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Wilderness Sports > Rowing Polygon

Rowing Fitness Polygon

The eight sport-specific characteristics that need to be considered when revising your own rowing training program include Strength, Speed-Strength, Speed, Stamina, Structure, Skill, Suppleness, and Strength-endurance. This model is developed and discussed in Supertraining, by Dr. Mel C. Siff (1999). Each sporting activity can be evaluated for how much of each of the eight elements you need to include in your workouts. First let's take a look at what each element is, in simplest terms.

Elements Defined

Strength refers to how strong you need to be for optimal performance in a given outdoor activity. Functional (sport-specific) strength can best be developed by using body resistance, free weights, cables, weighted balls or bars, and (to a somewhat lesser degree) certain machines. Speed-strength (or what we refer to below as Power) can be developed by doing jumps and hops, more ballistic plyometric moves (with emphasis on very brief contact with the ground or surface), medicine ball tosses, Olympic-style lifts, or the like. Rowers, for example, would want to train powerfully for a portion of their workouts, particularly for leg drive, but when you are actually racing, you need a delicate balance of power, stroke skill (so you don't rock the boat) and increased acceleration through the water, not up to the front stops. Speed refers to how quickly you perform a given movement--you'll do more speed work in the spring than in the fall, but neglecting speed training in either season would get you out of practice. We've chosen to label Stamina as Cardiovascular endurance.

Structure refers to body size and shape. For example, climbers and gymnasts want to maximize functional strength while minimizing muscle size and extra bulk, while bodybuilders want large muscles but don't seem to care as much about how strong those muscles actually are. Lightweight rowers worry much more about "making weight" and staying small than rowers in open boats, hence structure would then become much more important. Skill refers to technique and mastery of coordination. Suppleness, for all intents and purposes here, is labeled Flexibility, below, and indicates the amount needed in a chosen activity. For example, climbers, gymnasts, or cross country skiers will benefit from having greater range of motion in the hips and shoulders than, say, a marathon runner or downhill skier. A rower who has tight hamstrings or a tight lower back will have trouble sitting for hours on end in a shell. Finally, strength endurance refers to how long the musculoskeletal system can last during a particular activity. If you assemble these on a Fitness Polygon, below, and then determine how much of each type of training you need for your sport, you can then make sure you include components of each in your periodized plan.

Fitness Polygon

To help you get a better understanding of how this Fitness Polygon works for your particular event, we've created two examples within the broad category of "Rowing" There are actually subtle differences within this category, depending on whether you primarily sweep or scull, as a single, pair, double, quad, four and eight rower, but for simplicity and illustration purposes, we've opted to describe fall vs. spring differences. Fall races (otherwise known as "head pieces" by some) are generally longer, up to 18-20 minutes (as in the well-known Head of the Charles regatta in Boston) whereas spring races are generally 2000 meters and can take anywhere from 5 1/2 to 8 minutes depending on the level of racing. Here we'll simply describe "Head" vs. "Sprint" races. Each type of race has a slightly different profile. To further complicate things, if you are someone who wants to do a little of everything, you will have a much more interesting challenge balancing training components. (That's where outdoor conditioning coaches comes in handy. Leave that to them!)

Head Races

This first example includes an evaluation of the components involved in head races, which can last anywhere from 12-20 minutes. These involve sustained activity and thus rate "high" for CV Endurance requirements. Beginning rowers will spend a lot of time mastering "skill", and more advanced rowers will spend less -- but still some -- time perfecting their catch, drive, and recovery, so we've labeled "skill" as medium. Strength endurance also ranks "high", since the large muscles of the core, or torso, and legs coordinated with the upper body are required to work for an extended period of time. Training during the fall should focus primarily on muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance, with medium amounts of work on shoulder, core and leg strength, flexibility (particularly in the shoulders, core and hip flexors), strength, and skill training, and little emphasis on body size development, power or speed until time to move into off-water or spring season training. Below is Body Results' interpretation of the body's training needs for longer distance races usually completed in the fall.

Fall Rowing Racing Polygon

Sprint Races

The Fitness Polygon for the spring rowing season will look substantially different and will vary depending on the desired level one wishes to reach as well as weight category. Here, we've chosen lightweights, who would then become concerned about increased strength but maintenance of lower bodyweight. Flexibility needs for hamstrings, hips and lower back remain medium, but skill focus is lower (assuming the rower trains year round and has been rowing with the same people for months throughout the fall.) Needs increase, however, for power, speed, strength and strength endurance (moving into the anaerobic threshold)-- hence the new "medium" rating, while cardiovascular endurance (and those long land runs) drops to medium importance. Land training might include circuit strength training (muscular endurance) once a week, power moves such as bench pulls, cleans, or high pulls (specific to your sport requirements) once or twice a week, and speed work included in interval training on water or fartlek running on land. See our Rowing training ideas for examples.

Spring (Lightweights) Rowing Racing Polygon

Integrating the model with your own experience

Take a look at your outdoor activity of choice or get an outdoor conditioning coach at Body Results to help you. If you are a rower entering spring season and you only lift weights once a week and do yoga three times a week, you may not be optimizing your training time. Switching the ratio so you lift 2-3 times a week and stretch 1-2 times a week will be a better blend of your training time, now that you have a better sense of your sport's seasonal requirements from above. Don't let this model be the end-all, be-all for your training, merely a guide. Analyze where you tend to be weakest and then train those weaknesses away. If sprints kill you every time you start spring training, then find a way to incorporate a little bit of sprint training late in the fall/winter to help you prepare! If your lower back is in pain, strengthen your core now, before racing season starts.

For questions related to this model, feel free to check into Dr. Mel C. Siff's book, Supertraining. For questions about requirements of your particular sport or activity, contact a Body Results trainer.


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