a "power user" you are more likely to take advantage of our graphs and advanced filtering capabilities. If your an occasional rower, you'll still benefit from tracking your scores and totaling your "mileage".


How will it be different from the concept 2 site?


I believe you are referring to the C2 logbook. We're offering an alternative to the logbook. We provide more advanced features than C2, as well as offering team functionality. We are not currently offering a "social" site with rankings as C2 does, but we may offer that functionality if our users request those features.


I know that people find comparing their scores on the C2 site very motivating, and would hate to lose that. Some software can synch up with C2's site - any plans for doing the same?


Our initial position is to protect the rower's data. At this time we are not offering score comparison -- except for team functionality. However, if the community tells us they want this feature we'll add it. is driven by its users and we'll go wherever they take us.

At this time we are looking into syncing software, but do not have a
timetable for adding this functionality.


I get the sense that you want this to be simple for users - how will you balance the demand for features with the need to be simple?


Our vision is similar to Google Maps. Google has made it so easy to drive you don't need to be an expert to figure it out. Just drag the mouse. Yet, the service is advanced enough to let power users extend the service to make all sorts of mashups. We hope to reach that sweet spot with We want to make it so easy for rowers and coaches to manage their data, yet provide the tools for detailed
analysis and reports.

I'd encourage your rowers to create an account -- it only takes a few seconds -- and try the service out for yourself. We're just getting started so if there's a feature that's missing, or something you don't like just let us know. We'll see what we can do for you.

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20 Ways to Improve Your Training for Rowers (and other Athletes)

In no particular order, here are 20 thoughts on how to improve your training:
  1. Get a heart rate monitor
  2. Know how to use it
  3. Follow a training plan
  4. Get a coach. Even if you set and do most of your workouts yourself a fresh opinion never hurt anyone. At the very least it will help you reflect on your training. Even if you ask someone at your club to watch you for a session and comment a bit it is almost certain to help.
  5. Set goals for each workout - have a daily plan.
  6. Accept that harder isn't always better - everyone needs long relatively slow miles.
  7. Do drills - improve your technique. Long slow distance session do not need to be "junk miles"
  8. Train with a partner or in a group - it keeps you motivated and keeps you from missing workouts.
  9. Train alone! You have to spend some time alone, or with a very closely matched partner, if you intend to work in your own training zone.
  10. Use a Strokecoach or a Speedcoach (cyclists - get a cadence function on your computer). It will help you follow your individual workout plan, and frankly it keeps the workout more interesting.
  11. Have a training diary. There's no need to be obsessive - but a few notes about your workout, or other things happening in your life will keep you motivated and help you reflect on what sets you up for a good training session. A log is a great place to record your daily training goals - then go back to them and think reflectively about your session.
  12. Use video - even occasionally. You don't need a coach for this - get a friend to shoot it. Even a training partner in another boat can stop and shoot a bit.
  13. Try something completely different in your workout. Try a bungee or a bucket row. Cyclists - don't avoid the hills - find them. Cyclists: I know a (very successful) guy who trains occasionally with two water bottles filled with lead shot early in the season!
  14. Think about nutrition - do you drink enough and the right stuff in a workout? Do you skip a meal and train on an empty stomach?
  15. Warm-up - intelligently!
  16. Buy something cool to use training! OK, not great personal improvement advice but that new piece of clothing does make you feel fast doesn't it?
  17. Look after your equipment - wash your boat (your bike, your shoes, whatever). Clean gear is happy gear and somehow it seems to go faster!
  18. Test yourself - but on a schedule. Not every workout can be a test - that would be a huge mistake (see #6). But regular testing shows progress and is motivating. Test, and record (see #11).
  19. Make your goals public - tell your wife, your husband, your kids, your friends, or just post it on the fridge - stating things publicly makes them more tangible and is motivating.
  20. Enter a race, or some other event, as far ahead of time as you can. Again, it motivates and makes things tangible.

Do you have more? Send me your own list and I will post it!

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Top 5 Rowing Lists - Add your 2 cents!

Here's your chance to get in on the posting and together we can create something bigger for everyone.

Put together your top 5, top 10, whatever - list of something rowing related. Send it to me via email - rowingscience(AT) or via a comment to this post and I'll post it tomorrow on the site for everyone.

So - what can you write?

Top 5 reasons to row, Top 5 Rowing Countries, Top 5 Rowing Programs, Top 5 Rowing Coaches, Top 5 Rowing Scientists, Top 5 Pieces of Rowing Technology, Top 5 crews to watch at Eaton, Top 5 Rowing sites on the web!

Make them serious, make them funny, make them as creative as you want. A simple list is fine - but feel free to add more and explain your choices.

Send something and I'll post it, with full credit to you and a link to your own or your club or school's rowing website - free traffic for you for taking a little time to share wth everyone.

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Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport

OK, OK It's just a headline!!!! This headline does not represent my personal opinion. Although I will admit it and the accompaying photo are a somewhat cheap attempt to excite you the reader about this posting.

I am a cycling fan and I was cheering for Floyd Landis - and saddened by his doping test failure after the Tour de France. With this recently in mind I was doing some web surfing today and I stumbled upon this article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine titled "Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport" from 2004.

It should provide food for thought over the weekend and perhaps some good locker room or pub chat after your training sessions.

If you are into the details the full-text article is available. If not here are the highlights:

- Given the low risk of beging caught and high return for victory - most athletes will choose to cheat.

- Drugs wouldn't be against the Spirit of Sport if we allowed them - "Olympic performance would be the result of human creativity and choice" As justification the authors suggest that drugs (beta-blockers) are common in classical music performance and have no stigma attached to them.

They write:

"We should not think that allowing cyclists to take EPO would turn the Tour de France into some kind of "drug race", any more than the various training methods available turn it into a "training race" or a "money race". Athletes train in different, creative ways, but ultimately they still ride similar bikes, on the same course. The skill of negotiating the steep winding descent will always be there."

-EPO gives athletes no different an advantage than good genes, altitude training, or hypoxic what makes it unfair? He goes on to suggest that permitting EPO use actually levels the financial playing field as it is far cheaper than the legal alternatives.

-The authors argue that drugs with clear ill-health effects should be monitored and banned - but others should be permitted to the extent that an athlete's health is not harmed. He uses cycling's test for hematocrit as an example - professional cyclists have blood tests and are not permitted to race for "health reasons" if their hematocrit is above a certain value. The reason is immaterial (although usually implied).

They finish with the conclusion:

The welfare of the athlete must be our primary concern. If a drug does not expose an athlete to excessive risk, we should allow it even if it enhances performance. We have two choices: to vainly try to turn the clock back, or to rethink who we are and what sport is, and to make a new 21st century Olympics. Not a super-Olympics but a more human Olympics. Our crusade against drugs in sport has failed. Rather than fearing drugs in sport, we should embrace them.

If this can't start a comment storm - what can? Weigh in with your opinion - if we get enough I will collect them and post them with credit given to you for your points.

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New Poll - Small Boat Rowing and Training

Today we present a new poll to go with the last posting on small boat training.

Last week's poll "What was the best style of coach you ever had" finished as follows:

Motivator: 41%
Athlete's Coach: 38%
Guru: 14%
A Mystery! 3.5%
Authoritarian: 3.5%

I suspect that there are a lot of authoritarians out there - whose athlete's either don't appreciate them, or maybe they worshipped them - but then were so burnt out they aren't interested in reading a blog about rowing!

Enjoy the new poll - please offer your opinion with a vote and a comment.

If you enjoyed this post or other information on the site, subscribe to the Rowing Science Newsletter for regular updates and exclusive insider information for subscribers only.

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Small Boat Rowing - from Volker Nolte and the South African Coaches Newsletter

I recently came upon the newsletter of the Association of Rowing Coaches, South Africa - which has published only a few electronic editions. They have included some reprints from other sources that make for interesting reading. The March edition includes an article by Volker Nolte. I am not sure if this one is a reprint or an original - but it makes for interesting reading at any rate. The Canadian National Team - and many others - have emphasize the use of small boat training for years. This summary of the reasons by Volker Nolte is inteteresting.

It caught my eye as I respect Volker a great deal - and for the fact that it includes points on two topics covered by this blog - psychology and physiology. I expect that many people would be familiar with the technique argument - though I'm sure not everyone actually agrees with it - but not many people would point to physiology or psychology when naming reasons for training in a pair.

I include a few excerpts here to whet your appetite:


The most persuasive answer to this question is: It is the ONLY way to make the Canadian National Team! The whole selection procedure is based on small boats....

It is certainly the FAIREST way to select, because the result of the selection is depending on one's individual performance. You cannot hide in a single or a pair.

It is PHYSIOLOGICALLY the best training method for the individual athlete. It is known that each person develops the best when training at an individual intensity level. The better rowers can go at a faster speed, so they can improve, while the development athletes can row at their speed without experiencing overloading. This would be impossible for example in an eight, where everyone has to row at the same speed.

Small boat training is also the BEST TECHNIQUE TRAINING.

In addition, small boat training provides many PSYCHOLOGICAL ADVANTAGES. Rowers learn to be only dependent on their own performance. Consequently, they learn confidence in their own abilities. The individual performance is for every single stroke on the line.


Sure there are! This is why we still have to work on getting even more athletes and clubs hooked on to the small boat philosophy....

What are your thoughts? Join in with a comment.

Revolutionary Rower - New Circular Rowing Trainer

Thanks to Bethia Woolf - Novice Coach at Ohio State University for this one:

Earlier this week the Rowing Service posted about a new trainer by "Revolutionary" of the UK. Although this one looks like it is a way off - especially if you don't live in the UK - if you like rowing technology this one is worth a look. We have the chance to offer a bit more to this piece.

Revolutionary on their site describes their trainer as follows:

The Revolutionary Rower uses standard rowing fittings mounted on a circular hull. The boat rotates allowing it to be used on confined areas of water such as swimming pools.

Being highly stable, it provides an excellent level platform for beginners to confidently construct their strokes whilst still requiring concentration on timing and providing a realistic stroke feel. Coaches can sit in the boat beside the trainees, or watch comfortably from an armchair at the side of the pool!

The rower is effectively just a large floating flywheel and offsets the energy generated by the rowers by pumping water. This is equivalent to the flywheel on the most widely used ergometers and an interface is available that allows the use of the standard PM3 monitor with the Revolutionary Rower. For the first time, rowers have a direct comparison between their on-water rowing performance and their fitness.


-Realistic rowing feel - better than even the most expensive powered rowing tanks

-All weather use possible on indoor swimming pools

-Use in a safe, controlled, monitored environment

-Standard performance monitoring

-A new form of racing

I'm not sure how it works as a "new form of racing" but it looks intriguing for training novices in a small area on a stable platform. The site also tells of a new "racer" that borrows from the trainers principles - for straight line racing - but no further info is given.
Bethia passed on more information direct from Revolutionary's Martin Bishop that adds a lot to the Rowing Service posting. Bethia had asked for video - unfortunately none was available....

Getting in and out of the rower is easy as it is very stable. The edges, where the riggers normally would be, have non-slip surfaces as has the central flat area. Simply step aboard then push off with the oars. To manoeuvre, you need to think in the opposite way to a normal boat - if you row normally it rotates, if the rowers act as if turning a normal boat the rower can go vaguely in straight lines but slowly. It really is designed to just rotate in the same spot.

The current rower is quite heavy as the priority was to create a robust trainer where novices didn't need to worry about where they stepped. Lowering the amount of glassfibre or switching to carbon would make the boat far lighter from the same moulds. The latest development has made it possible to move the boat around as a wheel. It is quite heavy and depending on the type of fins selected, weighs in the region of 150kg to 200kg. If security is not a problem I would recommend leaving it in the water (with a trampoline cover to keep the rain off) as the build-up of algae does not affect performance.

Normal oars can be used. I personally opt for Macon type blades as they can be reversed and used equally as bow/stroke port/starboard blades. The rig is fixed as one of the compromises to keep the design simple. Any level of gearing may be used to suit the users although heavy gearing may well suit larger rowers to avoid hitting each others backs. I've had my own boys at ages 7 and 10 successfully rowing with Steve Redgrave's old extra long Olympic oars but only light fin drag. You currently have the option to adjust the level of drag by using different style fins and restricting the water flow. However, I am now trying to standardize on fins to more closely replicate a concept 2 ergometer.

The speed can be whatever you require although the major area of development has been to design the drag and inertia to give a similar feel to a real rowing boat at equivalent speeds. Normal in revolutionary terms is between 10 and 14 rpm which gives the same relative speed as straight line rowing (you calculate distance from the puddle diameter). If no drag fins are added, the speed is effectively unlimited but you will find that there is nothing to push against and crabbing is almost inevitable.

At the normal spin speeds, dizziness is not a great issue. Yes you can make yourself mildly dizzy if you look out of the boat at the horizon, but if you are concentrating on something in the boat there really isn't a problem. Chances are dizziness will not be something you will notice and definitely not after a few goes. Centrifugal forces start to become noticeable at the higher speeds but not sufficient to greatly affect normal strokes.

Any number of people can use the boat up to 4. You will find that your giant male athletes will probably have to row just as a pair. Ideally a balanced number 2 or 4 gives a level platform but 1 and 3 work well too.

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Welcome Cygnet Rowing Club

We have had a large influx of readers from the Cygnet Rowing Club in London. Welcome - I hope you enjoy the reading and return for more!


Atkinsopht Rowing Computer Research

I have always enjoyed browsing through William C. Atkinson's Atkinsopht Rowing Site. It is a reporting and interpretation of the results of computer modelling to see what really makes boats go fast. If you're a fan of engineering and the science of speed - with a bit of a bent towards math - this is well worth the look. It can be a bit daunting otherwise - but if taken in small doses even the most math timid of us can gain something from this work. At the very least - it gives good "food for thought" that coaches can use as the basis for their own experimentation on the water.

Mr. Atkinson suggests that his model can help understand what mechanical changes can produce speed, but wisely he qualifies his work by noting:

A computer model treats only of the mechanical aspects of rowing and rowers. Crews win races through their capacity to add to the base mechanical skill of body and equipment those crucial elements which one can hope will never lend themselves to modeling: teamwork, resolve, spirit, etc. Beneath these intangibles, however, it behooves any winning crew to tune its mechanical base to the highest practical degree.

If you are a fan of Volker Nolte's Rowing Faster Atkinsopht includes a commentary - and a bit of constructive criticism on his site here.

The site reports several findings of the model. Each of them links to a separate and very thorough article that provide more in depth information than I report here:
1. Blade surface area should be as large as a rower can easily handle - the increased surface area makes the blade more efficient by reducing slippage - her does note anecdotal concerns about an increase in injury risk with larger blades.

2. He confirms the intuitive notion that the peak force during the stroke should come when the blade is 90 degrees to the boat.

3. The author feels that there is a best oar length and lever ratio for every rower depending on their strength. This is a point he reinforces in various places on the site - and clearly something that few ocoaches pay attention to. Moreover, he suggests that erring on the side of longer oars for all athletes is prudent.

4. The recovery (or "free return") cannot be coached - rather no one style is more efficient than the other. I have always believed that it is not how hard or soft you change from recovery to drive - it is all about timing hte insertion of the blade - and that timing is generally far easier for crews who come to the end of the recovery the slowest.

5. It is better to pull hard at a lower rate than to ease up to maintain a higher rate - all else being equal.

6. There is no "pinch problem" with steep catch angles. This supports the July 2006 report inthe Biomechanics newsletter as reported here.

7. A reduction in blade pitch seems warranted - he even suggests that scullers experiment with 0 degrees and sweepers with negative pitch - effectively creating more catch angle.

8. An increase in peak handle force of 10 percent yields an increase of shell speed of 3.5 percent.

9. Oarshaft flexibility has no effect on shell speed.

10. Well buried blades are more efficient than shallow blades. I don't see that he has adequately accounted for the increased cost of extracting a deep blade, or of burying one - and he does admit this saying: "insofar as the penalties for deeper immersion at the catch and the finish can be kept small, it seems to me that "digging deep" would not be a bad thing." He also seems to be evaluating the blade independent of the shaft which in my experience can slow the boat if buried too deeply.

11. Oarblade efficiency is not a useful concept to study.

Head to the site and see what you think. There must be a few dozen of you who have strong opinions of these findings Has anyone experimented with some of them?

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Evidence that Caffeine Improves Rowing Performance

A few days ago in response to a blog post over at the Rowing News I put together a brief post on caffeine and rowing. I should have known better than to treat such an interesting topic, that is so well known to so many, too lightly. Astute reader Eric Fyon pointed out recently in the comments to that post that he is concerned that caffeine might actually hurt rowing performance.

Examining questions such as this, and sharing each other's opinions can be very interesting - and helps us all learn and develop our own understanding. For me that's the fun in much of this so I encourage you to add your comments to the blog.

In response to Mr. Fyon I will admit that the posting on caffeine refers to enhanced performance in events that are clearly endurance events - considerably longer than a six minute rowing event. At the same time it is worth pointing out something that is often overlooked: that the research results on caffeine and performance are typically for non-habitual caffeine users. In other words, if you need your morning cup of java - the research doesn't apply to you. Knowing many of the rowers I know, we can then conclude that there is no evidence that caffeine will improve their performance! In fact, I can offer considerable anecdotal evidence that without caffeine, many rowers would see their performance suffer as their bodies are so used to their daily dose.

"There is growing evidence to suggest that caffeine is ergogenic or 'work enhancing' during short-term exercise...races lasting from ~4 to 30 min."

But what of rowing and caffeine? I'll see what I can do to put together a response to Mr. Fyon for a future posting but in the meantime we need to look at actual studies to see what has happened. There is an interesting review at The Gatorade Sports Science institute titled "Caffeine: Why, When, for What?" by Dr. Lawrence Spriet of the University of Guelph. in it he notes:

"There is growing evidence to suggest that caffeine is ergogenic or "work enhancing" during short-term exercise. Performance was improved with caffeine ingestion during simulated running, cycling, rowing, and swimming races lasting from ~4 to 30 min. However, performance during graded exercise tests lasting 8-20 min and during sprint exercise (less than 90 s) was generally unaffected by caffeine. Exercise events lasting between 90 s to 4 min have not been tested."

He goes on to tell us that the whole issue of enhanced fat metabolism being the mechanism for improved performance may be a moot point:

"The classic caffeine-induced cascade of events leading to the sparing of muscle carbohydrate use during exercise that was initially proposed to explain the improvement in performance during endurance exercise now seems less tenable for most exercise situations. Alternately, there has been growing support for the suggestion that caffeine enhances performance by reducing the perception of effort during exercise by altering the handling of sensory signals from working muscles or by directly affecting the central nervous system."

I would also refer readers to the excellent site of the University of York Boat Club who have posted reviews of several articles. Included are two rowing and caffeine studies:

Enhancement of 2000-m rowing performance after caffeine ingestion. C.R. Bruce, M.E. Anderson, S.F. Fraser, N.K. Stepto, R. Klein, W.G. Hopkins, and J.A. Hawley. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, 2000 Volume 32 pp. 1958-1963. Improved 2000-Meter Rowing Performance in Competitive Oarswomen After Caffeine Ingestion. M.E. Anderson, C.R. Bruce, S. F. Fraser, N.K. Stepto, R. Klein, W.G. Hopkins, and J.A. Hawley. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2000 Volume 10 pp. 464-475

The author of the York University site summarized the studies as follows:

"Eight female and eight male competitive rowers participated in these studies. The purpose was to determine the effects of various doses of caffeine on a 2000 m ergometer performance. The subjects performed three 2000 m tests 3-7 days apart. The subjects consumed either 6 mg/kg of caffeine, 9 mg/kg of caffeine or a placebo that contained no caffeine. In both studies the consumption of caffeine improved 2000 m performance. The men improved by an average of 1.2% . The men responded best to the lower dose of caffeine where the verage performance increase was 1.3%"

The author also makes note of the fat/carbohydrate issue:

"A 2000m race is not long enough to cause carbohydrate depletion. The performance enhancement seen for a rowing race is more likely due to the effects that caffeine has on the central nervous system (CNS). Caffeine increases the number of motor units recruited, this means that more muscles are active during the race allowing the rower to pull a little bit harder. It has also been suggested that caffeine may affect the CNS in such a way that fatigue signals are over ridden."

So it would seem that there is evidence supporting the benefits of caffeine on rowing performance. If you have any experience, or any opinion at all - join in on the conversation in the comments section.

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Physiology of the Taper in Rowing - Peaking for Performance

As the 2006 World Rowing Championships draw close crews must be relishing the tapering of their training which should by now be just around the corner, if it has not already begun. Tapering has long been an important component of training in the final days leading up to a major competition. By backing off the volume, and increasing the intensity, athletes "peak" for their best performance of the year - really an extended recovery from hard training and sharpening of physical and mental skills.

This general post includes a number of resources for you to examine so that you can reflect on your own version of the taper. Look through them and consider: do I taper for long enough? (some suggest that we taper for as long as 28 days!), do I reduce training volume enough? (50% or more), have I considered the psychological aspects?

Tapering Examples - the Good and the Bad

There are many resources on the 'net that discuss tapering. Perhaps one of the best describing the more poetic side comes from the Harvard Magazine, on Harry Parker and "The Taper"

"...Many coaches can't taper. They get nervous before a race and wear the crew out practicing racing starts. It's a rare talent.

In the days just before a race, athletes generally reduce their workouts to build energy for competition: this process is called "tapering." Carie Graves describes Parker as "a master of the taper. I've never had anyone get me ready for a race the way he did. When you got to the starting line you were God-you were omnipotent. I felt that way in '76: like the perfect human being. It's the best. Many coaches can't taper. They get nervous before a race and wear the crew out practicing racing starts. It's a rare talent."

Knauth recalls the energy that would intensify before the Yale race: "Because of the taper, you just want to grab an oar….People get so aggressive, they want to smash chairs, they start wrestling with each other. Then Harry says, `No, no, no-save it.' When you get to the starting line you just want to explode at the start to get it out of your system. The maniacal desire to break something really helps when you're trying to win a close race."

Interestingly, there is a down side to tapering for some athletes. See discuss the "taper blues" and common symptoms experienced in the taper phase of training. I have heard some coaches describe their athletes as having too much energy sometimes leading to conflict - perhaps this is a different perspective.

General Resources

For more specific discussions of the science and applications to training consider taking a few minutes to look at these resources:

English Institute of Sport article on tapering has a review on events in the "mystery zone" - sports with duration about 1-5 minutes that are neither purely aerobic nor purely anaerobic. In it they specifically mention rowing:

"The US rowing coach outlined a typical taper for his athletes. Most of their tapering involves three weeks of high intensity training, decreasing volume by up to 40%, with intensity set at 95% to 105% of race pace. Many variations of taper are utilized for peaking in the mystery zone, and no consensus was reached between any of the experts."

The Concept II Indoor Training guide has a section on tapering noting it should last 7-10 days and even give an outline of how to taper your training.

Some Scientific Publications

Physiological Changes Associated with the Pre-Event Taper in Athlete, Mujika et al. Sports Medicine, Volume 34, Number 13, 2004, pp. 891-927(37)

Reviews physiological, neuromuscular and psychological aspects of tapering, describing some of the changes although not the specific types of taper.

A Theoretical Study of Taper Characteristics to Optimize Performance, THOMAS et al. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(9):1615-1621, September 2005.

This was a modeling exercise based on training data from other studies. It did suggest that the taper is best when preceded by an overload period. IT also suggests that a much longer taper period is required than typically used - indeed, they suggest 28 days!

Effects of three tapering techniques on the performance, forces and psychometric measures of competitive swimmers by Hooper et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology, Volume 78, Number 3 July 1998

Interestingly this study did not find a better method amongst three common types of taper used by swimmer but it did report that one week was not enough time for a proper taper.

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Interview with Rowing Physiologist Dr. Fred Hagerman

For 40 years Dr. Fred "Fritz" Hagerman has been one of the preeminent physiologists working with rowers. I invited him to interview for a Rowing Science posting when we were looking at the Lance Armstrong as a Rower question. Dr. Hagerman was kind enough to accept, although a busy summer prevented him from weighing in when were were looking at the topic. Yesterday he was kind enough to send in his responses.


[RS]: Dr. Hagerman's responses to my first several questions do not fit neatly within the interview format. I had essentially asked him about his research background and what he is studying today.


A colleague of mine at the U. Georgia and I just published a comparative study of elite rowers and patients who have had spinal cord injuries. An interesting comparison of two extremes recently appearing in Med Sci Sports; I am still very active in research.

Recently tested men invited to the national team camp in Princeton and I have recently developed VO2max predictive values for Concept 2

obtained for 2K times for both elite and non rowers; I believe they appear on Concept 2's web site; also will be conducting an obesity-Type 2 diabetes study involving rowing ergometer testing and training and nutrition intervention with county school second graders beginning in Jan, 07 with Concept 2 as one of the funders.

As you know the rate of childhood obesity has increased to epidemic levels in the US and we live in a highly deprived economic region of Appalachia where obesity for all age levels is a real problem.

[RS] As you know we have been posing the question - what if Lance Armstrong, and his reported ability to hold 500 W on a bike for more than 30 minutes, were to take on rowing. Technique aside - how do you think he would do?

[FH]: I believe Lance Armstrong, with his aerobic capacity and leg power,would make an excellent lightweight rower however, now that the drug problems have surfaced again for cycling I am not sure any of those guys are clean including Armstrong at some point when he was competing.

"I am not sure any of those guys are clean including Armstrong at some point when he was competing."

[RS]: Are there any exciting directions for rowing physiology in the near future?

[FH] : Although we have done some bio-telemetry of a number of physiological responses during actual rowing, we now have excellent
portable equipment to do radio telemetry on the water even at distances of within 2000 m of our target subjects.

[RS] What do you feel is the state of Sport Science in rowing today? - many of our readers seem to feel that it is vastly underused by some nations - the US and Canada in particular

[FH]: Because rowing is so much more popular in Europe and in NZ and Australia, European countries and the Antipodes probably put more effort into using

science for help and also because I have been concentrating on rowing for the last 40 years in the US perhaps other exercise physiologists have thought just leave the rowing work to Fritz!

[RS]: Is there anything that you would like to share with athletes and coaches that you feel is overlooked typically?

[FH]: I have had such a great relationship with US Rowing , especially the coaches, and with Concept 2 over the years. My professional and personal experiences

through rowing have been beyond my wildest dreams.

Thanks, Fritz

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The Music of Rowing - Translation

With special thanks to Frank Biller of NK here is the translation of the German site just posted this morning.

Here you go Frank - one gratuitous, blatant plug for NK "world leaders in rowing electronics and translation of German Rowing Web Sites"

"The Melody of Rowing"

Many imagine romantic pictures when thinking of a rowing novice. A new technology however may teach you different. This new project by the School for Sport Science at the University of Bonn came up with an interesting approach.

A novice is sitting on an ergometer in a shaded room. While moving on the erg, different sound and film samples are being being shown. At the same time, the novice is being filmed as well. Some samples show an elite rower with a melody and some samples show the novice with more ackward sounds. The novice now tries to copy the elite rower, visually and audio-visually by matching sounds and film. The better the novice rows, the better the melody.

According to Project leader Dr. Alfred Effenberg the goal is to find out whether complex movements are better learned with visual or audio-visual information. Sensors are attached to handle, chain, seat and footstretcher. The computer measures the different inputs, converts them into curves which then in real time produce different sounds. It's call scientific sonification, an interpretation of data material. There are four different tones on a scale from humming to squeaking. One sport student describes that it can get pretty annoying. But different details can be heard clearly and the differences in measurements between elite rower and novice are obvious. Yet it helps trying to get the right feel as a novice.

The main goal is to shorten the learning process and - thanks to the sound sequences - give certain movements (rowing stroke, tennis serve or butterfly style in swimming) a better timing structure.

But it is a pilot project that is still far away from any practical implementation.

Frank G. Biller
Rowing Sales Manager
Nielsen-Kellerman Co.
21 Creek Circle
Boothwyn, PA19061
+1-610-447-1555 x216

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The Music of Rowing from Germany via the Rowing Service

If you speak German you might want to check out this link about a German project to match the power curve on the erg to Music. They suggest that better rowers can produce better sounds.

This from the leader of the study, Dr. Alfred Effenberg:

“We would like to find out, whether complex movements can be learned better with visual or with audiovisual information "

If anyone can provide a decent translation, or even a summary that we could post it would be much appreciated. E-mail me if you can help:

Thanks to the Rowing Service for this article.

Overuse Injuries in Rowers and How to Avoid Them

An interesting link to add to your collection about overtraining:

Overuse Injuries in Rowers and How to Avoid Them is an interactive site showing stability exercises with the exercise ball.

In my experience lots of people are familiar with this type of training, but can't recall the exact program to follow. This site is certainly thorough, and should help with that.

Too many athletes neglect core training, despite the almost universal acceptance of it as important.

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Coffee and Rowing

Also over at the Rowing News Michelle Guerette has a blog, in which she discusses coffee today. This is probably worthy of a longer post soon, but her post caught my eye with the following:

"Studies show that caffeine can increase mental awareness, of course, but also show an increased permeability of muscle membranes, allowing muscles respond more intensely to a lower electrical impulse. In addition, caffeine promotes the body’s use of stored fat for energy before glycogen, which ultimately appears to aid endurance."

In support of Michelle I would suggest that you have a look at the work of Nancy Clark, the Author of "The Athlete's Kitchen" and a well-known sports dietician. Her views on coffee are available at this site.

A few points by Nancy Clark::

Moderate intake of coffee does NOT dehydrate.

Caffeine improves endurance performance (by as much has 12%) and lowers perceived exertion

A more thorough review is offered here by Mark A. Jenkins, M.D. on his site SportsMed Web.

Jenkins does point out that there is a limit beyond which caffiene becomes a banned substance - although "approximately 1000mg of caffeine (about 8 cups of coffee) would be required to exceed the current IOC limit."

With that in mind he does offer these recommendations for athletes:

  1. "Ingest caffeine about 3 - 4 hours before the competition. Although blood levels of caffeine peak much sooner, the maximum caffeine effect on fat stores appears to occur several hours after peak blood levels.

  2. Consider decreasing or abstaining from caffeine for 3 - 4 days prior to competition. This allows for tolerance to caffeine to decrease and helps ensure a maximum effect of caffeine. Be careful though, because some may experience caffeine withdrawal.

  3. Make sure that you have used caffeine extensively under a variety of training conditions and are thoroughly familiar with how your body reacts to this drug. Never try anything new on race day.

  4. Be prepared to accept the consequences if your urine test is above the current cutoff."

Coffee drinkers (worshipers?) weigh in on the benefits of the sacred brew in the comments section.

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Time Trailing in Rowing

A post on Kip McDaniel's Blog on the Rowing News tells about the Canadian system of time trailing for World Championship entries - completed by the Canadians just today. McDaniel notes that the Americans must beat a defined absolute them to be sent to worlds. The Canadians race against the world record time - then plot the percentages each crew rowed. The selection is, in his words, "nebulous" by choosing all the crews that cluster around a given percentage.

Thoughts? Has anyone out there come out on the wrong end of that method?

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Ergometer Split Calculator

Just a quick link to this site which has a variety of erg split calculators for the committed indoor rower.

Worth a look.

Altitude Training and Rowing

New York Times Photo

Over on Row2K I noticed a posting about Hypoxic Altitude Systems - essentially tents or controlled environment rooms that you sleep or even live in that maintain a low oxygen environment - simulating being at altitude. It isn't clear who has created this piece. It has the feel of an "advertorial" - incidentally something that is common practice on Row2K - they post "articles" about a sponsors product as if it were a news item. Not that there is anything wrong with it, and I am not suggesting that this article was paid for - but it isn't always clear that many row2K postings are paid for, and it is worth keeping in mind when you're surfing.

The altitude posting does not list who has written it, although an email address is given for more information. This may be solid stuff, but it has the feel of one of those "be careful what you read on the internet" situations. It is interesting that they seem to be rallying support against a WADA (world Anti-Doping Agency) proposal to ban "altitude tents." The names of scientists on the list of those complaining to WADA is impressive. The point made by James Stray-Gundersen - fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine - that in order to qualify as banned something must fulfil two of three criteria 1. It must be performance enhancing 2. It is harmful to an athlete's health and 3. It is not in the "spirit of sport." Gunderson notes that to an elite athlete numbers 1 and 2 hold true for simple training!

A related interesting article was published in the New York Times that details WADAs concern and notes that they will come to a decision in September.

There seems to be strong opposition to such a ruling by WADA - largely because the tents simply simulate something other athletes either have natural access to, or have access to through financial means - namely the ability to live at actual altitude.

The articles do not detail the advantages of altitude. It used to be the feeling that altitude, with its reduced oxygen would provide a training stimulus and a natural increase in red blood cell production. What came to be accepted though was that the altitude impaired an athlete's ability to train with sufficient intensity. So altitude training shifted in use to the "Live High, Train Low" philosophy. In this method one must live at altitude so that the passive benefits of increased red blood cell production can take place - but close enough to be able to go down closer to sea level for training sessions - where the oxygen permits higher training intensities.

Locations for this type of training of course are even rarer, so the tents and altitude rooms came to be. They allow an athlete to sleep - or spend even more time - at simulated altitude and then emerge already near sea level to train.

One of the suppliers of such systems is Colorado Altitude Systems - perhaps they are behind the row2K posting. On their site they have a testamonial from US Rower Tim Larsen.

I will follow up tomorrow with more on the science behind the altitude rooms.

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Rowing Psychology: Daily Training Goals

One of the first subjects that comes up when looking at Sports Psychology is Goal Setting. Everyone has heard about it and it is a safe and familiar place to start. So what can we add to the discussion?

How about a focus on daily training goals. Anyone can dream about where they want to go. Anyone can dream about the big goal at the end of the season - but what comes first?

It is important to have a specific goal for each workout if you want to get the most out of them. For coaches it ensures efficient sessions that fit in with the overall plan for the season (you have one, don't you?). For athletes, it lets them know exactly what will be expected of them so that they can give 100% attention to the session.

Terry Orlick in his book Psyching for Sport: Mental Training for Athletes (1986, p.17) discusses this topic. As with the rest of Orlick's work, it is well worth taking a look at. Orlick suggests that you ask three questions before each session:

1. What am I going to do today (physical training/skill refinement goals)?

2. How am I going to approach what I'm going to do today (e.g. intensity, concentration, positiveness)?

3. What am I going to do today to improve my mental strength (psychological training goals)?

I wholeheartedly agree with Orlick's statement:

"I believe that setting specific training goals and bringing the highest quality of effort to training is a major factor that currently separates great athletes from good ones."

In fact, this may well apply more to rowers than many other athletes? Why - we spend more time training, especially at the junior level, than many other sports do. I believe that when given more time on the water the incentive to use it efficiently can be lost. Instead of three focused sessions in a week , the coach who gets six, nine or more may begin to simply throw their athletes on the water with less preparation, and more assumptions - "just like yesterday, let's go" - is a commonly heard pre-training chat from a coach. This is not to say that more sessions are bad. But I do feel that if not used carefully there can be a real case of diminishing returns.

How can you achieve the proper preparation with your athletes? Or as an athlete?

Firstly, the athletes need to know as much as possible about the plan - long and short term. Plans change, but it is better to have a plan and change it, than to have no plan at all.

Secondly, encourage the athletes to do some reflection - let them know today what will happen tomorrow (or whenever the next session is) - and have them think about how they intend to approach that session - training logs or journals aren't used frequently, but they can be a powerful tool for this.

Third, review it on the dock before the session. Don't just preach - discuss. "Suzy, how are you going to approach today's row - do you have a goal for your own improvement?" You probably don't have the luxury of doing this with everyone (in fact you'd bore your crew to death), but like a teacher leading a class discussion that one question and answer stimulates thought in everyone.

Finally, I would encourage the use of technology. Time seems short always so use tools that help. One coach I respect a great deal e-mails his crew every day before practice. They are in the habit of checking - why?, because it involves them in their training. I know another coach that uses a Blog to communicate with his crew and it allows the athletes to participate in the discussion.

Have you any other thoughts or ideas on the topic that you can share with our readers? Please add to the comments section.


Psyching for Sport by Terry Orlick at

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