Online coaching: rowing resources

This post is for fellow erg-nerds training for the World Indoor Rowing Championships on February 20th in Boston. With less than 90 days to the worst 6 minutes and 30 seconds (I hope) of physical torture you can imagine, the pressure is building to get going on a training plan designed to make me peak on that chilly Sunday morning when I climb onto my assigned Concept 2 ergometer in Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Preparing for competition is what coaching is all about, but since I am too far away from my rowing club in Boston to avail myself of the coaches there, I have to train by myself. Because rowing is an extremely quantitative sport — the embodiment of the classic equation Distance = Rate X Time — indoor rowers spend all their time staring at this, the Performance Monitor:

Add a heart rate belt and some software such as RowPro, and the process of training becomes extremely logical and frankly can become very complicated. Assuming a training schedule over a six-day week — with the seventh day taken off for recovery — designing a program to achieve constant improvement without over training or incurring the dreaded lower back strain is very complicated. Fortunately there are a few online options which are very effective — some free, and some expensive.

A popular free program is the Wolverine Plan which was invented by Mike Caviston, coach of the University of Michigan’s women’s crew team. Like all good training programs it begins with a series of tests to establish a baseline, and then spells out, in complex detail, a regimen of varying intensities (watts), paces (strokes per minute), and duration (time and intervals of work and rest) that in theory will yield maximum performance on the day of the race. It worked for Caviston as he holds the world record for his age group and has gone on to be a trainer of Navy SEALS. The Wolverine is very popular, free, and avidly followed by the competitive indoor rowing community, but the most common criticism is its complexity and emphasis on long (60 to 75 minute) workouts at mind-numbingly low stroke rates.

An easier version of the Wolverine Plan which I followed for six weeks — or two three-week cycles — is the Pete Plan, developed by British indoor rower Pete Marston. I achieved some solid improvement on the Pete Plan, but since it feels more oriented to a 5,000 meter distance (under 20 minutes) I went looking for something more oriented to the 2,000 meter, or sprint distance. I shaved 7 seconds off of my average 500 meter times over 5000 meters in six weeks thanks to this plan.

One great online coach is Boston University’s head crew coach Tom Bohrer who, with his wife C.B. Sands, a former elite world championship rower, publish a great training plan at TBFIT.com. Tom was my coach at the Union Boat Club before taking the B.U. coaching job, but his online workouts are very effective and mix in an emphasis on core workouts (abdominal) and weight/strength training not found in the Wolverine or Pete Plans. TBFIT is a subscription model, but Tom’s 2K training plan is very effective and led me to my personal best at the CRASH-B sprints in 2004, a 6:28.7.

I am in the first week of a new online program designed by the former Danish Olympic coach, Bo Vestergaard, called the Rojabo Plan. The first month is free, then it converts to a paid subscription priced at $47 a month (now discounted to $14.99 a month).  Rojabo starts with two tests — six minutes of rowing at specific stroke rates in one minute increments, then an evil endurance test where one tries to maintain a certain watt output over time. Based on those results the system generates a daily training plan which feels very effective and is designed with the specific goal of 2,000 meters on February 20th. How effective won’t be known until I retake the endurance test in a couple weeks to gauge my improvements, but if exhaustion and muscle aches are any indication, it’s working.

Combined with Concept2’s annual Holiday Challenge where the goal is to row 200,000 meters between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my daily hour of indoor rowing (technically outdoor as I do it on the deck or in the garage) is keeping me both fit and sane.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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