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Winter to Water: Transition Tips to Get You Race-Ready

by Jules Zane, jules@usrowing.org | Feb 25, 2016
In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights, which have helped them and others along the way. This month we talked to Steve Hargis (USRowing Junior National Team head coach), Sarah Trowbridge (2012 Olympian and 2015 coach of the Senior men’s pair) and Gregg Hartsuff (men’s head coach at the University of Michigan) about the transition from winter training back to the water.

March16-3-on3

In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. This month, we talked to Steve Hargis (USRowing Junior National Team head coach), Sarah Trowbridge (2012 Olympian and 2015 U.S. national team coach) and Gregg Hartsuff (men’s head coach at the University of Michigan) about the transition from winter training back to the water.

1) Crews are slowly getting ready to gear up for spring season, what’s the toughest part about the winter to water transition and how do you overcome it?

Steve: “I think the toughest part is switching gears from being completely focused on individual training goals that drove your winter training to now understanding that you are part of bigger picture as a teammate and boatmate. 

While it's great to have posted the best erg, ran the fastest sprint or lifted the most weight, now those are all placed in a context of the greater good. Now we move to the perfect implementation of a race plan or eight people finding the rhythm of one, all of these things are difficult in the early part of the season as athletes work, and sometimes struggle, to find where they can and will have the biggest impact on the overall team performance. 

The teams that perform at the highest level have worked hard to create this culture and it is one of the critical roles of the team leadership to help to shape this expectation.” 

Sarah: “The hardest part of the winter to water transition is gaining your boat feel back, the sore muscles or bad blisters, and the need to stop training long and hard in order to get back to the technique of the stroke. I guess I’d stick to the old adage, ‘prevention is the best medicine.'

If you can work with any of your teammates on Concept 2 sliders or Row Perfect machines, that can give you a touch of what it feels like in the boat; how to balance and move from release to catch with less disruption. It may be hard to avoid the blisters, but stretching and doing consistent core work can minimize the chance that those sore muscles lead to injuries.

Lastly, if you really wanted to get the jump on your competition, spending extra time outside of practicing doing steady state on the C2 or RP3 can keep your fitness up, so your coach and you can work on your technique more during practice.” 

Gregg: "After roughly three months of being on rowing machines and doing corework, there is never a lack of enthusiasm when the river thaws. The attitude is always great, and usually we have spring break late February early March and we return and have a few weeks indoors. Hands were recently blistered and calloused, so that process is behind us. 

"I think the biggest challenge lies in conditioning. Through the course of the winter, I make sure that we gradually and systematically raise the rate of our work, but never too high."

I think the biggest challenge lies in conditioning. Through the course of the winter, I make sure that we gradually and systematically raise the rate of our work, but never too high! I see coaches making mistakes by never holding their athletes to a rating cap. All of our steady state is at 16-20 strokes per minute and never above 21. It literally sickens me to watch some of these rowers do their steady state at 21-24 strokes for minutes on end at a weak split with poor ratio. They are building bad habits into their rowing. Never row weak!

I work in periods where rhythm is emphasized with 22-26 for fewer minutes, but always continued pressure. Long interval and short interval work is typically 26-30, with weekly occasions 30-32 for several minutes. The goal being, I want to build efficiency of the movement. We will race at 32-34 (for eights) to start the season, and it will build over the spring to 36-37 by the end. It is all fitness-based. 

The fitter you are at lower ratings, the more power, and as a result, rhythm can be brought into higher ratings. This is important for peaking at the end of the spring. Coaches make the mistake of not prescribing ratings and matching a split to it. You can't just let the ponies run all the time. I want my ponies training with 200 lb. jockeys most of the year and replace them with 120 lb. jockeys at the end and really go fast." 

2) For high school and college athletes alike, what advice do you give them in regards to staying ahead of their school workload this time of year? 

Gregg: “My advice during the first weekend after the first week of the new semester is to sit down and fill out a calendar of the rest of the term with all the information you have been given. Note where your tests are for all your classes, when projects are due, when presentations occur, and hopefully your coach has painted a vision for the athletes when any erg tests are, what the workout routine or training calendar is, and put on there the travel and competition dates. 

You need to have a full picture of what lies ahead. It is sobering to see it all and makes you understand you have absolutely no time to waste. You can't wait for that first round of tests that happen three weeks into the semester to start getting to work. Also, a sleep pattern being established early is important. 

You need to get eight hours of sleep, which means you need to get in bed by 10 p.m. No joke. If you are in the habit of staying up until 2 a.m. because ‘that is when I am most productive’ and you have 6 a.m. practice, and then plan to get a nap in the middle of the day you are setting yourself up for failure most likely. A full eight hours makes a huge difference in your efficiency.” 

Sarah: “The best advice, but probably the least helpful, would be to start your work early, even try to get ahead, so that when your weekends fill up with racing and practices become longer, you don’t fall too far behind. This is usually easier said than done, since we don’t always notice when we have “extra” time to get ahead or even know what that work is.

"What you want to avoid happening is that during the more important part of the season, you end up having a paper to write or test to cram for which causes you to stay up all night, stress, or eat poorly, therefore impacting your rowing performance."

 

What you want to avoid happening is that during the more important part of the season, you end up having a paper to write or test to cram for which causes you to stay up all night, stress, or eat poorly, therefore impacting your rowing performance. If you aren’t able to really be proactive early in the season (studying or drafting future papers when you would normally be hanging out with friends or watching television) then wisely asking for extensions from professors on papers or tests may help you have more time when you need it at the end.

Also, don’t underestimate the time you can study on the bus ride to and from races or practice and the time you wait for teammates to race. It’s tempting to mess around with your boatmates during this downtime, but they’d probably prefer you were at your best during the championships rather than failing pre-calc because you fell behind from too much distraction.” 

Steve: “This is easy to talk about, but harder to actually do. We all know that time management is key to success in any sports, business, but that phenomenon of procrastination looms large over athletes as the season approaches. The old saying of ‘why do today what you can put off until tomorrow’ or something like that becomes the easiest path. 

On a more serious note — you are ‘STUDENT- athletes’ and as they say on the TV commercial, you are not going to go pro in rowing, so take care of your business in the classroom first using any organizational schemes that work for you.

Lastly, if you are struggling in the classroom for any reason, swallow your pride and go talk to your coach. Trust me, they would rather deal with this problem early in the season then have you sitting out because of academic ineligibility during championship season.” 

3) Athletes will be excited to compete again, but with quite a few races coming up in the spring time, what’s your best advice to stay motivated and ready every single week? 

Gregg: “Each workout we do has a goal, usually numerical. I use the splits of the rowing machine to drive our training. It is the language we speak: split per 500 meters. It is easy and understandable. Not everyone has or can afford heart rate monitors, training gadgets, and doing lactate testing isn't really practical.

I have developed a formula for where an athlete needs to be on certain workouts at each and every point of the winter. It can predict where they will end up in the future. Muscles train at roughly the same rate when exposed to the same training program. It is up to the athlete to do the extra work to lower their erg score where they want it to be.

There is always the next thing to focus on, to be where we want to be. I do try and mix it up by making some things fun by doing intrasquad competitions through the winter. If you ask the guys on my team they will tell you that they enjoy the intrasquad competition almost as much as the intercollegiate competition. If you have recruited extremely competitive people you need to feed their craving for competition, in some form, every single day. That makes it fun for them." 

Steve: “I am really big on routines and bringing the team together on a regular basis to have some fun and just enjoy each other’s company. 

What I mean by routines is if you are lifting three days a week now, then you would be well served to continue it through the spring season. It can be used as both a strength builder as well as a recovery time depending on the structure of the sessions. It provides solid physical foundation as you naturally ‘break-down’ due to the intense season demands, but it also fits well into a time management scheme that is all about routines. 


"Every team needs a ‘Bowling Extravaganza Night’ (bumpers optional) complete with pizza or team fun runs or team cookouts or get together for a community service project as a team."

 

 

Also, every team needs a ‘Bowling Extravaganza Night’ (bumpers optional) complete with pizza or team fun runs or team cookouts or get together for a community service project as a team; this season with your team needs to be about more than just practice-race, practice-race, repeat.” 

Sarah: “Using early races to isolate parts of the technical, physical, and mental game allows you to practice for the big races to come during championship season. As long as you can keep your eye on the prize, and even learn a ton from early losses, then you know you can culminate in your best performance of the season. That can be really exciting and keep you pushing through those race days (or weekends) all spring long. After long fall rows, monotonous winter training, and icy early spring practices, if the excitement of finally racing side by side doesn’t keep you motivated, I don’t know what would!”

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