Purpose: To test the hypothesis that elite rowers would possess a faster, more economic oxygen uptake response than club standard rowers.
Methods: Eight Olympic champion (ELITE) rowers were compared with a cohort of eight club standard (CLUB) rowers. Participants completed a progressive exercise test to exhaustion, repeated 6-min moderate and heavy square-wave transitions, and a maximal 2000-m ergometer time trial.
Results: The time constant (τ) of the primary component (PC) was faster for the ELITE group compared with CLUB for moderate-intensity (13.9 vs 19.4 s, P = 0.02) and heavy-intensity (18.7 vs 22.4 s, P = 0.005) exercise. ELITE rowers consumed less oxygen for moderate (14.2 vs 15.6 mL·min−1·W−1; P = 0.009) and heavy (12.1 vs 13.7 mL·min−1·W−1; P = 0.01) exercise. A greater absolute slow component was observed in the ELITE group (P = 0.009), but no differences were noted when the slow component was expressed relative to work rate performed (P = 0.14). Intergroup correlation with time trial performance speed was significant for τPC during heavy-intensity exercise (r = −0.59, P = 0.02).
Conclusions: Compared with CLUB rowers, the shorter time constant response and greater economy observed in ELITE rowers may suggest advantageous adjustment of oxidative processes from rest to work. Training status or performance level do not seem to be associated with a smaller slow component when comparing CLUB and ELITE oarsmen.