BY BILL MANNING | PHOTO BY ED MORAN
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Fall is traditionally the “non-traditional” season for rowing. It’s a time when the serious spring racing feels distant and what racing occurs is head-style and less consequential. While the racing results may not be as important, the opportunity to prepare for the spring is hugely so. Used wisely, the fall season sets up a team for spring success.
As soon as your rowers get going in the fall, begin to establish team culture. Doing so creates a foundation to build on all year long. Some think of “culture” as a list of rules and procedures. This is a good start, but it’s ultimately limiting because rules can’t cover everything, nor are they always enforceable.
Culture consists of values, not just policies. It’s about how team members respect one another, their opponents, and the challenge of racing. Great Britain’s Ben Hunt Davis, who won gold at the 2000 Olympics, defined his culture with a simple statement: “Will it make the boat go faster?” However you define it, be sure to communicate it at the beginning of the year and reinforce it all year long.
Fall is the season for building endurance based on aerobic conditioning. This means lots of low-intensity work to train the body to utilize oxygen, build more capillaries, and become more efficient. Keep the rate low enough—21 or lower—that the stroke requires some power and ratio. It’s wise to mix in about 15 percent of high-intensity interval training. Physiologically, this is beneficial, but it’s even more important as a tool to teach rowers to pull harder. The value of learning to row hard can never be overstated.
Every fall, it’s tempting to focus on head races and do lots of simulated races in practice at higher rates. Too much of this threshold training at the expense of basic endurance will handicap the aerobic development needed for spring racing. It also can hinder rowers from learning to row a long stroke. Be careful lest achieving fall speed comes at the expense of spring success.
Fall is the best time for technical development, and lower-intensity rowing allows for more teaching of the rowing stroke. Take it slower and get it right. Teach everyone how you want them to row. Make sure each athlete knows how to take a stroke and move the boat. Better still, help them understand why.
Fall also should be less intense and a time for fun. Get athletes hooked on rowing so they’ll be willing to do the arduous winter training. Mixing between sweep and sculling and across different boat sizes will help. Cross training, team hikes, soccer games, water polo matches, and running races all serve the dual purpose of general conditioning and having fun. So, too, will internal competition. It’s fun to race, and athletes become better racers doing so. Train and teach them all week and set up squad racing at the end of the week.
Programs that row in the fall typically have about 10 weeks of water time with which to work. Used wisely, these weeks will help athletes build fitness, row better, learn to compete, have fun, and, most of all, set the team up for spring racing.
Come racing season, we all wish we had more time. That time exists in September, October, and November.