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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

There are two documents available: Rowing Injury Prevention & Surfboat Injury Prevention Exercises.  Click on the respective document images below to download a copy (pdf reader required)

Rowing Injury Prevention Surfboat Injury Prevention Exercises
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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.




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Ergo Training

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.

Aerobic Training

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.

Anaerobic Training

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.

Aerobic 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)

  • 42.2km (Marathon)

Anaerobic Training

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.

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 Land Training 

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.

Training Frequency

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).

Training Sessions

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.

5 x 750 meters with 3 minutes rest

4 x 1000 meters with 3-4 minutes rest

4-5 x 5 minnutes with 4 minutes rest

5 x 4 minutes with 4 minutes rest

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Boat Training

In Boat Training

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.
Some examples:
  • 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).


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