The ASRL is committed to promoting Surfboat Rowing in Australia and we provide the following training techniques to encourage both new and seasoned rowers to gain the greatest benefit possible from the sport.
Please select a category from the list below for detailed information on technique and training for all surf rowers.
The ASRL wishes to acknowledge Conrad Pearson (The Rad) for providing these valuable resources.
The ASRL would like to acknowledge the contribution of the following two papers on Injury Prevention by Scott Coleman. Scott has worked with Rowing Australia in this area and has rowed both Shell and Surf boats so has the knowledge to pass onto all surf rowers.
Scott Coleman: B.App.Sc. (Physiotherapy), B.Sp.Sc. (Exercise Science), Sports Physiotherapist, ESSA Accredited Biomechanist
Bill "Woofa" Barnett has produced two sweeping manuals, and they are broken up into two parts each. He has allowed us to put these up on our site as a guide for the benefit of our sport and surfboat rowers in general.
Woofa asks for nothing in return except knowing that he has helped out some fellow boaties. Please feel free to use and pass on to others.
The content herein reflects the personal skills, strategies, experience and expertise of Bill "Woffa" Barnett. It does not purport to represent the only means by which a surf boat may be controlled and/or operated at sea.
The application of these and/or any other guidelines remains and will always remain a matter for the individual judgement of any crew and/or crew member that puts to sea in a surf boat. Neither the ASRL nor Bill Barnett accepts any responsibilty, howsoever occasioned for:-
any errors or omissions contained herein; and/or
the application of such guidelines, or any part thereof, by any crew and/or crew member whilst at sea in a surfboat.
This warning and disclaimer applies in equal measure to the conduct of any crew and/or crew member exercising control and/or operation of a surfboat on dry land.
It is my firm belief that the Ergo should be a rowers best friend. I know that an ergo doesn't float, and that a rower can be a lot better or a more effective rower in the boat than on an ergo (and I know this as I have rowed with a number of rowers like this myself). BUT, I still believe that an ergo is an invaluable training tool for a surf boat rower.
The reason I think an ergo is such a great tool is specificity. Performing the movement pattern that you are going to be doing in a race is really the ONLY way to train. (I know there are other factors and I will address them in other sections!). It isn't always possible to have all five crew members available and ready to spend time in the boat. If this was possible, then that is great, but often conditions, work, family and other commitments don't allow for this. So training outside of the boat needs to be done. As training time if often limited, this time should be spent as specifically as possible. And ergo rowing is as specific as you can get for a surf boat rower (out of the boat of course).
So what sort of work can be done on an ergo? What sort of work should be done on an ergo?
The answer to these questions in a resounding DEPENDS!
It depends on the time in the season, the previous training level of the rower and of course what other sessions are being done (in and out of the boat).
Training in general can be split into two general categories; aerobic and anaerobic.
This is the LONG stuff where the body works at a level that is sustainable for long periods of time. Since the energy being used is derived from the burning of oxygen and stored glycogen (or even fats), there are few toxic by-products and as long as the energy sources are available then the activity can go on indefinitely.
This is the shorter more intense efforts. When the body starts to work above what is known as the anaerobic threshold (the point at where the anaerobic system is required to provide energy) the stored energy used in this system is used up and there is a build up of toxins in the body that will ultimately limit performance.
If you read the section on periodisation you will note that early in the season the focus is on the quantity of training and the quality is low. This is the time for lots of aerobic training. As the season progresses and the frequency and importance of racing increases, the intensity of training increases and there is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic training. Towards the end of the season and around the time of the major events, training moves almost totally away from the aerobic and into the anaerobic training.
As hard as it may first seem, the minimum time you should be spending on an ergo is 30min a session. This doesn't have to be 30min in one effort or without getting up to stretch for a minute or so, but the work load should be a minimum of half an hour. Hopefully as you become fitter and more used to the sessions, 30min will feel like a simple warm up.
A good rule of thumb for base aerobic training is to do it at a "conversational" pace. Do the workload at a level where if there was someone next to you on the ergo, you could hold a conversation with them.
Here are some examples of some base aerobic training sessions for the ergo:
3 x 10min efforts (1min between efforts) - first effort at an warm up pace, with the other two at a slightly increased level.
2 x 15min efforts (2min between efforts)
1 x 30min effort
10km - set the ergo's display to count down the 10,000m. Try and remain constant in your efforts. At the end of your first 10k effort, note the average time per 500m and try and better that next time you row.
10km - with 100m firm every 5 min (to help break the monotony).
1hr - aiming to have a neutral split (i.e. first 30 min same as second).
21.2km (Half Marathon)
There are thousands of variations on ergo sessions that can be done and many of them fall within the anaerobic category. Some of them I will give below and some info about what their purpose is.
Base Aerobic Threshold Training
1min on, 1min off - the 1min on efforts are done at the same pace you would so a flat out 6min effort at (e.g. do 1800m in 6min, your work rate should be 1:40/500m, 1900m in 6min - 1:35/500m etc). The "off" minute is rowing light (with correct technique). The rowing during the "rest" periods is VERY important. At first you may struggle to do 10 of these efforts, but will find that improvement is fast. Aim for as many as you can do while still maintaining your desired effort level
3 x 2000m efforts with 3min rest. Row three 2000 meter pieces at challenging intensity with 3 minutes rest between. Ease into the first one slightly, then go consistently hard for the last 2.
4 x 7min efforts with 4 min rest. Pre-set the monitor for a 7 minute work time and a 4 minute rest time. Row at a challenging pace. This is an anaerobic threshold workout that will build power and aerobic conditioning. Cool down at the end with 5 minutes of easy rowing.
Pyramids - strokes, metres or time. Example of distance: 250m hard, 250 light, 500 hard, 500 light, 750 hard, 750 light, 1000m hard, 750 light, 750 hard, 500light, 500 hard, 250 light, 250 hard, 500 light. Strokes and time follow the same principle.
2 x [15 (20sec hard - 40sec easy)] Pre-set a work time of :20 and a rest time of :40. For the 5 minute rest, just row easily through both work and rest intervals for 5 minutes. Warm up, then row 30 work intervals in 2 groups of 15 with 5 minutes rest between groups. Each work interval is 20 seconds in length with 40 seconds rest. Try to create the lowest time per 500m as possible in each hard interval.
Land training takes up all those efforts that aren't in the boat. Ideally, as much of the rowing training as possible should be done in the boat, but circumstances quite often limit the ability to do this. As a result, fitness sessions need to be conducted out of the boat.
Specific training is the best training you can do for rowing. If you are a marathon runner, then you run as a training modality. If you are a cyclist, then you ride your bike. As a result, as a rower you should row to get fit. As pointed out above, quite often circumstance means that not all the required fitness work can be conducted in the boat. So what is the answer? Rowing Ergometers!
Many people hate the dreaded Ergo, but really it is the best training tool out there. The ability to measure and control training is one of the key features on the Ergo and of course the specificity of the training.
How much and how often should you train?
I believe, that to be competitive in A Grade racing in surf boats, a BARE MINIMUM of 8 sessions a week should be done (3 Boat, 3 Gym and 2 Ergo). Below is an example of how you can fit those sessions in.
As it is a struggle for many people to make this commitment, it is hard to see why you would perform training that is not specific to your chosen sport. I do not be any means say that you CAN'T or SHOULDN'T do cross training, just that it should not be the core component of your training. Some of the hardest and very worthwhile sessions I have done in my own training have been running the sand hills at Wanda. But these were additional sessions on top of what I believe are the base sessions that you should be doing.
The key? Specificity!
We all have finite time, and getting the greatest effect from our effort is the goal, and as surf boat rowers this goal should be to become better and faster rowers. To do this you need to row, not run, cycle or swim. These are great fitness tools, but they should really only be used as additional training sessions and to break the monotony of rowing up (as it does sometimes make you stir crazy).
As indicated, you should be doing in boat work and out of boat work. You will find HERE some suggested ergo training sessions, and HERE some in boat sessions.
Anaerobic Threshold Training
What is the anaerobic threshold?
The anaerobic threshold (AT) (also called the lactate threshold) is the level of exertion where your body must switch from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. Aerobic metabolism burns oxygen and produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Your lungs provide the oxygen and get rid of the CO2. This is the metabolic pathway that provides most of the energy we use in our daily activities. Anaerobic metabolism kicks in when the preferable aerobic system can no longer keep up with the demand for energy - when we cross the AT. At this point, the lactate cycle starts to provide the needed additional energy, burning stored sugars for fuel, and producing lactic acid as a by-product. When lactic acid builds up in our bodies, it causes discomfort like cramping and general distress.
Can training affect the AT?
Yes. Through training, we can have some effect on our anaerobic threshold. We can train our bodies to be more efficient at aerobic levels so that we can go longer and harder before the anaerobic system kicks in and starts hitting us with lactic acid. In other words, we can train to raise our AT.
What is the best kind of training to do to raise the AT?
It is generally agreed that you need to do high quality aerobic work to improve your aerobic efficiency and thus raise your AT. This means training at a level close to but below your present AT. Based on our own experience, we recommend (see below) workouts that are long sub-maximal intervals, with roughly equal rest.
How often should I do AT training?
This will vary from person to person and may depend on your present level of conditioning; how often you train; where you are in your training year; and how old you are. AT intervals should be done at least once a week during the 2-3 month period before your competition. The fitter person will be able to do these more often, but it is still important to allow recovery time. Older athletes may find the recovery to be slower than it used to be. Listen to your body.
Good workouts for the AT:
Be sure to warm up well before starting. You may wish to do an extra piece at the beginning as a warm-up where you build the pressure through the piece.
Nothing beats actually getting out in the boat and rowing for direct fitness, strength and technique training. A crew should be making it their priority to get into a boat as much as is possible. After all, as previously stated, specificity is key, and you cant get any more specific than actually rowing in a surf boat.
The principles of training are really quite simple. I believe in and follow the periodisation scheme that is outlined under the Periodisation section. This is basically that early on there is lots of volume and as the season progresses, the volume decreases and the training intensity increases.
There are some important factors to remember when training in the boat, and when doing any training for that matter. The old adage says “Practice makes perfect”. Well, that isn’t true. Only “Perfect practice makes perfect”! When doing any training it is imperative that good form is followed. This is especially important when in the boat or on the ergo, as they are the movement pattern we are tying to train for. So when in the boat (or on the ergo) not only are we interested in the work intervals and rates, but also the technique being employed.
A good crew is one that has good technique and rows together (there should be more on this in the technique section).
So onto the fitness stuff.
I personally don’t believe that there is a need for a session to be longer than 1 hour in a surf boat (#-see below) . That is 1 hour of work, not one hour of training (i.e. from the time you turn up to training to when you are done). You will see below that none of these sessions contain any more than 60min of effort.
Pre-season or Base Training
This is nice and simple. Long Stuff!
This is the stage of the season where the rowing that is done in the boat consists of long efforts at a relatively low intensity. This is the stage that any correction of technique should take place, and the correct movement patters are ingrained due to mass repetition. Putting rolling seats in can be useful at this stage of the season of you have some flat water to train in, or are preparing for some of the distance races on offer.
Some examples of pre-season sessions:
3 x 15min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)
3 x 20min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)
2 x 30min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)
70 or 80 Stroke Pyramid – 20 firm, 20 light; 30 firm, 30 light; etc to 80 AND BACK DOWN!! (efforts are done at 80-90% with light being about 50-60%)
Pre and Early Competition
Here the training intensity starts to increase along with the volume. This is the stage in the season where the really hard work gets done. These sessions are very physically taxing and can leave you feeling flat and tired. As long as this tiredness isn’t chronic and is monitored, this is the desired effect in this training period. Only hard work in this phase will allow you to be at you racing peak at the end of the season.
Of course, doing this work in the surf is of vital importance. Improving boat skills is imperative at this stage of the season, so doing this sort of work in “moving” water is great (if possible).
There are literally THOUSANDS of boat sessions that can be done in this phase of training. The aim is to have training intensities at just below race pace and little or active recoveries. Below are some examples.
70 or 80 Stroke Pyramid – 20 hard, 20 light; 30 hard, 30 light; 40 hard, 30 light; 50 hard, 30 light; etc to 80 AND BACK DOWN!! (efforts are done at 90-100% with light being about 60%) *Increased intensity and reduced rest from the pre-season model.
5,4,3,2,1 – 1 x 5min, 2 x 4min, 3 x 3min, 4 x 2min, 5 x 1min. There should be 1 min of rest between sets and 30sec rest between reps i.e. 1 x 5min (1min rest) 1 x 4min (30sec rest) 1 x 4min (1min rest) 1 x 3min (30sec rest) 1 x 3min (etc)
Race simulation efforts – 2min out to sea off beach, 1min rest; 2min out to sea with buoy turn at 1:20, 1 min rest; return to shore. All work at race effort. Repeat 4-8 times.
Row 12 x pre set distance (which should take around 1:30 per effort). Use a ser distance to make the efforts independent on time. Row back to the “start” line of the effort as recovery (maintaining technique and some weight).
This is where the training load comes off and the training intensity increases another notch. Boat and surf skills are honed during this time. More surf work is done in this phase and the efforts are short, sharp and at or above race pace. Recovery is either light active or total.
Starts – 10 x 20-40 stroke starts (in surf). Continue to row light out the back, and catch a wave back in. Try and keep it to a maximum of 4-5 min between efforts.
4,3,2,1 – as above, but start with 4min effort and increase quality and intensity of efforts.
Swell running – chase swells for 30sec – 1min. Rest between efforts, trying for total rest.
Peak or Taper
This can be a frustrating time as rowers should feel like they are jumping out of their skins and can do heaps of work, but the idea is to just do short, high intensity efforts with TOTAL rest in between.A session can be as short as 25-30min, with there only being 5 or 6 efforts in that time.
Some examples:After a warm up:
3 x 2min efforts and 3 x 1min efforts with total rest (4min in between).
6 x 20-30 stroke starts with total rest and a wave to the beach
3 x 4min simulation races with 6-10min between efforts
40min stroll along the beach (hard sand) and maybe a stop off at the ice cream shop for a gelato (low fat of course).
#- this information is based on a crew competing in a “sprint” season and not competing in a full marathon season (eg. George Bass Marathon).
Periodisation is a system of organizing training so that fitness is built in stages and reaches a peak at prescribed times. Most elite athletes, regardless of sport, train this way.
The process of periodisation begins by setting priorities for your planned events. This is important because if you don’t know when you want to come to a peak of fitness, this system is useless. Note that you are asked to choose only two or three (max) priority events. These are best spaced so that there will only be two or three peaks in a season with at about six weeks between them. Two of the races may be on back-to-back weekends.
The way to schedule the training period is to work backwards from the main goal of your training (Aussies Titles!). This is your main aim for the year and this is when you should be at your peak performance level. I believe that in a surf boat season you can only expect to be full prepared for two events in a season, and only as long as there are 5-6 weeks between the events. You can sometimes keep a taper going for as much as 10 days (at the most) so that even leaves out being "up" for the State and Australian Titles.
The graph below works on the premise that the Australian Titles are the ultimate goal for the season and that is when the taper is used to obtain maximum performance. There can be one or two more smaller peaks in the season, but overall the aim is to keep the season with the one goal in mind.
Type of Training
Low: Readapt to training
Increasing: Endurance, strength, technique and muscular endurance
Increasing: Race-specific intensity. Maintain Base fitness
Strength is commonly substituted or interchanged with the word power. Power, however is a product of two abilities, speed and strength. In sports, it relates to the ability to perform the maximum force in the shortest period of time. In some sports, such as shot put, javelin and jumping events, it is crucial to overcome resistance with the greatest possible speed. In these cases, power is the major factor in determining performance.
Power is defined as the rate at which work is performed, or work divided by time. Work is force multiplied by the distance that the force is applied for. So in other words, for power to be greater you can either increase the force, increase the distance (or both) and decrease the time spent doing that.
Exercises that are great for power development are ones that allow you to mimic your sporting action as closely as possible. For rowing, doing this in the gym is quite difficult. Some exercises that are good though, include:
The aim of these exercises and power training is to turn the muscle bulk and strength you have gained in your previous training with the ability to move quickly and with force. Much of this adaptation is neural and through the development of co-ordinated movement patterns.
When training for power, quality of performance is just as important as the weight being lifted and the number or repetitions and sets being performed. It is important that the movement is of a high quality and technique is good.
Below is a sample programme for the power phase of training in the gym.
15 minutes minimum
5 - 7
5 - 7
5 - 7
5 - 7
* Power Press is just like the "Jerk" part of the Clean and Jerk in weight lifting. In effect it is a shoulder press (in front of the head) performed from a standing position and with leg drive used along with the pressing action of the hands.
^ The leg press is performed in the same manner as previously except that speed and explosive movements are required, so much so that the sled can be pushed up and the feet leave the foot plate. Note that this can be hazardous, and experience is required as "catching" the sled involves high levels of force.
Strength training is an area that is often overlooked in an athletic resistance training program.
Maximum strength is the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition maximum (1RM). The main objective of this phase is to develop the highest level of strength. Your ability to develop power is dependent on your foundation of strength. A strong base of strength prepares you for the Conversion phase, which converts strength into powerful movements characteristic of the sport. During this phase you work with a progressive increase in load and a decrease in the number of repetitions performed.
It is important to note that only physically mature athletes should attempt to test for 1RM or for even doing a full strength training cycle.
The strength training phase takes the muscle bulk and strength that you have gained in the hypertrophy phase and maximises the strength gains. This involves increasing the weight being lifted and decreasing the repetitions. Often the number of exercises will be decreased as well, focusing in on the key movement patterns.
Below is an example of a strength training program.
15 minutes minimum
Bench Pulls/Lat Pull Downs
Weights are set at a level where it is not fatigue that limits the weight being lifted, rather the inability to lift the weight. The weights increase in a pyramid fashion, with the repetitions decreasing.
Hypertrophy of muscle is the putting on of muscle. This is a long and hard process but essential if you want strength gains. Size is important for strength gains, because if the muscle isn't there it is a lot harder to get stronger. As a result, the training that is required is specific.
There are some specific techniques to gain size. The terms such as Super Set, Drop Set and Forced Reps are often used and are extremely good techniques to use in this phase of training.
The following are methods of high intensity training, and should be done by individuals with a good lifting background. These should be used sparingly to shock the muscles or to help you get over a plateau. Allow for adequate warm-up and rest and go to positive failure on each set.
Forced Reps: After positive failure is reached spotters assist you in doing a couple of more reps.
Drop Sets: Doing a set to failure then the spotters remove some weight and you do a few more reps to failure. This can continue for many reps.
Super Set: To further fatigue a muscle an isolation movement is followed immediately by a basic movement. i.e. Fly's followed by doing a Bench press.
Tri Set: Similar to Super Sets only three exercises are used instead of two.
Negatives: Using a weight that's above your max and only perform the negative portion (The part of the activity where the weight is moving with gravity). Spotters lift the weight through the positive area and you do the negatives.
Burns: After positive failure occurs, continue doing mini-reps (a few inches of movement) to keep stress on the muscles.
21's: Do half of the movement for 7 reps, then do the other half for 7 reps then do 7 full reps. i.e. Barbell curl: Curl from arms straight to 90 degrees for 7 reps. Then curl from 90 degrees to arms perpendicular to floor for 7 reps. Then do 7 full reps.
Pyramid System: Here the load is increased and the repetitions are reduced (e.g. 100kg x10, 120kg x 5, 130kg x 4, 140kg x 3, 150kg x 2). Pyramid lifting is only for experienced lifters who have an established good technique.
Below is an example of a relatively simple hypertrophy training program. A program like this can be completed 3 times a week with a minimum of 1 days rest between sessions. There is no need to be in the gym for more than 50 min to complete a session and the super setting means that there is very little time wasted in between sets. Keep rest between each super set to approximately 2-3 minutes.
The goals of resistance training are varied. With surf boat rowing training should be ultimately geared to being able to produce maximum power for a full race period or approx 4 min. To do this properly a fully periodised training program needs to be adopted. Like a pyramid, if the base is not solid and broad, the top wont be supported. As a result you need to work in a fashion that allows the body to build on the gains made in the training cycle to obtain improvements.
In the practical application of strength to the programming of training two categories are used: General and Specific.
Basic Strength Training refers to the strength of the whole body and is the foundation of development for the entire strength program, regardless of the sport. It must be highly developed during the first few years of training for beginners and also must be a part of training for all levels of athletes during the preparatory period. General strength incorporates a variety of methods including:
1. Hypertrophy Training - characterized by a large number of sets of repetitions with submaximal loads of 60-80%. The execution of the movement is rapid to slow and ends with complete muscular failure.
2. Strength Training - maximum strength development with minimal muscle enlargement and great improvement in the tonus of the muscle. Exercises should be done using loads of 90-100% with short maximum efforts with slow execution of motion.
3. Power Training - combines both strength and speed of movement. Exerciese change here from emphasis on weight being lifted to a weight that is 70-90% of maximum being lifted as explosively as possible.
4. Endurance Training - combines improvement of strength, speed and endurance. Used for general development and by all sports in which resistance to muscle fatigue is an integral part of a successful performance.
Specific Strength is strength of the muscles particular to a specific movement which includes all characteristics like speed, acceleration, resistance and etc.. It must be developed to the maximum possible level toward the end of the preparatory phase and maintained throughout the season for all elite class athletes. It is not essential for young, developing or recreational athletes to spend a substantial amount of time developing specific strength since it is sport specific and requires that an athlete has become highly specialized in a particular sport. However, because of the ease of the exercises, many athletes, knowingly or not, use specific strength methods.
Development of specific strength includes doing sports imitated movements which are as close as possible to the particular aspect being developed. Some examples include:
* Running with a parachute * Cycling in very hard gears
* Rowing on a rowing ergometer/in the boat with increased loads
The method of specific strength development depends on dynamic characteristics of the chosen sport. Taking under consideration motor requirements and the form of movements, we can generally divide sports into four groups:
* Strength-Speed Sports (e.g.jumps, throws, sprints, etc.) characterized by maximum intensity of work * Endurance Sports (e.g.running, cycling, cross country skiing, etc).
* High Coordination & Precision Sports (e.g.gymnastics, figure skating, diving, etc.) * Complex Sports (judo, boxing, wrestling, soccer, basketball,) characterized by regimented mixture of highly developed motor skills
With rowing there is an amazing mix of STRENGTH, POWER and ENDURANCE.
Periodisation of Strength
Periodisation is done not only at different levels of long term development, but also repeated throughout every yearly cycle.
General (build up, flexibility and connective tissue development)
Hypertrophy - muscle size development
Max strength development
Transformation to sport specificity (e.g. power, explosiveness, development of muscular endurance etc.)
Maintenance of Strength
Within the annual cycle, goals for strength training vary depending on the time of the year. In the first part of the preparatory period you should reach the level of strength from the previous year. During the second part of the preparatory period you should strive to improve chosen parameters of strength. During the competition season you should maintain the level of strength from the preparatory period. And finally, during the transition you should be sure to prevent major losses of strength.