It’s that time of the year again… head racing season. This means long ergs, long outings and generally just long training sessions. While the thought of long ergs is daunting (and a bit boring) putting in hard work now will be hugely beneficial when it comes to regatta season in the summer. Most rowers (and athletes in general) will have heard this before, but the winter season is the perfect time to get in some solid training and create a good base level of fitness that you can build on in the summer. Doing this steady-state aerobic exercise will help you build up your overall fitness as well as improving your sleep and mental health.
I know from my own experience how taxing winter training can be, especially the thought of long ergs inside a sweaty gym. So, I thought I’d share some tips to help you get through this tough winter training.
Set your goals early
At the start of your winter training, sit down as a crew and decide which races you are aiming to compete at in the summer. Then tailor your training to suit these races, e.g. get some high rate pieces into your training if you’re hoping to compete at regattas. Get some competition going within the crew. When it comes to 5k test time, some athletes are motivated by rankings or wanting to beat their crew mates. Just remember that rowing is a team sport, so don’t get carried away with rivalries.
If this type of training isn’t for you (and it definitely wasn’t my style) then set your own goals and push yourself to improve a little bit each erg. Base your goals off your achievements in the previous season. For example, look at your 5k score from the same time last year and see if you can beat it — try to take one second off that score. While it seems small, even a tiny victory early on in the season will give you the push you need to make a success of the rest of your winter training.
For non-professional athletes, you may have limited time in which you can do your training, so make those sessions count. In this case, short, intense sessions on the erg might not always be the most beneficial for creating your base level fitness and building your endurance. With your final goal in mind, create a training plan that allows for more sessions at a lower intensity as these will give your body time to recuperate between ergs. If you don’t have the time to commit to five or six sessions a week (and who does?) why not incorporate some lower intensity exercise into your daily routine — cycle to work or the shops twice a week?
Participate in a winter challenge
Last year, Cancer Research UK held The Great Row which challenged participants to row a marathon (26 miles) throughout February to raise money for the charity. The challenge can be taken on by individuals or as a team, so is a great opportunity for some team bonding whilst also getting those miles in.
Using social media to keep your followers updated on your challenge progress is a great way to keep yourself motivated during these endurance ergs. Why not share a #sweatyselfie to motivate others as well? If twenty-six miles seems too easy, push it further, why not go for fifty-two? And don’t forget, you could do a challenge to raise money for your own charity of choice. The British Rowing website has an entire page of different rowing challenges that will be taking place in 2020, so have a look if you need some inspiration.
Find or create a good playlist or podcast
It’s highly likely that the ergs you’ll be doing over the winter season will be long endurance pieces. These types of pieces don’t necessarily need the same intensity of music as your summer sprint training, so why not switch it up? Find (or create) a long playlist for yourself that’ll keep your mind distracted while you’re battling through the erg. Look for something a bit more relaxed and easy-going that’ll let you enjoy the piece. If you’re a whizz on Spotify or Apple Music, you could create a playlist that builds up as you’re erging. Start with music that’s more chilled and will help you get into the rhythm of the erg. Then have the music build up its beat, so by the time you’re into the final five minutes you’ve got some motivating music that’ll help you push through and get those final meters in the bag.
Why not try listening to a podcast while you’re erging? I used to do this all the time and it worked really well for me. I found that podcasts were a fantastic way of distracting my mind from what my body was doing — and I learnt something at the same time! My favourite podcast was one hour long, so I could listen to the entire thing whilst on the erg. I would highly recommend this if you’re not the biggest fan of long ergs as it helps you get through the pieces by distracting your mind.
Friends who row together stay together
Can’t face that 7k by yourself? You don’t have to! Find a crew mate (or friend) to do the erg with you. Erging with someone you know will make the whole experience less intimidating and could benefit your technique. Matching your partner’s rate on the erg will benefit you immensely when you get back into the boat. If you’re training as a crew, I’d recommend sitting in your boat order that way you can follow the person who you’d usually follow in the boat and really nail your timing without having to worry about balance or any bad weather.
Take a break
A sixty-minute erg sounds difficult and, believe me, it is. But you can do it! Break the erg down into two thirty-minute pieces. Mentally, two thirty-minute pieces seems a lot more manageable than one solid sixty-minutes. Pop a two-minute break in between the two pieces to give your body a quick rest. Use this break to get off the erg, stretch your legs and rehydrate yourself — you can’t hit your PBs if your body is completely exhausted!
If you’re finding a long piece difficult, take it down a notch. Instead of pushing 2:05 for thirty mins, push for 2:08 or 2:10 and take some strain off your body. It’s always better to finish a piece, even if it’s at a lower pressure, than to not finish it at all. This stops you becoming “scared” of an erg or thinking that you can’t finish it in the future. I’ve seen people pushing a great 5k time and then they hit a wall two-hundred meters from the end and stop. They’re scared of finishing the erg as they’re holding onto the last time that they didn’t finish the piece in the back of their minds. I would really recommend pushing through that mental barrier by tackling the erg at a less intense pressure to make sure that you don’t get a fear of the erg.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK! You’re only human and you need to be sensible when it comes to knowing when your body has had enough. A lot of advice for high intensity sport suggests multiple training sessions a week, but sometimes your body physically cannot take it — and that’s okay! If you need it, take a day off and give your body a break. This will help you both physically and mentally and means that you’ll be in the perfect position to tackle your next training session.
Coming from my own experience as a rower, it’s not always as easy to put these things into practice as it seems, or as I have made it out to be. However, if you’re looking to improve your erg scores this winter, I would encourage you to do it for yourself. Improve your scores and fitness for YOU. It’s your body, do the training you want to do (and if you don’t fancy a sixty-minute piece that’s absolutely fine too!).