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Boathouse Doc: Workouts to Maximize Performance

Dear Boathouse Doc,

I am a 45-year-old masters rower who needs some guidance with my training. While I understand that I should vary my workouts, is there a training schedule I could follow to maximize my performance?


A Masters Competitor


Dear Masters Competitor,

The type and intensity of your training depends on the time of the year and your personal goals. There are six basic workout types, each with a specific physiologic goal. It is imperative to plan your training and stick with your plan for a particular workout. In other words, don’t try to combine a strength and aerobic workout by increasing the resistance on the ergometer.

Following your heart rate can easily monitor the basic intensities of training. Dr. Fritz Hagerman, a physiologist for the U.S. National Team, has outlined a training schedule that can be easily followed. The following table is based on a maximum heart rate of 175.

Workout Intensity Physiologic Goal Examples
F1 Aerobic low Technique 2-3×20 min.
HR 107-124 Regeneration Steady state, SR 20
F2 Aerobic Aerobic / Muscle O2 3×20 min.
HR 114-131 Technique Steady state, sr 18-22
F3 Aerobic high Aerobic capacity 3×15 min., 2×30 min.
HR 123-140 Strength, endurance SR 22-26. rest 8 min.
F4 Anaerobic Strength endurance 5×7 min., 6×6 min.
  HR 140-149 Anaerobic threshold SR 24, rest 8 min.
F5 Anaerobic high Race endurance 6x2min., 3x1K
HR 149-166 Transportation SR race, rest 6 min.
F6 Max HR Anaerobic capacity 6-8×500 meters
HR 166-175 Quickness, reaction 30-90 sec. intervals
SR race, rest 2 min.

These workouts are varied depending on the time of the year, with greater emphasis on improving your aerobic capacity in the fall and winter and concentrating more on anaerobic and maximal effort in the spring and summer. It is also important to allow time for rest and recovery in your training schedule. A sample regimen would be as follows:

Day Fall/Winter Spring Summer
Monday F1 F1 F2
Tuesday F2 F3 F3
Wednesday F3 F4 F5 or F6
Thursday F1 F3 F3
Friday F2 F2 F2
Saturday F4 F5 F5 or F6
Sunday off off off

This provides you with a basic training schedule, which can be modified to fit your particular schedule. For example, if you are only able to workout three times per week, you should include an aerobic (F1-F2), anaerobic (F3-F4) and a transportation (F5) workout type during that week.

In addition, it is always a good idea to cross-train by running or biking to add variety to your routine. When doing aerobic workouts, never row for long periods at high drag settings and low stroke rate, (<20 spm); doing so increases the stress on the lumbar discs and may lead to disc degeneration. The scientific literature indicates a correlation with ergometer pieces longer than 30 minutes and the development of low back pain. Physiologically, there is no difference between rowing for 60 minutes continuously and rowing three 20 minute pieces with a couple of minutes to stretch between each piece.  Thus, we recommend breaking up your aerobic workouts into pieces not longer than 20 to 30 minutes with a low stroke rate (20-24) and the drag setting around 100.

Good luck with your training and keep in mind that injuring yourself by rowing with faulty technique and inappropriate training will never help you row faster.

Boathouse Doc

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