The purpose of the present study was to compare the pacing patterns adopted by elite female and male rowing crews for different boat classes and qualifying rounds. In this context, the distribution of time in 7 World Rowing Championships performed over a 9-year period was quantified. The main findings of this study were (a) that the pacing patterns adopted by single boats were better described by a linear trend line with a positive slope but were equally well described by a linear and a quadratic trend line in boats with 2, 4, and 8 rowers and (b) that pacing patterns during heat races were better represented by a linear trend line with a positive slope but showed a quadratic trend line (parabolic-shaped pattern) during finals.
The pacing patterns adopted by rowing crews in boats with 2, 4, and 8 rowers were equally well described by a linear and a quadratic trend line but showed significant increases in rowing pace for the fourth compared to the third quarter. This finding indicates a parabolic-shaped profile, which is consistent with that reported in rowing literature (2,13,20). From a psychological standpoint, it is believed that the fast start is used to gain the lead position, which enables the rowers to see the opponents and to better react to advances from them (19). From a physiological perspective, Secher et al. (20) showed that the oxygen debt when performing an exercise with an all-out start was similar to that performed during an attempt to keep the power constant whereas work output and oxygen uptake was higher in the first case. This indicates that the extra work of an initial spurt could be achieved without any change in oxygen debt and thus presumably without a detrimental effect because of fatigue. Furthermore, the determination of physiological profiles during simulated rowing showed that the fast-slow-slow-fast pacing pattern correspond appropriately with power output, heart rate, lactate acid, and maximal oxygen consumption (16). For example, the lactate concentration nearly increased to its maximum during the initial spurt and then leveled off unless the intensity of the exercise was increased again.
The increase in speed during the final 500 m is consistent with the notion of an anticipatory regulation of exercise intensity, whereby athletes anticipate the work required to complete a given exercise task (23,25). Moreover, an anticipatory control of speed suggests that an energetic reserve is maintained during exercise, which protects from early exhaustion and helps to avoid an extensive loss of velocity during later race stages (9-11,24).
In single boat races, pacing patterns were best described by the linear trend line only (i.e., a slow down throughout the entire race). The reason for this divergence compared to team boat races is unclear but may be because of differences in performance affecting factors and their interplay. In single boats compared to team boats, finishing time depends on the performance of 1 athlete only. In this case, his or her physiological status may play an important role (27). For example, few studies using regression analyses identified maximum oxygen uptake and oxygen consumption at the lactate threshold as the key determinants of rowing performance (5,8,17,22). Hence, by the end of a 2,000-m rowing race, when fatigue sets in, the athlete in a single boat is no longer able to maintain his or her pace that is much less to accelerate for a final spurt. At the same time, in team boats, members might be able to compensate a fatigue induced performance decline of an individual team member to a certain level. In addition, as a team they can motivate each other to increase their effort by the end of the race despite the presence of fatiguing processes.
The pacing patterns adopted by rowing crews during final races followed a quadratic trend line (parabolic-shaped pattern), which is in accordance with the aforementioned rowing literature (2,13,20). However, during the heats a linear trend line with a positive slope better described the pacing patterns. One explanation could be that competitions in rowing are elimination races, so that performance of the rowing teams becomes closer from heats to finals, leading to the observed difference in pacing pattern. For example, once rowing crews are aware that they have performed well enough to qualify in a heat, they can adjust pacing accordingly (e.g., slowing pace by the end of the race as indicated by the significantly longer time in the fourth compared to the third quarter). Another explanation could be that crews, which are hopelessly out of contention, may reduce their effort so that rowing speed decreased significantly by the end of the race. However, in the finals, where crews are more evenly matched in skill and ability, teams will attempt to finish in the shortest time possible. Therefore, a final spurt as indicated by the shorter time in the fourth compared to the third quarter might be important to finish in front position (14).
Because of the observational character of this study, we cannot infer a causal relationship between success during rowing competitions and the distribution of rowing time. Therefore, care is needed when generalizing the present findings to other kinds of sports or groups of athletes. Another limitation of the present study refers to the use of official split times. They only enable a rough characterization of the boats' overall pacing pattern, and do not provide detailed insight into the distribution of rowing time throughout the 2,000-m race. However, split times have the advantage of being derived from real competition scenarios, which are free of experimental manipulation, like fixed exercise intensity, fixed duration trial, or prescribed pacing behavior. Furthermore, the use of official split times offers an analysis of rowers' and rowing teams' pacing pattern which is free of testing equipment applied to them. From this an impact on the performed pacing behavior is barred.
In conclusion, pacing pattern in heat races was better described (i.e., higher amount of variance explained) by a linear trend line with a positive slope but followed a quadratic trend line (parabolic-shaped pattern) during finals. The latter is consistent with that reported in rowing literature and indicates an anticipatory regulation of exercise intensity, whereby athletes monitor and then regulate their energetic output throughout the event. The former may indicate the attempt to conserve energy for subsequent rounds or reflect the reduced effort made by losing rowers and rowing crews or both aspects. In sum, this requires rowers and their coaches to develop different pacing patterns for the heat and the final races. In single boats, the pacing pattern was better represented by an increasing linear trend but the amount of variance explained was virtually the same for both the linear and the quadratic trend component in team boats. The absence of a final spurt in single boat races suggests that the physiological status of the rower plays an important role. Therefore, training elite single boat rowers might, for example, be focused on the ability to control the timing and rate of decline in rowing speed.
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