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Training Outside the Boat

BY VOLKER NOLTE
PHOTO BY ED MORAN

The cancellation of the famous Head of the Charles Regatta is the latest bad news for competitive rowers. Although it was absolutely the right call, it deprived rowers of the sort of goal so essential for training. Speaking from experience, it’s much easier to train when you have a date in mind for putting your boat in the starting gates.

This means finding other goals to sustain a training plan and provide motivation for strenuous workout sessions. With immediate competitive goals unavailable, I suggest you set more general long-term goals, such as gaining overall physical and mental health that leads to life satisfaction, or expanding the base for later increases in performance. Such an approach gives you incentives to plan ahead for a longer time period and offers promising opportunities for future success.

The pandemic has restricted not only our competitive ambitions but also our access to organized rowing programs on the water. Therefore, we have to find training alternatives that will bridge the competition down time and build toward later improvement. One excellent option is cross-training.

In simplest terms, cross-training is training in athletic activities other than your usual sport. The goal is to improve your overall performance by exploiting the advantages of one training method to compensate for the shortcomings of another. For rowing, that might mean running, bicycling, cross-country skiing or weightlifting.

We know that top athletes such as Mahe Drysdale perform much of their training on bikes and that national-team rowers regularly strength-train in the gym. Although high-performance athletes must train for their sport to improve significantly, cross-training offers benefits for athletes of all levels, whether the goal is preventing injury or developing a skill.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of cross-training. For example, long-distance runners who swim and cycle while preparing for a triathlon, become better runners–the so-called “crossover benefit.”

Studies show also that cross-training, which includes stretching and resistance and agility exercise, helps prevent injury and hasten rehabilitation. By reducing psychological fatigue, it can enable athletes to train longer and harder. By offering variety, cross-training can be exciting and entertaining. For reasons both mental and physical, we rowers should seek ways to train outside the boat.

Whether you’re an ambitious college rower or a masters or recreational rower, cross training is how you can use the time advantageously between now and your return to the water to practice and compete. Fitness gains now will put you in a better position when training resumes next spring.

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