Thriving in Rowing at Any Age

WORCESTER, Mass. — Rowing is a sport that doesn’t come with age limitations. If an athlete is willing to stick with it and learn proper skill and recovery, there is a place on the racecourse for them. This week’s 2016 USRowing Masters National Championships on Lake Quinsigamond, where competitors who are in their 20s to 80s are hungry to bring home gold medals, is proof of that.

The average rowing age at the regatta is 50 for men and 47 for women, with a large majority of the participants over the age of 35. Rowing is an effective sport for athletes in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older; it provides fitness, camaraderie and friendly competition.

“As a masters rower, what you may give up in recovery ability, you make up for with years of training experience, knowledge, consistency and the wisdom to stick with a program,” said Will Ruth, author of Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance. “It is important to use your judgement and not push through acute pain and pay attention to any former injuries when strength training. Employ different variations of exercises or range-of-motion modifications before discarding an exercise completely.”

For rowers over 50, one of the most important goals of strength training is preventing injury, followed in second by performance improvement. Aside from the training done on the water, it can be useful for masters rowers to track or record their training volume to observe the gains made through training and how their body is reacting the intensity.

Linda “Yaya” Hay, 60, began rowing in 2006 when her son joined the University of California, San Diego crew as a walk-on. Hay saw how much her son loved the sport and felt encouraged to find a club near him. This will be her first Masters Nationals and she says that she’s already addicted to racing, which is easy to see from looking at her event list. She’s racing in six events throughout the week: the women’s open F four with coxswain, mixed F four with coxswain, mixed F quad, women’s E eight, women’s D four with coxswain and the women’s F eight.

“I’ve always been very fit, but not as fit as I am now,” said Hay. “Something I noticed that has really changed with rowing is that my coordination is much better. The other day, I had a glass and it slipped out of my hand, and I grabbed it before it fell to the floor. Ten years ago, it would’ve broken. My reflexes are much quicker.”

According to fitness and nutrition website, Health Fitness Revolution, both erging and rowing on the water enhances the cardiorespiratory system by enhancing your lungs’ ability to provide oxygen to the blood, heart and rest of the body. As intense as rowing can feel, the sport is surprisingly low-impact on joints in comparison to sports such as running and biking. When executed properly, the rowing stroke provides little room for the serious injuries that may emerge in contact and high-impact sports.

At Masters Nationals this weekend, some of the most contested events include masters athletes from the E-J age categories, which is for rowers ages 55 through 80.

“You didn’t get to Masters Nationals by accident, you got there by knowing what works for you and sticking to it,” said strength coach Ruth. For rowers racing at Masters Nationals this weekend, or considering racing at a masters regatta soon, Ruth says that now is not the time to add any fancy new things into your training or race preparation. “No supplements, magical foods, sports drinks, or skill-and-drills should be used that you haven’t already tested in practice leading up to the big event. Stick to what you know works.”

Athletes of all ages should take extra care to include a solid warm-up, stretch after races, eat simple carbohydrates before racing and drink at least half their bodyweight in ounces of water on days they will be racing.

Whether it’s the first time or the 40th time competing, the health benefits surrounding the sport, as well as the opportunity to take home a gold medal among friends and teammates, is worthwhile.

Watch racing live on USRowing’s YouTube channel.

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