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Start Slow

BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

With many returning to the water following winter or Covid restrictions–whether a warm-weather training camp or the resumption of business as usual–the natural tendency, and danger, is to jump back into demanding training too quickly. A sudden increase in volume or intensity without adequate preparation invites injury and missed water time.

To avoid this, first identify and accept the athletes’ current fitness level, regardless of what it should be or you want it to be. If your athletes didn’t do enough previously, “whipping them into shape” will succeed only in damaging their health and enthusiasm. Second, coach to each individual as much as possible. If you direct your training only to the fittest few, you’ll lose your numbers. If you coach to the lowest common denominator, you’ll bore your better athletes, and they won’t improve. With mixed boats rowing by sixes, more prepared athletes are able to train more, and the less ready are able to row less. Rather than creating one weak slow boat, distribute the weaker athletes across the bow pairs of all the crews.

Our bodies are not equipped to sustain strenuous physical work unless being introduced to it gradually. We can sometimes do unprecedented things once, but after doing so, we often pay a heavy price in recovery time. Stay safe by starting relatively slowly and building the training load progressively.

Pay attention to volume, intensity, and recovery time. Longer recovery periods are needed early on. Even lower- intensity rowing places significant demands on the body when it’s a new endeavor. Temper the volume level of the workouts, gradually ramping them up.  It’s typically better to increase either volume or intensity in a given session rather than both simultaneously. Do either more kilometers or faster kilometers each day, but not more faster kilometers.

The mental aspect is no different from the physical. Concentration is a learned habit that diminishes when not exercised and does not return to previous levels immediately. Minds will wander on longer rows. It’s also extremely hard to maintain a high level of output for extended periods. Ask too much too soon and the athletes may well plateau, while feeling stagnant will sap confidence. “Negative splitting” the training (performing the second half of a row or workout faster than the first) is a progressive approach that provides a sense of improvement that motivates and builds confidence. Peaking at the right time is the goal, not the total amount of work done.

Teams do not pick up where they left off previously. It’s often a different team with new leadership that doesn’t yet possess the knowledge or confidence to lead from day one. Be patient. Previous best practices and expectations should be re-introduced. Taking the time to explain yourself first saves time in the long run.

Coaches seek quick improvement but must resist the temptation and tendency to do too much too soon. When returning to training or getting back on the water, build into it gradually. One day of overworking your athletes isn’t worth multiple days needed to recuperate.

Remember the tortoise and the hare.

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