The Don Bosco Prep Ironmen, who also row out of Overpeck, are hosting their first Ironmen Erg Classic in Lyndhurst, NJ on Feb. 1. This is good timing – there are no other indoor races this early in northern NJ. The entry info is on RegattaCentral – hope to see you there!
The level of fitness required to row for an hour at sub-1:37 is almost incomprehensible. This is a short but incredible video of these guys. To give context to the CrossFitters out there, Eric Murray (in blue) finished the half-marathon test 11 minutes (about 2 miles) faster than Jason Khalipa, who had the fastest time in the Row 2 workout at the CrossFit Games. Note how Hamish Bond (shirtless with heart rate monitor) is using elongated form to maximize stroke length on the Concept2 Model E (different from in the boat). Well done Kiwis – no wonder you are untouchable on the water! I also love the transparency of posting this on the web.
I had a fellow CrossFitter tell me today that they had been coached as part of a CrossFit cert to keep their heels anchored when rowing since “rowing is like a deadlift.” I smirked a little as this impressed me as an example of the old adage “to a carpenter, everything looks like a nail.” The coach was somewhat right in that the last half of the drive uses the posterior chain, and the heels are anchored. But I think the coach was wrong on two very important points:
1. At the front of the drive, the quadriceps are the primary muscles used, and this switches to the hams/glutes only after half slide. Explosive quad activation at the catch is one of the primary predictors of boat speed. The level of compression in the legs is much closer to a deep front squat than to a deadlift, which requires more quadriceps activation.
2. A deadlift is a slow, deliberate, powerful movement, usually with a pause between reps, that does not utilize eccentric/elastic contractions. Rowing is a fast, dynamic, explosive, rhythmic movement that absolutely depends on eccentric/elastic contractions. Pausing between strokes would cause loss of momentum and stored energy. I believe rowing is closer in nature to unbroken thrusters, squat jumps, box jumps, or even double unders. All of these are very different motions from the deadlift, and in none of them does one land on the heels or keep the heels firmly planted on the floor. They all are done unbroken, at a high cadence, requiring rhythm and timing. Deadlifts are seldom programmed during a metcon.
A very detailed explanation of the reasons for the combined quad/posterior chain motion in the rowing stroke is provided in the Rowing Biomechanics Newsletter.
When I race on the water, I almost always follow what she calls the “fly and die” race plan. I have always been blessed with a very fast and technically clean starting sequence, so I take advantage of that strength as much as I can. The flip side is that I have to hang on for dear life in the last 500m of the race. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t.
When I approach a 2K test, I switch to the “even splits” strategy, trying to keep the splits between 1:36 and 1:40 for the whole piece. The reasons for this are twofold:
1. You don’t have the momentum of the boat working in your favor, so accelerating it faster than planned race pace doesn’t really pay off. This changes a little on a dynamic ergometer such as the Rowperfect, C2 Dynamic, or classic C2 on slides. I am experimenting more with this right now and trying to do more of my training on a dynamic erg. It’s interesting that the men’s national team is using dynamic ergs more now too (timestamp 2:47 in this video from RowingRelated).
2. You can’t really use technical superiority to help you sprint, the way you can on the water. It’s all about physical conditioning, and there is only so far you can push if you are not in ideal shape. You are working without your full tool bag, in other words, so I feel even splits is a better strategy choice.
Speaking of physical conditioning, there is also a sick video of lightweight Henrik Stephansen going 5:56 for 2K. Again, less than ideal technique, but clearly a superior engine!
Check this out…Olympic gold medalist coxswain Mary Whipple opening up her Flywheel Studio in the Seattle area, partnering with Microsoft Surface.
Row (TUE): 6:00 of 125m sprints on 0:30, recover 3:00, 4:00 of 125m sprints on 0:30, recover 2:00, 2:00 of 125m sprints on 0:30
A couple of points:
1. It would be pretty hard to pull this off for anyone other than a heavyweight man with pretty good rowing technique. For even a pretty fit woman, or someone who is a novice to rowing, it’s unlikely you will be able to have any rest of all. On a good day, I would be challenged to do a tabata 0:20/0:10 workout with >110 meters per interval, which means that for 0:30 intervals, getting 125 meters would result in about 5-7 seconds of rest per interval. For many rowers, if your 500m pace time is in the 2:00 range, it will be a challenge to complete 125 meters in 30 seconds, and you may actually fall behind.
2. There is really no way to program this into the C2 performance monitor. If you simply program 30-second intervals with zero rest, you will not be able to keep track of how many intervals you have completed, and will have to track this in your head. The last thing you want to do is have to fight with the monitor or do mental math in this type of workout.
Recommendation: Implement this workout as 15 strokes on, 3 strokes off. Shoot for a stroke rating of at least 35 strokes per minute. This universally scales for skill level, and delivers the intended mix of intervals and intensity. If you are an experienced rower, you will achieve pretty much the times as programmed. If you are less experienced, you will still get the intended effect of the workout, scaled to your abilities, even if the total elapsed time is longer than programmed.
I tested this approach today and it appeared to be the simplest, most effective way to do it. It also works on the water. Honestly, I think it would be more effective to do 3 standard tabata series instead of the relatively complicated way this is programmed. I found that my intensity drifted down due to the reduced rest time, and I feel that the standard tabata would have actually been a more taxing and effective workout. Hope this helps.
Some people have inquired recently about how to judge proper intensity levels on short intervals.
My answer is that, much like you have to train yourself to do a snatch, you have to train yourself to recognize what max intensity really feels like and how to combine mental, physical, and technical details in order to make it happen. I find that of all the things I work on as an athlete, the true feeling of high intensity is one of the easiest to forget. A lot of times I will blow out a PR on a “good day” when I’m feeling great, and it makes me realize how many other training sessions I’ve done in which I thought I had reached max intensity, but I really hadn’t.
High intensity is also about working the margins, eliminating the tiny last few variables in your technique, and finding a few incremental changes that, collectively, will give you that last 1% that separates high intensity from max intensity.
I approach any short interval workout of <1 minute work cycles as a "max watts while maintaining technique" intensity. I.e. on the C2 , while I might aspire to average 385 watts (~1:37 pace) for a 2K time trial, I would try to exceed 500 watts (~1:28 pace) for repeated 30-sec intervals. This would still be about 150-200w short of absolute max watts in a 10-stroke test, however absolute max watts would not be done with clean and sustainable technique.
Another gauge of intensity that I use is more subjective. As the workout progresses, I try to hit the same or better results for each interval. This gets harder and harder with each progressive interval. If I reach a point where, no matter what I do, I can’t push the results any higher, or they start to go down, then I know I’ve reached the max intensity I’m going to on that given day. If your heart tells you that you had nothing more to give, then it’s probably true.