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Train for Strength or Endurance in the Gym?

A common question when it comes to strength and conditioning for rowing is;

"Shouldn't we be doing lots of reps (high volume work) rather than only a few reps (strength work), because when we race it is for at least 200 strokes, not 3 or 4?"

The answer is no.

Why is this?

1. The higher your strength, the higher your strength reserve.

2. Specific endurance comes from the sport.

3. You need to create the muscle and strength first, before it can be trained for endurance.

So let's look at these 3 points in more detail:

1. The higher your strength, the higher your strength reserve.

Using an example here; if Jack can deadlift 100kg (his bodyweight) for 3 repetitions, then when he races for 200 repetitions each repetition Is very close to the equivalent of his maximal deadlift load. If Jack increases his deadlift to 200kg (must be a very good programme - probably from ) then those strokes in the boat fell feel much much easier. This is because the amount of effort in the boat (for a given speed) does not change. But the percentage of this effort relative to how strong his legs are has dropped dramatically, making each stroke feel easier. The gap between the strength required for each stroke, and how strong Jack is is known as his strength reserve.

How do you increase this strength reserve? You increase maximal strength. This usually comes from 3-5 sets of 2-6 reps of the major compound lifts in the gym. Performing dozens, scores, or hundreds of reps to mimic a race does not achieve this.

2. Specific endurance comes from the sport.

A common worry is that getting strong will not translate over to the boat. This is an understandable concern, but with the programmes at the goal from everything that you do in the gym is to eventually transfer the improvements that you make in the gym into the boat, with faster times on the water.

Part of this is by ensuring that you are still doing your erg and water training. The increased strength from the gym should help with your erg and water sessions. This is where the specific endurance comes from - the muscles are being used repeatedly AS THEY WOULD BE IN A RACE. This is where it counts. Doing deadlifts for a huge amount of reps might FEEL like it is 'specific' endurance for rowing, but the joint angles are different, the loading on the body is slightly different, etc.

3. You need to create the muscle and strength first, before it can be trained for endurance.

Muscle endurance is the ability of a muscle to repeatedly exert a given force. For a given time in a boat, the required effort of a muscle remains constant. If you are not strong enough to be able to produce this effort for 1 rep, never mind 200, then you need to focus upon your strength first. There are general guidelines for the major lifts of how much you should be lifting relative to your bodyweight, depending upon your level, age, etc. But that is an article for another time.

The main point here is that you need to get brutally strong so that there is then strength to turn into muscular endurance. Once the effort in the boat equates to about 60% or less of your 1RM in certain lifts, then there is a place for more endurance work in the gym, to compliment your strength work. Again, how this works is a topic for another article.

So overall, you need to get stronger than you think first. The strength aspect of rowing performance is often undervalued. Without thinking in too much depth about how it transfers to the boat, if you get stronger in the key lifts - deadlift, bench pull, and pullup ( - then you will see your erg scores improve.

So if you're ready to get strong then head on over to our shop and choose the 9-week strength base:


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