Strength and Power Development
The first question in this section asked coaches, if they thought strength training benefits rowing performance. All coaches stated that they believed strength training was of benefit to rowing performance. Fourteen coaches left comments in relation to this question which included “Increases power per stroke, overall strength levels,” “Absolutely, strength can be transferred into boat speed with correct technique,” “Improved fiber recruitment, neural activation, ability to exert force, skill component.” The second question in the strength and power development section asked coaches whether their rowers performed strength training. Thirty of 32 coaches reported that their rowers performed strength training.
The next subsection within the strength and power development section focuses on in-season strength and power training practices. For the first question in this subsection, coaches were asked how many days of the week that in-season strength and power training was performed; 8 coaches indicated strength and power training was performed 2 times per week, 8 coaches reported 2-3 times per week, 8 coaches reported 3 times per week, 2 coaches indicated 1 time per week, 2 coaches reported 1-2 times per week, 1 coach reported 3-4 times per week, and 1 coach indicated 4 times per week.
The third question within this subsection asked coaches to determine the average length of their in-season strength training sessions. Thirteen coaches indicated that the sessions lasted between 60 and 75 minutes. Eight coaches reported that sessions last between 45 and 60 minutes. Four coaches reported that sessions last 75+ minutes. Three coaches indicated that sessions last 30-45 minutes. Two coaches reported that sessions last between 45 and 60 or 60 and 75 minutes. The final question in this subsection asked coaches to indicate the number of sets and repetitions typically used for strength training exercises during the in-season. Responses were content analyzed and resulted in the creation of 4 higher-order themes, including (a) sets with reps under 8 specified, (b) sets with large repetition range specified, (c) sets with reps 8 and above specified, (d) miscellaneous. Table 2 lists the higher-order themes, total number of coaches whose responses make up the theme, and representative raw data within each higher-order theme.
For the off-season training subsection, coaches were initially asked the number of days per week the rowers engage in strength training. Nine coaches indicated strength and power training was performed 3 d·wk−1. Seven coaches reported 2 d·wk−1. Five coaches reported 4 d·wk−1. Two coaches each reported 2-3 and 3-4 d·wk−1. One coach reported 1 d·wk−1, and 1 coach reported 2-4 times per week.
The next question addressed the average length of off-season strength training sessions. Twelve coaches indicated that the sessions last between 60 and 75 minutes. Five coaches reported that sessions last between 45 and 60 minutes. Five coaches reported that sessions last 75+minues. Four coaches indicated sessions last between 30 and 45 minutes. One coach reported that sessions last 15-30 minutes.
The final question in this subsection asked coaches to indicate the number of sets and repetitions typically used for strength training exercises during the off-season. Content analysis resulted in the creation of 4 higher-order themes, including (a) sets with reps under 8 specified, (b) sets with large rep range specified, (c) sets with reps 8 and above specified, (d) miscellaneous. Table 3 depicts higher-order themes, total number of coaches' responses comprising each theme, and select raw data that are representative of responses.
The first question in the program design subsection asked whether coaches included Olympic style weightlifting exercises in their prescribed training program. Twenty-six of 30 coaches indicated that they implemented Olympic style weightlifting exercises.
The next 4 questions within this subsection were related to recovery time periods afforded between (a) an Olympic weightlifting style strength training session (e.g., featuring clean, snatch, hang clean) and a high-quality rowing session, (b) a general strength training session (e.g., squat, bench press, bent over row, shoulder press) and a high-quality rowing session, (c) an Olympic weightlifting style strength training session and a competitive rowing race, (d) a general strength training session and a competitive rowing race. Responses to these 4 questions are displayed in Table 4.
The sixth question in this subsection asked coaches about the extent to which they agreed that strength and power influence 2,000-m rowing performance. Twenty-five coaches indicated they strongly agreed, whereas 5 coaches reported they agreed and only one coach indicated they disagreed.
The next question asked the coaches to identify, in order of importance, the 5 weightlifting training exercises that are most important in their programs. Results from this question are listed in Table 5.
The seventh question in this subsection asked coaches whether they use periodization to structure training programs and 29 of 31 coaches indicated that they used periodization. Coaches' comments in response to this question included “Important to plan training sessions around competitions to allow athletes to peak at the right times,” “To create fine balance between exercise and recovery, super-compensation and fatigue,” “Allows for peaking at right time and recovery to be programmed,” “To prevent plateaus in strength & power.”
The final question in this section enquired how coaches determined the load (weight) rowers use during typical strength training exercises. Responses were content analyzed into 5 categories including (a) RM and max testing, (b) subjectively from the athlete's and coach's experience, (c) accelerometer testing, (d) periodization and phase of training, (e) miscellaneous. Table 6 depicts these higher-order themes, the total number of coaches whose responses made up the theme, and select raw data within each higher-order theme.
Nineteen of 32 coaches who responded to the survey reported incorporating some type of speed development work in their program. Responses were content analyzed and resulted in the creation of 7 higher-order themes, including (a) rowing on the water, (b) ergometer training, (c) plyometrics, (d) strength training, (e) circuits and endurance weights, (f) interval training, and (g) miscellaneous.
Table 7 depicts these higher-order themes, the total number of coaches whose responses made up the theme, and select raw data within each higher-order theme.
Sixteen of 32 coaches reported using plyometrics. The second question asked coaches why they prescribed plyometrics. Six coaches reported prescribing plyometrics as a means of improving power. Five coaches reported prescribing plyometrics to improve speed. Two coaches prescribed plyometrics to recruit high threshold muscle fibers. Other responses included “dynamics,” “strength-power work,” and “dynamic strength development.”
The third question in this section focused on the phases of the year plyometrics were used. Figure 3 shows responses to this question. The fourth question determined how coaches integrated plyometrics into their prescribed training program. Responses were content analyzed and resulted in the creation of 5 higher-order themes, including (a) complex and contrast training, (b) part of circuit training, (c) add to weights session, (d) after strength training, (e) miscellaneous. Table 8 lists the higher-order themes, total number of coaches whose responses make up the theme, and representative raw data within each higher-order theme. The final question in this section asked the coaches to identify the types of plyometric exercises regularly used in their program. Results from this question are shown in Figure 4.
Thirty-one of 32 coaches indicated that their rowers perform some type of flexibility training. All coaches indicated rowers performed static stretching, 22 reported using dynamic stretching and 18 indicating proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. Five coaches stated rowers performed other flexibility methods such as “partner-assisted,” “vibration-myofascial,” “myofascial release-foam roller,” “active isolated,” and “through full ROM in lifting.”
Coaches were asked to indicate when athletes were encouraged or required to perform flexibility exercises (in relation to this question practice refers to ‘rowing practice’ and workout refers to ‘strength training workout’), the duration of a typical flexibility session, and the duration that athletes were encouraged to hold a static stretch. Results from these questions are presented in Figures 5-7.
Unique Aspects of the Program
The answers to the question concerning what were the unique aspects of the prescribed physical conditioning program were content analyzed into 6 higher-order themes. These themes included (a) individualize, (b) coaching quality, (c) variety of training, (d) pre-hab and core, (e) endurance strength, and (f) miscellaneous. Table 9 lists these higher-order themes, total number of coaches whose responses make up each theme, and select representative raw data supporting each higher-order theme.
The second question of this section enquired what coaches would like to do differently with their physical conditioning programs. Responses were content analyzed and resulted in the creation of 7 higher-order themes, themes included (a) change emphasis of current program, (b) nothing, (c) plyometrics, (d) more strength training, (e) circuits and endurance weights, (f) more rowing and aerobic conditioning, (g) miscellaneous. Table 10 lists the higher-order themes, total number of coaches whose responses make up the theme, and representative raw data within each higher-order theme.
The final section of the survey allowed coaches the opportunity to make further comments regarding their prescribed training program. The responses of the 9 coaches who filled out this section were content analyzed into 3 higher-order themes: (a) comments of training program difficulties and limitations, (b) comments of program description, and (c) miscellaneous.
The higher-order theme ‘comments of training program difficulties/limitations’ consisted of comments such as “Many of the rowers (or other athletes) come to me with big postural issues and a lot cannot perform basic movement patterns correctly. This often means a lot of time is wasted in the first year of conditioning having to correct these faults rather than focusing on improving performance.” The theme of ‘comments of program description’ included responses such as “This university program - is complex and complicated as we cater for; under 23 world medalists to World Class Start athletes (Great Britain rowing talent identification program) to school rowers to complete novices.” The theme of ‘Miscellaneous’ consisted of comments such as “Let's see how it goes in Beijing!!” (a reference to the approaching Olympic Games).
This is the first comprehensive survey of S&C practices occurring within rowing. We believe it is also the first qualitative assessment of coaches' S&C practices for any sport within the United Kingdom. A total of 32 coaches responded to the questionnaire. This is the highest number of questionnaire responses obtained in a survey describing coaches' S&C provision to one specific sport. Studies conducted on practices of S&C coaches, involved with a specific sport, in Northern America have elicited between 20 and 26 responses (13-15,44). There have been other surveys involving S&C coaches that have analyzed a total of 4 sports (47), the total number of responses for this study was 74, with the largest proportion being from American Football coaches (n = 23). Durell et al. (12) conducted a survey of 137 NCAA S&C coaches; however, analysis was not associated with any specific sport. The response rate to our survey was lower than similarly designed studies involving American sports (68.9-87%) (13-15,44), but this was likely to be because of the increased follow-up mailings that occurred with these surveys. We did not perform extensive follow-up mailing of the survey to nonresponders as the response number (n = 32) was deemed sufficient for analysis. In our study, 22 of 32 (69%) coaches indicated working with either national- or Olympic-level athletes. Therefore, the data displayed are a reflection of practices that occur toward the elite end of rowing.
In terms of physical testing, coaches surveyed in this study tested on average between 4 and 5 aspects of fitness. This is a greater number of tested aspects than reported in Major League Baseball (MLB) S&C coaches (3-4 aspects); however, it is a considerably lower number of aspects than tested in the National Hockey League (NHL) (7-8 aspects), NFL (9-10 aspects) and the NBA (7-8 aspects) (13-15,44). The most commonly assessed aspect of fitness was cardiovascular endurance, which was assessed by 24 of 30 (80%) coaches. This differs from coaches from the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and MLB where 60, 46, and 24%, respectively, assessed cardiovascular endurance (13,15,44). However, the result is similar to that found among NHL coaches where 78% assessed cardiovascular endurance (14). The likely reason why cardiovascular endurance is more commonly assessed by rowing coaches is because the aerobic energy contribution has been reported to provide 67-86% of total metabolism during a 2,000-m race (39,42). In contrast, the North American sports previously studied are more heavily dependent on anaerobic metabolism (19). Body composition was shown to be a widely assessed component of fitness by North American S&C coaches (83-100%) (13-15,44); however, assessment of body composition was much less prevalent among rowing coaches (47%). This may appear somewhat surprising because a low percentage body fat has been associated with success in lightweight rowing (45), but no relation has been found to exist between skinfold thickness and ability in heavyweight rowers (2). In heavyweight rowers, a reduced emphasis on the measurement of body composition is less surprising because body mass is typically supported by a sliding seat in the boat. Because of this support, body fat in rowers does not put rowers at the same disadvantage that it would put athletes who carry their own body weight, for example, runners (32). Because a positive relationship has been found to exist between body mass and rowing performance (2,32,42) and the fact that it is challenging to combine a high muscle mass with leanness (45), it is may be unsurprising that body composition assessment is not routinely performed by coaches. A further reason why body composition is commonly assessed in the American team sports would be to make anthropometric comparisons of players in various positions (5,26,35).
Twenty-six of the 30 coaches, 87% who prescribed strength training, indicated that they implemented Olympic style weightlifting exercises. This is considerably more than reported by MLB S&C coaches (14%) but similar to S&C coaches working in the NFL (88%), NHL (91%), and NBA (95%) (13-15,44). Olympic weightlifting style strength training has been found to improve vertical jump performance in high-school American football players (8) and 10-m sprint speed in healthy young men (51). In addition, Olympic weightlifting exercises such as power cleans, hang cleans, and snatches are recommended for basketball, baseball, and ice hockey (28,38,50). The clean and the squat were considered the most important weightlifting exercises prescribed within rowers training program. The clean and the squat were also seen as the 2 most important weightlifting exercises by S&C coaches of the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL (13,14,44). National Basketball Association and MLB S&C coaches regarded the squat as the most important strength exercise and lunges as the second most important exercise (15). It is not surprising that the clean and squat exercises are valued across a range of sports because they have both been found to relate to numerous measures of sports specific functional performance including sprint and jump ability (22,37). Biomechanical EMG analysis has shown that muscle groups are active in combination during the rowing stroke, and therefore, rowers should perform whole-body strengthening exercises that involve coordination between the upper and lower body (40). In addition, previous published S&C guides for rowing have recommended whole-body strengthening exercises such as cleans, squats, and deadlifts (24,30). Furthermore, a strength training program based around these styles of exercises has been found to improve performance time, total power, and power per stroke during a 2,000-m rowing ergometer test in both novice and varsity rowers. Therefore, based on these findings, it would seem that the majority of the coaches responding to our survey are correct in their prescription of suitable strength training exercises for rowers.
Twenty-nine of 30 (97%) coaches reported periodizing their programs. These data are similar to the practices of NBA (90%), NHL (91%), and MLB (83%) coaches than NFL (69%) coaches (13-15,44). Periodized strength training programs have resulted in greater improvements in strength, power, and body composition when compared to a linear strength training program in collegiate American Football players (25). A 12-week periodized strength program has resulted in gains of over 30 and 15% in the squat and bench press, respectively, in Baseball players (49) With regards to strength training frequency, the majority of coaches indicated that rowers perform strength training either 2 (26%) or 3 (33%) times per week during the off-season and either 2 (27%) or 3 (27%) or 2-3 (27%) times during the in-season. Ivey et al.'s (24) guidelines recommended between 2 and 3 strength and power training sessions per week. In comparison, strength training during the in-season and off-season in the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA tends to be performed 2 and 4 d·wk−1, respectively (13-15,44). During the in-season, the majority of coaches (11 of 26) reported that they typically prescribed under 8 reps for strength training exercises. Previously, Ivey et al. (24) have advised prescription of 3-8 reps on strength and power exercises for female collegiate rowers, and McNeely et al. (30) have recommended rowers use low repetitions and loads of 85-95% of 1RM for strength training exercises. In support of these recommendations, Ebben et al. (16) found that a high load and low repetition (5-12 reps) strength training program resulted in greater improvements in rowing performance than a high repetition (15-32 reps) strength training program in female varsity rowers. Furthermore, rowing performance has been shown to be highly correlated with maximal strength and power (1,23,39,41,42,54). Performance of strength training with high loads and low repetitions has been shown to be the most effective means of eliciting gains in maximal strength (4). In light of these research findings, our survey results suggest that the majority of coaches prescribe the appropriate loading for strength exercises for rowers.
Coaches were asked what recovery period they afforded between strength training sessions (general strength session and an Olympic weightlifting based session) and a high-quality rowing training session or a rowing race. Coaches tended to allow 24 hours between either type of strength training session specified and a high-quality rowing session. However, it has been reported that elite rowers train 1,100-1,200 h·y−1, which is just over 3 h·d−1 (18), with 2 training sessions occurring daily, for 7 d·wk−1 (21). Therefore, periods of less than 24-hours recovery between strength training and quality rowing training will occur frequently. Most coaches allowed over 48 hours of rest between either type of strength training session specified and a rowing race.
Speed development training was conducted by 26 of 32 (81%) coaches. This is a lower proportion than documented for NFL (100%), MLB (100%), NBA (100%), and NHL (96%) athletes (13-15,44). The most popular method of training for speed development was rowing sprints on the water. Sixteen of 32 (50%) coaches prescribed plyometrics to rowers. This percentage is considerably lower than previously reported in NBA coaches (100%), MLB coaches (95%), NHL coaches (91%), and NFL coaches (73%) (13-15,44). The lower prevalence of speed development and plyometric training for the rowers is perhaps not surprising as absolute speed and short-term power production and anaerobic ability have a greater importance for the other sports (3,6,52).
All coaches who reported prescribing flexibility training (97%) reported performing static stretching. This result is similar to previous studies, for example, all MLB S&C coaches, 91% of NHL S&C coaches, 85% of NFL S&C coaches, and 100% of NBA S&C coaches reported using static stretching (13-15,44). Seventy-one percent of coaches reported using dynamic stretching, and 58% indicated using PNF stretching. Prescription of dynamic stretching among studies of North American coaches ranged from 54 to 90% and PNF stretching ranged from 68 to 75% (13-15,44). Flexibility has been associated with a lower incidence of back pain and injury in rowing (29), a greater pitching velocity within baseball (47), a reduced incidence of Patellar tendinopathy in basketball (9), a lower prevalence of musculo-tendinous strains in American Football (10), and stretching has been recommended to prevent muscle strains in ice hockey (11). Therefore, it is not surprising that prescription of flexibility training is common practice.
From analysis of survey data, several key research findings emerged. Physical testing was commonly conducted among coaches with cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength and power being frequently assessed. For strength training prescription, Olympic weightlifting was widely practiced, and almost all coaches employed a periodized training plan. Twenty-four-hour recovery tended to be afforded between strength training and rowing training, whereas over 48 hours was allowed between strength training and racing. Plyometrics were prescribed by half the respondents, whereas rowing sprints on the water was the most popular method of training for speed development. Static stretching was prescribed by all the coaches whose rowers performed flexibility training and dynamic stretching was found to be more frequently practiced than PNF stretching.
This study describes the S&C practices of British-based rowing coaches and S&C coaches who work with rowers. Because 22 of the 32 (69%) coaches surveyed work with either Olympic or National standard rowers, coaches now have a source of data describing S&C practices particularly with respect to the elite end of the sport. Coaches who work with rowers and or endurance based sports at all levels can use this review of S&C practices as a resource to diversify and improve their practices. Future researchers could use data within this survey to design experimental protocols examining the effect of current or new S&C practices on various aspects of rowing performance.
The authors wish to thank each of the rowing coaches and S&C coaches who participated in this study. This study was cofunded by the Teesside University and the English Institute of Sport.
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Keywords:© 2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association
questionnaire; Great Britain; program design; testing; training; coaching