Increasing training load does not always increase performance!

In Australia, at this time of year, National Championships have just been completed and underage athletes are waiting anxiously to see if they get invited to National Team trials to make the U19, U21 and U23 teams.

For the athletes that have performed well, coaches are planning what training load they will complete between now and trials in approximately 3 weeks time with both coach and athlete aiming for the same outcome – a place on a National Team.

Many athletes end up rowing more than they ever have over this period of time.  In some ways it makes sense to row more as technical faults can be worked on, the rest of the squad is resting and there can be more focus on individual gain.  Unfortunately, this ends up resulting in athletes having a ‘dip’ in load over Nationals (fewer kilometres even though intensity is high, results in a reduction in load) followed by a steep increase in load and this is associated with increased injury and illness risk.

What is really interesting is that the risk for injury and illness often lags 2-3 weeks behind the increased load period.  This means that if an athlete makes a team, they train on and often become injured or ill 2-3 weeks after selection.


Coaches have done a great job to get their rower to perform at Nationals to a high standard.  This means that their load has been managed well throughout the rowing season to reduce their injury risk and to perform optimally at the right time of the season.  The gains that can be made by increasing load over a 3 week post-nationals period are small but the risk is high.

Returning the athlete to the load that they were managing as normal training in the month leading up to National Championships is ideal.  Even if a small ‘dip’ in load has happened over Nationals, a return to the training load the athlete was completing 2-3 weeks prior is usually quite safe.  Prescribing a training load that is greater than the athlete has been exposed to before should be avoided.

Depending on the aim of trials.  Coaches may find greater benefit by having athletes row in combinations that they need to get used to to make a National Team crew.  Coaches need to remember that load needs to be carefully considered when changing crews that rowers usually train in.  For instance, if a rower usually trains in an 8+ but wants practice in a 2- for the benefit of making a crew, coaches need to consider that 20km in an 8+ is a much lower load than 20km in a 2- and accommodate both training kilometres and training effort to ensure that a rower is not over trained or exposed to a greater load than they have previously accommodated to.

GRowingBODIES wishes all athletes and coaches GOOD HEALTH AND FAST ROWING!  This is exciting time for coaches and athletes that have had success from their programs – and now is the time to keep doing the things that have worked and consolidate performances rather than push too hard and have to deal with injury or illness as a consequence.

2019 injury prevention education program

Melbourne, June 2019 at Power House Rowing Club

Coach PD Day 2019 professional development day – Saturday June 1

Prac Edu Day 2019 rowing injury prevention master class – Sunday June 2

Register online now, places limited!  Early registration discount until March 31st.


Italy & UK November, 2019 – final dates to be confirmed

Sports Medicine Practitioners Rowing injury prevention master class
1.5 days, Australian Institute of Sport, European Training Centre, Gavirate

UK Coaches seminar series – one day courses across the UK

Expressions of interest now open via the contact page


Additional information on the education page

Sport Specialisation in Young Athletes

The Australasian College of Sport & Exercise Physicians has released a position statement on sport specialisation in young athletes that has many useful guiding principles for adolescent Rowers, their families and Coaches.

Key points from this document for the developing rower and their supporters include:

  • With the exception of rhythmic gymnastics, there is no evidence that early specialisation is beneficial in achieving elite status in sports where peak performance is attained in adulthood [which it is in Rowing]

  • There is evidence that young athletes with overuse injuries are more likely to be highly specialised than uninjured athletes & this risk is independent of age, sex, and total hours of organised sport [overuse are the predominant injuries in rowers]

  • Resistance training among these at-risk populations has been shown to reduce injury risk by up to 68% and improve sport performance and health measures [see GRowingBODIES blog post #8 on if developing rowers should do weights?

  • There is an association between early sport specialisation and a number of more general harms, including lower overall perception of health, early burnout, less fun and reduced mental well-being

The ACSEP therefore recommends:

  • Athletes less than 12 should be encouraged to undertake wide variety of sports and include unstructured play as a form of physical activity
  • Total sport participation hours should not exceed the age of the athlete in years
  • Time spent in organised sport should not exceed a ratio of 2:1 to free play
  • Coaches and parents should ensure that any adolescent program adheres to evidence based sports specific guidelines

The complete document can be found at: screen shot 2019-01-28 at 7.54.53 am

Click to access Early%20Specialisation%20Position%20Statement.pdf


Do Rowers need to do an active warm-up?

It is well know that the best preparation for a training session or competition in sport is for an athlete to prepare themselves with an active warm up.

A comprehensive active warm up will increase the temperature of the body and increase blood flow to the limbs that are about to be used for the specific sport.  It will ensure that joints that are about to be used for the activity are taken through the ranges of motion that they are about to be used in and the muscles about to be used are activated in a similar way to what the sport demands.

An ideal active warm up for rowing may include;

  • 10 minutes of mild to moderate activity that increases body temperature such as stationary cycling, jogging, brisk uphill walking or stair climbing
  • active movement exercises that take the joints through a full range of motion needed for rowing and use the main muscles about to be used when rowing
  • stretches interspersed between active movement exercises to release specific tension or target flexibility deficits that an individual may have
  • a component of ergometer rowing to start getting the mind and body ready for the movement about to be performed
  • It should last 20-25min and result in the athlete reaching a stage of being ‘puffed’ but not exhausted.

HOWEVER… often a great warm up is of absolutely NO BENEFIT to the rower as the gains made are lost due to the TIMING of when it is done.

For an active warm up to be effective, the rower/s should launch their boat within 5 to 10 minutes of finishing it.  Any longer than this and the body will cool down making all of the well planned and performed active warm up a WASTE OF TIME.

We advocate that all rowers complete an active warm up but the following needs to occur for this to be effective;

  • the boat and oars should be ready to go
  • the rower should be dressed in the sports clothing they are about to use (maybe have an extra layer on to begin with that could be easily removed)
  • the rower needs to have everything they are about to take on the water ready to go (stroke coach, water bottle, nutrition, sunglasses, hat etc.)
  • the coach needs to have already conducted the briefing of the session or should do so while the warm up is being conducted

Standing around waiting for rowers to dress, equipment to be organised or coaches to finish briefing athletes results in the benefit of the warm up being lost.

If it is not logistically possible to get on the water within 5 – 10min of doing an active warm up – there is no need to waste anyone’s time.  Warm up slowly and for a longer period on the water!


Push ups – a Christmas gift for rowers!

Young, developing rowers often spend time off the water over Christmas to take a well earned break with families.  In the Australian School Rowing system a moratorium also restricts how much rowing can take place over this time so that everyone can have a holiday.  A break over Christmas is so important for keeping young athletes happy but sometimes this break can inadvertently lead to injury.

A decrease in training load from a break over Christmas is always followed by an increase in load as training recommences.  Often, schools or clubs will hold a camp after the Christmas break and this results in a very steep increase in training load.  A steep increase in training load is a risk factor for overuse injury but a decrease in load followed by a steep increase in load results in a much greater risk – especially in the three to four weeks following the increase in load.  In Australia we see a ‘spike’ in low back pain and chest wall injuries in late January / early February due to the pattern of an unload followed by a significant reload.

How can injury risk be reduced and young, developing rowers still have a family break over Christmas?

There are two ways of reducing this injury risk;

  1. rowers can complete some of their own training over the break period so that the ‘unload’ is not as large
  2. coaches can ensure that rowers are steadily progressed back into training without such a steep load increase when rowing recommences

In the graph below, a typical young Australian rowers training load is depicted with the yellow line.  A more ideal training load is depicted with the green line.

Training load

If rowers are to keep some training going over Christmas, they need to understand that both general fitness training and training that loads the body regions used in rowing are equally as important.  Attention is often paid to continuing T1 and T2 training with cross training such as running or cycling BUT often this results in a reduction in chest wall and low back loading – this can predispose to chest wall injury including; thoracic spine pain, rib stress reaction or rib stress fracture & / OR low back pain when the rower is reloaded in the boat or on the ergometer after a break.

Exercising 3-4 times a week doing activities other than rowing can keep T1 and T2 fitness up over a break.  This might include activities that can be done with the family including bush walking, mountain bike riding, cycling, swimming, surfing or skiing.

To ensure the chest wall and spine are also continued to be loaded, the following suggestion may help;

  • Using a rowing erg two to three times per week, ideally at a high load for a shorter duration with a day between sessions (bones like load then unload for tissue adaptation)
  • Research tells us that posture fatigues at high load on an erg around 30min, if ergometer rowing restricted to 30min or broken into 2 x 15-30min pieces with a short break before continuing, this is ideal

If rowers do not have erg access, other chest wall and low back loading activities can be used, including;

  • Push ups, pull ups and chin ups
  • Weight bearing through straight arms and elbows to do planks with varieties of both hands, one hand, hands stepping up and down onto a step, going from elbows to hands and back down, feet on a fitball walk outs
  • Upper body weights including bench press, bench pull, incline press and rows
  • Squats, deadlifts and steps ups to load the trunk and low back region
  • Ideally, a variety of exercises can be performed –  too much of one exercise can also predispose to other injury.

Performing a 20 minute mini-circuit of a variety exercises x2-3 times per week with at least a day in between is sufficient but does not need to be completed if this can be achieved on an erg.

Coaches that are running camps after a break also need to think of what training load they are prescribing so that the chest wall and low back do not undergo a significant increase in load that may result in injured athletes 3-4 weeks after the initial reloading period.  Way to reduce the injury risk of athletes include;

  • a steady and slow introduction back into the boat and on the erg eg. shorter sessions x3-4 per week with day in between initially
  • keeping the rowing training load increase in time and intensity no more than 10% greater than the week prior
  • ensuring a variety of other activities are also offered at a training camp shortly after a break that do not involve rowing eg. team building, walking, cycling
  • ensuring that sessions at a rowing camp do not include lots of sitting for breaks out on the water, even though the athlete is not rowing, the low back is still loaded in sitting
  • ensure you understand how much individual athletes have trained and kept load on their chest wall and spine over the break – some may be able to do more than others without the risk of injury

ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS BREAK!  Be happy to perform some push ups (with some other exercises) every seconds day to keep your chest wall loaded and your trunk muscles strong!  Get your families outside exercising together to keep a smile on everyone’s face and stay injury free through the first two months of 2019.