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Top Tips for Maximizing Winter Rowing Training

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The head racing season is wrapping up and the days are getting shorter. As temperatures drop we will be spending less time on the water and more time training indoors. Here are my suggestions for transitioning from on-the-water training to winter training mode.

'tis the season for pogies

(Photo by Ellie Bez)

1. Understand peak performance.

All serious racing training happens in cycles. If you’ve been training to peak during head racing season then you’ve probably made strides in your speed. Recognize that peak performance is not something that can be maintained year round. Hard training hones our abilities for specific goals and races. Training adaptions can be maintained but peak speed will and should decline as we move into the “off season,” If you stay active you won’t lose ALL that you’ve gained. In fact, you’ll carry many of your adaptations forward to next season.

2. Strength train.

The holy grail of winter training. Don’t be intimidated by the weight room. There is much to be gained by starting or re-incorporating strength training into your winter program. The benefits of weight lifting on rowing performance are many. It’s gratifying to see progress in the weight room but keep the bigger picture in mind. Your goals are to get faster on the water. That means avoiding max effort lifts and being smart about how you structure your strength training. Lift weights 2-3x per week with adequate rest between workouts (think 48-72 hours for full recovery). Focus on the “big lifts” like squat and deadlift. They’ll yield the best sport-specific results. If you’re new to those movements start with lighter weights and get comfortable with the motor patterns before adding significant load. If you’re more experienced incorporate barbells and progressions (front squat, kickstand deadlift, etc.). Strength training doesn’t have to be scary. Think of it as a new challenge and a great opportunity to increase performance.

Deadlifting: a rower's best friend.

3. Avoid burn out.

The next question to ask yourself is “do I need to take some time off before I begin winter training,” Are you grappling with some nagging injuries? Are you burnt out and is rowing beginning to feel more like an obligation than fun? If yes, those are indicators that taking some time off could be beneficial. This doesn’t mean sit on the couch and gorge yourself on Doritos but it might be a sign that you should pursue other activities for a while.

Obligatory golden hour rowing photo.

4. Work on your aerobic foundations.

If you’re still feeling inspired to get on the water or spend time on the erg then a “Congratulations” is in order. Your first race of 2023 will dictate how and when you ramp up your training intensity. In the mean time, focus on mileage rather than taking a lot of hard strokes. It will be easier on your body. Those easy, but many, strokes will lay the aerobic foundations for next year. Well laid foundations are necessary to build speed leading up to racing season. Perhaps you’ve been banished to the erg room for winter?

A stable of ergs

5. Adapt to the erg.

Don’t go nuts on the erg, at first. The erg is tougher on your body than rowing on the water. The dynamic nature of rowing a boat ensures more variety from stroke to stroke when compared with the erg. Especially, if you’ve been rowing in small boats. With the complications of controlling the boat removed the erg allows us to pull harder than we would on the water. We apply force differently to the erg and often create more fatigue and stress on our joints and connective tissues. Give yourself time to adapt to the erg and slowly increase mileage. Remember, just because you’re on the erg doesn’t mean you should forego tech work.

6. Dial in your technique.

The winter is an excellent time to work on the technical aspects of the rowing stroke. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors. If you’re lucky enough to be able to row on the water year-round spending time addressing technical flaws in your stroke is always a good use of time. Technical work tends to be aerobic and lower intensity. Thus fulfilling two vital aspects of rowing training. If you don’t have the luxury of rowing year round or are in need of a break from the sport lets talk cross training.

Cross training can be fun AND include fresh air

7. Cross train.

The winter is a great time to incorporate cross training. Start prepping for your ski season or running season now. Ease into the mileage and introduce the new activities slowly to ensure your body has an easier time adapting. If you’ve been cross training throughout the fall season expect to be able to ramp up more quickly. Having winter goals will help you stave off burn out and allow you to engage with other activities and friends. All sports demand specific skills but there is crossover between endurance sports. Maintaining your aerobic capacity is key to a successful transition back to rowing in the spring. First you’ve got to get through the holidays though.

8. Train during the holidays.

Staying active through the holidays can be a challenge with travel and being removed from our routines. Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing. If you do take time off from training during the holidays take that into account when you get back to activity. Beware hammering away on the erg day after day in order to make up for “lost time,” especially if you’ve taken extended time off. We typically see an uptick in injuries coming out of the holidays a couple weeks into the winter training season. Don’t be a statistic.

9. Set goals for 2023.

Those who do something rather than nothing will have an advantage going into the new year. Start thinking about your 2023 goals and work backwards from there. Maybe your 2023 goals include a specific race or trying a new aspect of the sport. Feeling burnt out on team sweep boats? Maybe it’s time to get in a single or double and fine tune your stroke? Bored with rowing on the same stretch of water everyday? Sign up for a travel regatta or open water race.

You'll be loading the trailer for spring racing in no time at all.

Next year's racing season will be here before you know it. Use the “off season” to get strong, expand your aerobic capacity, develop technically, and have some fun cross training.


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