Don’t be afraid to spend more time over the next 3-months, to lift, build strength, and improve your performance ready for 2021.

By James Goodwin & Bill Chambers

Join James this Saturday, for a Master Class in Strength & Conditioning, especially focussed on Masters Rowers. James will be sharing practical applications of training for the different times of the season. Example exercises and how they should be executed. Components of sessions (warm-up, lifting, trunk etc), and to train at home when gym access is difficult at the moment.Live on Zoom at 20:00 Zürich time. To register click here. 

It’s no secret, that movement becomes tougher as we age. From getting out of bed in the morning to rowing, all these activities can sometimes feel a little less comfortable and require a little more effort. For Masters Rowers, training is no different. As Masters Rowers, we need to adjust training accordingly over this enforced off season, to achieve your maximum potential in 2021. This should include a special focus on strength training. Not only will strength training improve your strength, but it will also improve your rowing economy, reduce risk of injury, and improve performance.

We will start by diving into some of the physiological changes that occur during the natural aging process. After the age of 40, the circulation capacities of the tissue can reduce by 40-60%. With this, the cells of our body can’t repair as quickly due to reduced blood supply. This decreases the body’s ability to adapt to high stress and aggregates more damage to the body with lengthened recovery time.

Building Rowing Specific Strength

There are several ways to enhance a Masters Rowers strength and one of the most beneficial is doing high speed sprints. Sprints can help us to recruit more muscle fibers. However, these kinds of workouts are taxing on the body, even more so as we age.

Another way to increase strength is to do Bungee Cord rowing, or a high fan setting on the ergo. This form-focused session with drag on the hull, will build strength, yet will can cause extensive post-session fatigue & muscle repair from the body.

The third, and arguably, most beneficial way to increase our strength is weight training. With strength training, the athlete produces force well above what they produce while rowing, positive biological adaptations. 

If You’re Going to Lift, Lift Heavy

The repeated movement of rowing is not enough of a stimulus to build strength. Once you are able to demonstrate correct movement skills with the proper balance and stability, you can advance into strength training. With this, we like to lift heavy weights with low repetitions. Contrary, most Masters go to the gym, and perform low-weight/high-repetition exercises. In order to improve the energy cost of locomotion, maximal power, and maximal strength, we need to recruit more muscle mass. This is why lifting heavy is proven to be much more beneficial, than low-weight/high-repetition weight training.

When focusing on improving strength, depending on your goals, it’s important to prescribe the appropriate amount of sets and repetitions. We suggest as a good starting point for springtime, 3 – 4 sets of 5 – 8 repetitions. The exercise should feel taxing by the end of each set. The speed is important when trying to develop strength, so don’t ignore this. One needs to have intent when developing strength, and this is often a huge issue for rowers, as they like to stay in the comfort zone. When it comes to developing intensity, even if its heavy, I try to move the bar as quick as I can during the concentric part of most lifts. This is assuming there is a pre-requisite of good movement quality etc, if this isn’t there then the starting point is we have outlined, yet probably with higher reps and less load to develop some foundations.

Some excellent strength-focused exercises include: 

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Front squats
  • Bench press
  • Hip thrusts 
  • Military press
  • Bent over rows 

How to Incorporate Strength Training

Use these general guidelines to establish volume and incorporate strength into your already-busy training regime: First, make sure you have sufficient time to strength train without sacrificing time on the water for primary training. During the beginning of the season, when the you are performing a little less volume, you have more opportunity to focus on your strength program. 

Second, make sure that you are have good form and know how to lift before starting strength training. Start with heavy lifting 2 – 3 sessions per week in the early spring. As you move into the rowing season, you can maintain those strength gains, with 1-2 sessions per week as a general split.

Remember, over the age of 40, strength training is a must. Sprint training, bungee cord, heavy fan on the ergo, and importantly, strength training is a must in your training program. Don’t be afraid to lift heavy to achieve strength, and improve your performance. Remember to seek guidance if you’re not comfortable in the weightroom. A little but of help goes a long way!

James is the Head of Strength & Conditioning and Sports Performance for the Swiss Rowing Federation. To learn more about Strength & Conditioning, join James, for a Live Master Class on Strength & Conditioning, dedicated to Masters Rowers March 27 at 20:00 Swiss time. Click here for more info.