Tuesday, 26 January 2016

13 weeks...

Planning your Crew's Training

So, selections are complete. You know your crew. Time to get in a boat and thrash it until the Scillies, right? Wrong.

Building a successful crew is about more than power: indeed, power alone can break a crew. If each crew member is heaving on their oar, out of sync, out of breath and out of their minds with frustration at the rest of the crew, the resulting rowing will be dismal.

So, you need a training plan that brings you together as a crew - and aims to 'peak' at the world champs. Such a peak should be unsustainable for more than a few weeks - you would be exhausted otherwise.

Therefore your plan aims to develop technique, power and crew mentality through the various means available to you, only aiming to weave it all together in the last month of training to produce the performance you desire in the boat, on the weekend that it counts.

13 weeks is not long: ideally you have used the autumn to work on your personal technique, build up ergo time and enter the spring ready to take it a level higher. But whatever stage you're at, these are the common recommended phases:

Weeks 1-4

In the boat: build crew technique - syncing technique across the crew during slow rowing, drills
On the ergo: build power and cardiovascular endurance - up to 10K at low rate, high power
In the weights room: build muscle - focusing on glutes, lats and quads
On the floor: build your core - through yoga, pilates or self guided core exercises

This is the time to build power, muscle, and cardiovascular capacity OUTSIDE the boat - while building cohesion, smoothness and technique INSIDE the boat. The temptation will be to set baseline times over certain distances in the boat, by which to measure your progress - but these times are meaningless as they will quickly be beaten as you get used to each other, and competing against each other in the boat can demolish long term gains in technique. Instead, refuse to take power up in the boat until technique is practically perfect at low rate (and decent pressure) for long periods - which should take two or three weeks. Use drills to establish good habits and bring the crew together - and videoing to review. Then, only hold power/rate until technique starts to deteriorate (maybe only 20 strokes). Then drop the power, regain technique, and go for it again. Coxes' role is to encourage each crew member to adapt to the rest of their crew and establish new habits. Meanwhile, outside the boat - GO FOR IT. Aim for long ergo distances at low rates but high power, interspersed intervals sessions of bursts up to 1000m and 2 min rests. This is also the time to build your crew: have meals together, make plans together and establish what you all expect of each other.

Weeks 5-9

In the boat: build crew technique with power - long distance, medium power, lots of drills
On the ergo: maintaining power and endurance, and building sprint ability
In the weights room: build muscle - increasing reps
On the floor: build your core - through yoga, pilates or self guided core exercises

Inside the boat, crews should be experimenting with power, coxes critiquing how power may disrupt smoothness and flow, and working on longer and longer power sessions, easing the rate up, focusing on technique still. Use drills to warm up and establish good habits before applying power. Keep videoing yourselves. Now's a good time to set time goals, but to review what falls apart at power and improve upon this each time. Outside the boat, you start to work on sprints, with repeated shorter distances and short rests, to start building your capacity to handle lactate (the painful acid that builds up during anaerobic activity). Continue with weights and core, focusing on areas that let you down at power, and building reps and endurance.

Weeks 10-12

In the boat: work with your race cox - plan your race, race your race, drill where necessary
On the ergo: visualise your race, get used to the distance, plan your race, row HARD
In the weights room: get the glutes firing

These are the weeks to focus on the race itself: what's your best start? What's your exact plan as a crew? What calls will you want from your cox? What happens if you clash? And to ensure you know exactly what to expect, how it will feel, and how to squeeze the very best performance from your crew and yourself on the day. On ergos and in the boat, practice each section of the race and then bring it together - videoing and critiquing yourselves as you go. Use drills to keep technique tight - consider working really useful ones into your warm up. Focus on positive crew support. Make sure your stretcher, seat, clothes and nutrition are tested and exactly how you want them for race day. The final weeks before your pre-race week should be the hardest weeks of your training calendar.

Week 13:

Pre-race week is a time to lighten the load - low weights, smooth rows with only occasional bursts, giving your body a chance to rest tired muscles from the previous 2 weeks and get ready to rampage during your racing. Eat healthily, sleep lots, and take time to reflect on how much you have achieved with your crew. Mentally visualise what's to come: prepare your race day kit.

Race Day

We'll come back to this nearer the time: but remember, every painful muscle now, every burning lung of air, every blister from long sessions will prepare you to achieve your very best on race day.

This advice comes from my own training for the British Universities Rowing Championships (winning silver and bronze medals in eights and quads), and thanks to my coaches at that time.
Further support for this strategy is available at:
1) World Rowing's Club Training Programme: http://www.worldrowing.com/mm/Document/General/General/10/73/25/FISAClubtrainingprogramme_English.pdf
2) Rowing Ireland's Club Training Programme http://www.rowingireland.ie/club-training-programme/

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