How to develop fast team boats in rowing – selections vs development

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This is such an extensive subject, that I cannot possibly cover it all in one blog article. In the following, I share some of my experience.

Selection routines almost always focus on a very small range of physical capabilities, especially when it comes to forming team boats. We know, however, that fast team boats are rarely made up of the two fastest single scullers for the double, or the two fastest pairs for the straight four. In the short run, let’s say for one racing weekend or maybe a WorldChampionShip regatta, this could (!) work, but certainly not for a full Olympic cycle.

How come there are fast boats which have been selected this way?

Because many teams are still using old technology, when there is better training and selection equipment out there. (For example the Biorower http://www.biorower.com)

How is it done?

Here are the things I must know about the athletes I work with, where knowing means: having checked the training log, having listened to what my athletes have to say, and having seen them in training as well as in serious competition.

A: Their force curves and stroke lengths in various intensity levels

There is a reason to this: Force curves are the handwriting of a rower. These graphs basically tell me, how athletes distribute their force on the handles throughout the entire drive phase.
The way athletes distribute their force onto the handles largely depends on their ability to use their body levers. Their ability to use their body levers depends on their preparation at the recovery. (More on this on our youtube channel à http://www.youtube.com/aramtraining)
Additionally, force curves depend on athletes’ asymmetric core stability, and on the next factor:

B: Their endurance capacity levels in the 1mml to 7mml lactate level zones. Although the vast majority of athletes will be at 12mml or more during a race (some even up to 25+), the low to medium endurance capacity levels have a significant effect the capacity to perform at a consistent level throughout a packed racing weekend.

As standard selection routines cannot cover these factors by any means, some teams centralize their national team training, and basically run high intensity training on an almost permanent basis. The ones who survive are finally selected. Some people say “survival of the fittest” is a natural process. My answer: of course it is, but only at your peak of season. If the people you bring there already had to survive a training apocalypse to even get selected, they are certainly not the fittest then anymore.

Forming fast boats means to know the factors I have mentioned above, and many more. If there are 5 athletes for a quad, and all have equal force curves, equal stroke lengths, and equal endurance capacities, and so on… chances are high that these 5 people form the fastest possible quad.

The question then is: how do you adapt force curves?

I always use the Biorower (http://www.biorower.com) with live force curves. These rowing machines are ultra realistic, and they provide force curves, stroke lengths, etc. live, so that my athletes see what they are doing, and I see it. This way, they adapt naturally, without me having to talk a lot.

I usually do this already during the winter, when everybody else has to spend time on standard ergs, just to do something.

How do you select?

I develop, the selection happens naturally. I follow the individual development of every athlete, and adapt their plans accordingly – every single one of them. This can also mean that a group of potential athletes for one team boat has completely different training plans. As they do their full winter training on the Biorower with live force curves, I see what is going on during training, and later on the Biorower portal. In addition, I monitor the watt to lactate development. So, I do not have to pack unneeded and counterproductive high intensity tests into the winter training.

The joker, everyone could use

Next to the physical parameters, I am keen to have my athletes adapt their handwriting (their force curves and stroke lengths) already during the winter to each other. As they train on the Biorower, and see their force curves and stroke lengths live – stroke by stroke – they start to “play around” with their technique naturally, just to copy the team’s general style of influencing the boat during the drive phase. This leads to a technique development, and to a physical development – as a different technique requires a different physique. The result is a group of compatible athletes, before they even touch a boat.

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