December Masters Feature

by Charlotte Hollings | Dec 04, 2012
As the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, many of us have put away our boats and started in on our indoor conditioning. I know a lot of you dread this time of year, so I’m hoping to provide some ideas to make it easier to keep going with your workouts through the long winter months.
As the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, many of us have put away our boats and started in on our indoor conditioning. I know a lot of you dread this time of year, so I’m hoping to provide some ideas to make it easier to keep going with your workouts through the long winter months. Personally, I’m a big believer in cross training. For me, it’s easier to run one day, swim the next, bike, erg, lift weights, mix it up and keep it interesting. I also believe, particularly as we get older, that it’s best to not overtax one muscle group. Cross training can help you build up better overall body fitness leading to less injury.

Another way to stay motivated is to find a training partner, preferably someone who has a similar fitness level and also similar goals. Often the hardest part of the work out is just getting started and when you have someone waiting for you, that part is much easier. Once you get going, you’ll find it less hard to keep going.

If you are training for rowing, it’s best to get on the erg. And if you have an erg test planned for the end of the winter, that’s your long-term goal, but you’ll need shorter goals to help you get there. Early on in the winter, just get on the erg and row. Don’t necessarily try to go hard, go for long, steady rows. Again, a partner will be a big help in this, but if you erg alone, try watching TV or a movie, or listen to music or books on tape. For a change, try setting the erg monitor on calories and have a goal of burning a certain number of calories. You can also go to the Concept2 website and sign up for some of the challenges, get an idea for different workouts, or even find a training partner there. I like to spend 45' to an hour on the erg and just row straight through, but you can play around with changing the stroke rate to give you something to focus on.

Some fun workouts are pyramids, i.e., 4' @ 18 strokes per minute (spm)/3' @ 20 spm/ 2' @ 22 spm/ 1' @ 24 spm and then back down. That will take 19' so you could do one, take a short break to stretch or drink water and then do another. Add a 5' segment at either end to stretch it out to 29' and two pieces will fill an hour. If that’s too complicated, just change the rate every 2', shifting between 20 and 22 spm or 22 and 24.

You can also change the damper setting on the erg, experiencing different resistance levels. John likes to row at 10, the highest setting, for weight training benefit. It’s always important to row smoothly, but especially so if you go with the heavier resistance. You don’t want to jerk the chain and put undue pressure on the lower back.

Once or twice a week, depending on how often you’re erging, try adding some harder, more intense workouts, i.e., 2 x 20', 2 or 3 x 15', 3 x 12', 3 or 4 x 10'. Based on your longer erg pieces, set a pace that you think will be challenging, but that you can hold for the entire workout. If you’re really dying on the last piece, next time pace yourself better early on. If you have too much left at the end, work harder earlier. Pacing is very important on the erg and on the water. Having the numbers right in front of you on the erg makes it much easier to ascertain than on the water, so use the numbers and write all your workout splits down so you can remember. Note how you felt, if the split was too easy, too hard or just right.

Later in the winter, end of January or so, replace one of your long, steady state rows with some shorter interval workouts: 1000 meter or 4' pieces, 500 meter or 2' pieces, 250 meter or 1' pieces. This is the hard stuff, the pieces that build lactic acid (and make you wonder why you row!) but that will make you faster on your erg test. If your erg test is 2k, and your goal is 8', try doing two sets of 8 x (1' hard/1' easy). If your goal is 7', you can do 7 1' pieces. Try 6 x 500 meters with plenty of rest in between or 4 x 1000 meters. Again, try and pace yourself to a degree, set a goal and see if you can hold it. Obviously, any pieces that are shorter than your erg test, you should be doing below your 500 meter goal pace for your test.

One way to gauge your progress through the winter, as well as work on your pacing, is to do some broken 2000 meter tests every three weeks or so. Decide what your ultimate goal is on your 2k, break that up into 500 meter splits. Then sometime soon, do 4 x 500 meters with a 1' break in between, with each 500 meters done at your 2k pace. So if your goal is 8', do each 500 at a 2' split. Three weeks later, do this again, now with 45" rest in between each 500. Three weeks later, 30" rest, then 15" three weeks after that and then you should, hopefully, be ready to do your 2k straight through. If you’re having either a really easy or particularly hard time holding the splits, you should adjust your goal accordingly.

As an aside, if rowing on the erg bothers your back, first check your technique. Make sure you have a smooth stroke, a smooth connection in the transition from the recovery to the drive. Don’t shoot your slide, i.e., drive your legs without being connected with the back. Set up a mirror next to the erg so you can watch your technique or get someone to video you while you erg. Try not to let your technique fall part as you get tired, that’s when injuries most often happen. I’ve also been told that putting the erg on rollers makes erging easier on the back. Good luck and have fun!

Charlotte Hollings and her husband, John Dunn have spent more than 70 years immersed in the sport of rowing. Both have rowed on the U.S. National Team, winning several international medals. Charlotte’s coaching career has taken her west to Stanford University before heading back east to Boston University and then Cornell University. John remained close to home, coaching at his alma mater of Cornell University for 18 years, first as the frosh lightweight coach, then varsity lightweight and finally varsity women. In 2001, Hollings and Dunn started the sculling camp Calm Waters Rowing in Lancaster, Va. For more information, visit
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