Yesterday I asked you to write down your reasons for doing low rate training. Got your answers ready? The reason why we row at 18 and 20 strokes a minute most of the time for me is…..
Let’s start by having some training ideas clear.
When we train for rowing we have very few elements involved.
- One is the ‘engine’ of the rower. We could call the engine the part of the body that help us sustain the rowing strokes - the cells, lungs, heart, blood quality, lactate tolerance, VO2 max, etc…
- Another part is the technique, coordination and ability to produce coordinated power in an efficient way to move the boat every stroke.
If we have a bad engine but are good at the rest we can be really fast out of the start but won’t be able to sustain the workload for the duration of the race; if we have a good engine but are not good at technique or coordinated power, we won’t be able to use the engine because we won’t be able to really apply that engine to really work to move the boat.
Now let’s try to see that working for a car.
The engine and the frame chassis of the car, tires and extras. If we have a big engine on a small weak car with very bad tires, as soon as we get the engine going we might lose part of the car at the first bend. If we have a strong car with good tires but a small engine, we will be safe but won’t go very fast.
What we can see is that both are important.
OK now let’s talk about rowing!
Let’s imagine that we have a rower with a good engine and good technique and good power. He is pretty balanced. OK let’s assume that this rower is in good shape and has good speed at different test levels.
This rower will be able to get plenty of good work at 18 and 20 strokes a minute because what we want that is to increase his overall development as a rower and speed. Having said that what I’m going to explain won’t necessarily work with rowers who are out of shape, with no technique or an undeveloped engine.
When you row at low rates like 18 and 20 strokes a minute you can perform for 30 to 40 minutes non stop every stroke of this period of time with a higher work output that the strokes you do on your Max 2km race.
Ok let’s review that statement.
What is work?
Work is the area inside of each power curve. A power curve is the power application of the rowing stroke during the drive. Joules per stroke are the area inside (under) the power curve for any given stroke. The joules number is not bigger when the rate is higher. It is not like the split or the watts that will increase as we increase the stroke rate.
Joules x stroke is the amount of work we do every stroke.
Having said that, the lower the rate the easier it is to do more work each stroke because we have more rest from stroke to stroke. Because of that we can sustain a higher work x strokeat 18 and 20 strokes a minute than at race pace, also being able to work at AT if we want. Yes you can work at AT (anaerobic threshold) at 20 strokes a minute if you have very good connection to the water and acceleration.
This is why doing the work at 18 or 20 without really doing hard work doesn’t take you very far.
What many training programs do is target lactate levels or heart rate intensity and don’t do that with the stroke rate. There are teams that are able to do Max pieces at 24-28 and 32 with same levels of lactate that at 36 for the whole piece. Why? Because when they work at lower rates they do more work x stroke and they can stress the body the same way to its maximum. Obviously the boat is faster at 36 but doing max pieces at lower rates you work more on technique and control of the boat and also develop more power x stroke that you can use later for a fast start and moves during the race.
This is why the stroke rate doesn’t really measure intensity all the time. If you are not connected to the water, or are not used to working hard at low rates you will “detrain” yourself at low rates. This is the reason why many rowers find it useless to row at low rate and cannot make their heart rate go up. They cannot produce more work x stroke. This is a problem because if they cannot do that they are detraining themselves at low rates.
To finish I would like to say that rowing full pressure at 18-20 strokes a minute can be really aggressive. In order to get there you need to first understand that rowing at 18 – 20 strokes a minute is not always recovery rowing. For many rowing programs is work time and really ON!
When you start reducing the duration of the piece, you start increasing the rate and also the intensity, heart rate and lactate levels. As I said you can max out your engine at 28-32 strokes a minute for some people and don’t need to go to 36.