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Development and Implementation of a Novel Measure for Quantifying Training Loads in Rowing: The T2minute Method

Tran, Jacqueline1; Rice, Anthony J.2; Main, Luana C.1,3; Gastin, Paul B.1

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2014 - Volume 28 - Issue 4 - p 1172–1180
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000248
Research Note

Tran, J, Rice, AJ, Main, LC, and Gastin, PB. Development and implementation of a novel measure for quantifying training loads in rowing: The T2minute method. J Strength Cond Res 28(4): 1172–1180, 2014—The systematic management of training requires accurate training load measurement. However, quantifying the training of elite Australian rowers is challenging because of (a) the multicenter, multistate structure of the national program; (b) the variety of training undertaken; and (c) the limitations of existing methods for quantifying the loads accumulated from varied training formats. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to develop a new measure for quantifying training loads in rowing (the T2minute method). Sport scientists and senior coaches at the National Rowing Center of Excellence collaborated to develop the measure, which incorporates training duration, intensity, and mode to quantify a single index of training load. To account for training at different intensities, the method uses standardized intensity zones (T zones) established at the Australian Institute of Sport. Each zone was assigned a weighting factor according to the curvilinear relationship between power output and blood lactate response. Each training mode was assigned a weighting factor based on whether coaches perceived it to be “harder” or “easier” than on-water rowing. A common measurement unit, the T2minute, was defined to normalize sessions in different modes to a single index of load; one T2minute is equivalent to 1 minute of on-water single scull rowing at T2 intensity (approximately 60–72% V[Combining Dot Above]O2max). The T2minute method was successfully implemented to support national training strategies in Australian high performance rowing. By incorporating duration, intensity, and mode, the T2minute method extends the concepts that underpin current load measures, providing 1 consistent system to quantify loads from varied training formats.

1Center for Exercise and Sports Science, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia;

2Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australia; and

3Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria

Address correspondence to Jacqueline Tran, jac@jacquietran.com.

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Introduction

A systematic approach to elite athlete preparation is centered on a well-structured training plan that precisely prescribes the timing and sequencing of training loads. To optimize the effects of training on performance, it is essential that planned training is routinely reviewed and adjusted, based on the actual training completed and the adaptations experienced by athletes (5,21). Therefore, accurate training load measurement is critical for effective training planning and prescription, for monitoring training adherence, and ultimately for informing adjustments made to future training and athlete management strategies (5).

A precisely planned and closely monitored training program is particularly crucial to elite rowing success. The extensive demands of rowing require athletes to develop aerobic power, anaerobic capacity, muscular strength-endurance, precise on-water rowing skills, and crew synchrony (3,8,11,12). Because of the range of traits that contribute to elite rowing performance, the structure of rowers' training is necessarily varied. This is reflected in the training loads of elite senior and junior rowers, reported to incorporate training in nonrowing modes for up to 40% of weekly training time (13,15,16). The varied nature of elite rowing training presents the first challenge for the sport scientist attempting to measure rowers' total training loads. Load quantification methods that are applied in rowing include heart rate (HR)-based methods such as Banister's TRIMP (2,18), kinematic measures such as global positioning system (GPS) devices (22), and subjective measures such as the session-rating of perceived exertion (session-RPE) method (7). However, none of these established measures are appropriate for quantifying loads across a variety of training formats, as is required in rowing. Heart rate monitoring is not accurate for assessing high-intensity exercise or short-duration interval training (4). Devices using GPS technology are only suitable for use in outdoor sessions and in training modes where an athlete's displacement is relevant to the work completed. Methods based on RPE are appealing for their applicability in a variety of training modes, intensities, and environments (7,14). However, in the elite sport setting, there may be increased risk of reporting bias affecting session-RPE data accuracy because athletes may be conscious of how their responses may influence later decisions (e.g., selection considerations) and training load prescription. In light of rowers' varied training and the competitive pressures that exist in high-performance sport, there is no single measure that is ideal for comprehensively measuring elite rowers' training loads.

In addition to the limitations of existing measures, it remains difficult to use a training load quantification strategy that is consistent and comparable across multiple locations within a national program. For example, in Australia, the National Rowing Center of Excellence (NRCE) is based in Canberra, yet national squads are based in 8 sporting institutes and academies across 7 states and territories. Historically, the management of elite rowers' training was specific to the coaches' unique methods at each training location. For example, some coaches monitored training load by logging training duration, whereas other coaches measured training by recording on-water rowing distances covered. The use of different load measurement techniques meant that it was not possible to confidently assess and compare the training done by national squad athletes located at different training centers. Therefore, a nationwide integrated approach was needed to improve the management of training strategies across the elite rowing program. Thus, the aim of this project was to create a location-independent, sport-specific measure of training load (known as the T2minute method) for Australia's elite rowers, with the capacity to quantify training of varied modes and intensities.

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Methods

A working group of sport scientists and senior coaches from the national program collaborated to develop the new training load measure.

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Subjects

The working group consisted of 3 sport scientists and 8 senior coaches (age range: 40-55) who were actively providing full-time coaching and athlete support to the senior A (elite) rowers within the NRCE program at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). These sport scientists and coaches were asked to assist in developing the new training load measure because of their extensive experience in high performance rowing, with individuals in this group having directed athlete preparations for at least 2 and up to 6 Olympic Games campaigns. Preceding commencement of the study, ethics approval for this research was granted by the human research ethics committees at the AIS and Deakin University, and informed consent was obtained for all participants. The sport scientists were responsible for ensuring that the new measure would be based on existing scientific knowledge, and specifically, the theoretical constructs that underpin training load quantification. Contributions from senior coaches' were critical for ensuring environmental validity, given their intimate understanding of the typical characteristics and training practices of high performance rowers (elite rowers at senior and under 23s levels). As a result of their combined expertise and experiences, the working group designed the new training load measure to be specific to the capacities and training demands of high performance rowers. However, the group decided that the new measure would not be specific to any single boat class or weight category, to facilitate the use of 1 consistent training load measure across the national program.

The first stage of the development phase was to determine how the new measure would quantify training load, by defining its underlying concepts and basic structure. Established measures of training load use mathematical equations to calculate load as an index of 2 elements of training: duration and intensity (e.g., session-RPE = an athlete's estimate of session duration multiplied by an athlete's RPE for that session (7)). However, by only accounting for duration and intensity, load is quantified without overt consideration of how training in different modes imposes different demands on athletes, for example, physiological differences, such as energy expenditure and volume of muscle mass engaged in the activity (17); and perceptual differences, related to an individual's skill efficiency and movement economy in different modes (23). Given the varied composition of rowers' training, the working group determined that the new measure needed to be able to assess training demands across a spectrum of training formats. The group decided that the new measure would incorporate 3 elements of training (duration, intensity, and mode) into a mathematical equation, to produce a single index of work or training load. With this conceptual development, the working group sought to identify a common unit of measure to which all training loads would be normalized, based on a training context that was readily understood in rowing. In keeping with the aim to create a sport-specific measure, the group decided that on-water single scull rowing would serve as the reference mode. Sculling was chosen because it is a common training format that rowers undertake, largely irrespective of boat class.

In the second stage of the method's development, the working group defined how the new training load measure would account for duration, intensity, and mode. Duration was specified as training time in minutes. A “time-in-zone” approach was chosen to account for intensity, similar to existing HR-based measures such as Banister's TRIMP (2). For the new training load measure, the parameters defining each intensity zone were based on the “T zones” (Table 1), a standardized training intensity framework established at the AIS (24). The T zones provide evidence-based guidelines regarding the physiological and perceptual responses that correspond with different training intensity zones (24). This framework has been used to guide the prescription of training intensity for several years across the range of sports within Australia's network of sporting institutes and academies. Within the AIS rowing program specifically, individualized T zones are calculated from incremental step tests performed on a rowing ergometer; these laboratory-based performance tests are repeated approximately every 12 weeks (19). With this performance testing schedule, the T zones would be regularly adjusted as rower's physiological fitness characteristics changed with training and detraining. For this reason, T zones were chosen to account for intensity within the new training load measure, as resultant loads would remain individualized to each rower's physiological fitness over time.

Table 1

Table 1

With the T zones in mind, the working group agreed that “moderate aerobic” intensity (i.e., T2 intensity) was the most common intensity zone used in rowing training. This assertion is supported by the literature: rowers undertake a substantial proportion of training (approximately 75% training volume) at “extensive endurance” intensities, eliciting approximately 2 mmol·L−1 blood lactate concentration (6,20). In terms of the absolute physiological responses that correspond with T2 intensity, training within this zone typically elicited a HR response of approximately 140–158 b·min−1, an absolute V[Combining Dot Above]O2 range of 3.47–4.16 L·min−1, or a relative V[Combining Dot Above]O2 range of 39.4–47.3 kg·ml−1·min−1 (unpublished performance testing data, from athletes within the AIS Rowing program at the time of the new measure's development). On this basis, the common measurement unit was devised, resulting in a new unit of load—the “T2minute”—that has practical meaning in rowing: a single T2minute is equivalent to 1 minute of on-water rowing in a single scull at T2 intensity. To capture the relative stress associated with training at different intensities, weighting factors for each training zone were chosen in a similar manner to Morton et al. (18) to match the curvilinear shape of the relationship between power output, intensity, and blood lactate (Table 2) (9,10).

Table 2

Table 2

The primary concept that underpins existing training load measures is that session load is a function of training duration and intensity (5). However, as aforementioned, the nature of the stress imposed on athletes also varies with training mode. Posture, muscles used, task familiarity, and training history influence the physiological (e.g., energy expenditure), biomechanical (e.g., joint loading), neuromuscular (e.g., skill proficiency affecting movement economy), and perceptual (e.g., perception of effort) demands of training in different modes (1,17,23). Thus, one of the major challenges in measuring rowers' training is quantifying the loads that accumulate from sessions completed in varied training modes. To address this problem, the working group set about scaling other training modes to the demands of on-water rowing as the reference mode.

Initially, coaches completed a simple categorization of each mode, in response to questions such as, “If a rower was running at T2 intensity, would that be easier or harder for the rower than on-water rowing at T2 intensity?” The coaches' responses were used by the sport scientists to develop initial weighting factors, which were then presented back to the coaches for feedback. Ongoing refinement was achieved through an iterative process, during which the working group considered the relative stresses experienced by rowers when training in different modes and adapted the weighting factors accordingly. Particular consideration was given to the sport-specific skills and fitness developed by rowers, and how these traits would affect movement economy and perception of effort in rowing and nonrowing modes. After 5 months of iterative developments, the working group settled on the mode-specific weighting factors presented in Table 3, and the method's structure was finalized.

Table 3

Table 3

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Results

Calculating T2minute Training Loads

To calculate T2minute loads, coaches reported the training time (in whole minutes) spent in specific intensity zones throughout a session. The load incurred from training in each zone is calculated using the equation for L Tx as presented below, which multiplies training time in intensity zone x, the weighting factor specific to the mode in which training was completed, and the intensity weighting factor for training zone x. The total T2minute training load is the sum of loads incurred across the range of intensity zones, as shown below:

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where L Tx = load at intensity zone x (T2minutes); D x = duration at intensity zone x (minutes); F m = weighting factor for mode (unitless); F i(x) = weighting factor for intensity at zone x (unitless).

For example, consider an on-water rowing session comprising 60 minutes of training at T2 intensity. The T2minute training load for this session would be calculated by substituting the following values into the T2minute equation: 60 minutes of training time at T2, the mode-specific weighting factor of 1.00 for on-water rowing (Table 3), and the intensity weighting factor of 1.00 for T2 intensity (Table 2):

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The major benefit of using the T2minute method to quantify rowing training is its capacity to scale the training demands of a variety of modes to an on-water rowing equivalent. To highlight how this is achieved, consider a stationary cycling session that incorporated bouts of moderate- and high-intensity exercises. In this 75-minute session, the rowers completed 60 minutes at T2 intensity and 15 minutes at T4 intensity. From Tables 2 and 3, the weighting factors for mode (0.95 for stationary cycling) and intensity zones (1.00 for T2 intensity and 2.10 for T4 intensity) can be identified. By substituting these data into the equations shown below, the T2minute method indicates that this stationary cycling session of variable intensity produces a training load equivalent to 87 minutes of on-water rowing at T2 intensity. Note that in this instance, the duration of the calculated training load (i.e., 87 minutes at T2 intensity) was greater than the actual training duration (75 minutes), reflecting the demand imposed by the time spent at T4 intensity.

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Table 4 provides an example training plan to demonstrate how T2minute training loads would be calculated within a training microcycle, illustrating the typical use of the measure in an applied setting. As previously outlined, the T2minute method quantifies the load incurred from each discrete training session prescribed (in this example, including road cycling, rowing ergometer, on-water rowing, and running modes). Although it is important to monitor the acute training stimulus imparted by a single session, the chronic training stimulus is of particular interest in high performance sport; chronic stimuli induce the major long-term adaptations affecting performance and related athlete outcomes (e.g., overtraining, illness, injury) (10,12). As the T2minute method normalizes the loads incurred from varied training formats to an on-water rowing equivalent, the method can be used to assess the total training load accumulated across all sessions within the week. Although the total training duration for the week (287 minutes) measures the accumulated training demands, duration alone does not consider the demands imposed by training at high intensity and in different training modes. However, the influence of varying intensities and modes of training is reflected in the calculated T2minutes for this microcycle, indicating a weekly training load that is equivalent to 431 minutes of on-water rowing at T2 intensity.

Table 4

Table 4

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Implementation of the T2minute Method

The T2minute method was implemented as the primary method for training load quantification across Australia's high-performance rowing programs. The method was used to plan, prescribe, monitor, and review the training of all senior national rowers as illustrated in the following sections, with examples drawn from the NRCE National Training Blueprint for the 2009–2012 Olympic cycle (19).

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Planning and Prescribing Training

The NRCE sport scientists used the T2minute method to plan training load guidelines for the 2009–2012 National Training Blueprint, specifying weekly targets for T2minute loads with an undulating pattern of periodization (Figure 1). With these broad guidelines in place, coaches used the T2minute method to prescribe sessions within each week as appropriate for their athletes while aiming to meet national training targets, as outlined in Table 5 that presents 1 week of training for 2 different squads: lightweight women scullers and heavyweight men scullers. Although differences exist between the 2 training plans (e.g., the lightweight women completed more training sessions, the heavyweight men completed a greater proportion of rowing-specific training), the sum of T2minute training loads completed by each squad indicates that both squads adequately met the national training load target for this week (1,500 T2minutes).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Table 5

Table 5

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Monitoring and Reviewing Training

On-water rowing training is often coordinated so that athletes in similar boat classes train together, and rowers within these classes will be split up to train in separate vessels (e.g., rowers from an 8 will complete some on-water sessions as fours in 2 boats). Because of the number of boats on the water at any 1 time and the distances covered during an on-water session, it is logistically challenging for coaches to directly oversee all athletes' training at all times. Consequently, the responsibility to adhere to a session plan lies largely with the rowers in each crew. As aforementioned, T2minute training loads are calculated from coaches' estimates of training time spent in each T zone (training intensity zone). These estimates can be compared with objective measures of time-in-zone (e.g., HR data) to verify the accuracy of coaches' time-in-zone estimates and to investigate athletes' adherence to prescribed training. Figure 2 compares the time-in-zone estimate (from T2minute calculations) to the actual time-in-zone data (obtained from the HR monitor) of 1 athlete for 1 on-water rowing session. For this session, the coach prescribed 15 minutes at T1 intensity, 30 minutes at T2 intensity, 10 minutes at T3 intensity, 30 minutes at T4 intensity, and 5 minutes at T5 intensity, with the session duration summing to 90 minutes (prescribed session load = 145 T2minutes). In this instance, the athlete deviated from the training prescription by completing more training at T1 intensity (actual time at T1 = 41 minutes), less training at T2 intensity (actual time at T2 = 16 minutes), and less training at T4 intensity (actual time at T4 = 16 minutes) than prescribed, resulting in an actual session load that was lower than prescribed (112 T2minutes). By using this approach to verify the subjective element of the T2minute method with objective data (e.g., using HR data, GPS data), training loads can be adjusted postsession to more accurately reflect the actual training completed by individual athletes. In addition, such comparisons provide insight into training adherence; in this case, follow-up discussions revealed that the athlete deviated from the prescribed training by self-pacing to manage a chronic injury.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Training adherence can also be investigated at a squad level. Figure 3 provides such a comparison over a 4-week training period, comparing the training prescribed for this period and the actual training loads undertaken by the elite Australian heavyweight men's and lightweight women's squads. In this example, the training plan indicated that the weekly total training load should be high for weeks 1 and 2 (week 1 = 1,320 T2minutes and week 2 = 1,380 T2minutes), decreasing to 1,200 T2minutes in weeks 3 and 4. However, both the heavyweight men's and lightweight women's actual training demonstrate a lack of adherence to the loading pattern and to the total weekly loads. Compared with the national training guidelines, both squads completed lower total weekly loads in week 1 (heavyweight men = 979 T2minutes; lightweight women = 1,132 T2minutes) and higher loads in week 3 (heavyweight men = 1,631 T2minutes; lightweight women = 1,426 T2minutes) and week 4 (heavyweight men = 1,693 T2minutes; lightweight women = 1,415 T2minutes). These deviations from the national training plan provided evidence to justify follow-up communications with these squads and their coaches, to ascertain the factors that may have affected their training adherence during this period.

Figure 3

Figure 3

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Evaluation of the T2minute Method

After the national roll-out, the criterion validity of the T2minute method was confirmed by monitoring elite rowers over 4 weeks of routine training (25). The T2minute training loads demonstrated significant moderate and strong associations with session-RPE (Spearman's ρ ± 90% confidence limits = 0.42 ± 0.41) and Banister's TRIMP loads (Spearman's ρ ± 90% confidence limits = 0.59 ± 0.41), respectively (25).

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Discussion

This project was successful in creating a location-independent, rowing-specific training load measure that addressed the limitations of existing training load measures and the unique challenges posed by the multistate multicenter structure of Australia's national rowing program. The T2minute method is a novel measure that extends on established concepts of training load quantification by incorporating 3 features into 1 measure to quantify the loads incurred from a wide variety of training formats. First, a time-in-zone approach is used to account for the relative stress of training at different intensities, with zones derived from scientific evidence of the physiological and perceptual responses elicited by training at different intensities (24). Second, the T2minute method summarizes training demand to a single index of load, in a measurement unit that has practical meaning in rowing. Third, the T2minute method takes a novel approach by including a weighting factor that adjusts the calculation of training load to account for the influence of training mode, in addition to intensity and duration. By incorporating these 3 elements of training, national program rowing coaches and sport scientists were able to use 1 consistent system to quantify training loads incurred from varied training formats. The T2minute method was successfully implemented on a large scale, providing the framework for prescribing and monitoring training within the scope of the NRCE training plan for elite Australian rowers.

In its current format, the T2minute method has advanced the concepts and techniques used to quantify training load but the measure is not without limitations. The T2minute method provides a framework for prescribing external training loads, with consideration of the psychophysiological responses elicited by training within different intensity zones and in different training modes. External loads may be completed to the same degree by all athletes in a session, for example, all athletes completing 60 minutes of on-water rowing at T2 intensity, resulting in a training load of 60 T2minutes. However, the demands of the session may equate to a different relative stress and internal load for different individuals because of the multitude of factors that influence an individual's experience of training at a given point in time, for example, fitness, nutrition status, residual fatigue from recent training sessions, psychosocial wellness, and the effects of nontraining stressors (5). Furthermore, examination of the method's construct validity is also warranted to determine whether the mode-specific weighting factors accurately reflect the relative demands of training in different modes and to investigate whether the T2minute method is accurate when used with other rowing populations (e.g., junior rowers). In addition, the current form of the T2minute method does not include weighting factors for resistance training. Furthermore, development of the T2minute method should focus on incorporating the quantification of resistance training loads into the measure, which will improve the capacity of the T2minute method to quantify accumulated training demands.

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Practical Applications

The T2minute method is location independent, permitting its use across geographic boundaries. By comparing actual and prescribed training loads, the method can be used to monitor how squads based at different locations adhere to and deviate from a national program training plan.

With the capacity to quantify loads incurred from sessions of varied modes and intensities, the T2minute method permits a more comprehensive assessment of how loads accumulate from varied training formats, which is not easily assessed using other training load measures. A key strength of the T2minute method is its capacity to produce a simple easy-to-interpret measure of training load that has practical meaning in the rowing context, while retaining detail regarding the complexities of the prescribed training (i.e., T2minutes in each mode and T2minutes in each intensity zone). As a consequence, the T2minute method can provide broad training guidelines at a whole-program level (e.g., targets for total weekly T2minute training loads), while still allowing coaches to decide how best to prescribe T2minute training loads on a session-by-session basis, given their specific goals, athletes, resources, and training environment.

Moreover, by accounting for a greater proportion of the overall training demand, the T2minute method provides an appropriate means to assess the chronic training stimuli accumulated from multiple sessions. By using the T2minute method to monitor overall training stress, sport scientists can examine how accumulated training loads interact with other stressors (e.g., from nontraining sources) to affect athletes' adaptive responses (e.g., self-reported athlete wellness) and subsequent athlete outcomes (e.g., overtraining, illness, injury, performance).

With continued development, the T2minute concept could be refined and applied in other sports. Ongoing research is warranted to investigate the validity and sensitivity of the mode-specific weighting factors for scaling the relative demands of training in different modes. Furthermore, the development of mode and intensity weighting factors specific to other sports would prove valuable in adapting the T2minute method for widespread use.

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Keywords:

training; monitoring; rowers

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