T Nation

Rowing Training


Hi everyone,

I've been keeping a blog elsewhere online for a little while now and have decided to copy the same posts onto here in the hope of reaching more people. I am a powerlifter but have recently taken on the role of Strength and Conditioning Coach for my university women's rowing team (Cambridge University, UK). I find it really interesting and I'm hoping that other people will as well.

This blog will contain my opinions on any articles that I read, both on T Nation and elsewhere, and anything else that I read/watch at home. Most of what I read will be interpreted from a rowing perspective but as I said I'm a powerlifter, so I will also be looking at things from that perspective.


Ok, so there was an link on here to the blog I keep elsewhere (it's a Wordpress blog, completely free, etc), but the moderators have seen fit to remove that. I'm not sure I really understand why, but it means that I can't provide access to previous posts through this site.


Because it's a content issue. I had the same issue (blog is up at rowingillustrated). I'd be interested in reading your blog/discussing things as I'm a S&C for a high school program in the States and also do consulting work for collegiate programs here. It truly is insane how far behind rowing is in regards to weight training and how many programs (at least over here) under-utilize it.


It would definitely be good to discuss some rowing stuff, and I'll be looking up your blog in the next couple of days. I've actually only been working with the Cambridge rowers for a few weeks, but I do agree that S&C is way behind what I ever imagined, which really surprised me given how much money there is in the sport.

Anyway, I've put a link to my blog as my website URL on my profile here if you're able to get to that.


Hi everyone,

Sorry, I've been posting on my blog but have forgotten to copy the posts onto here. They'll follow this.


I was going to post about foam rolling tonight, and actually I'm halfway through a draft of that post. However earlier I went to watch the CUW girls do their 2k test on the ergs. For anyone who hasn't done one, they?re awful (I've only done one, I don't ever want to do it again). As you've hopefully guessed it involves rowing 2 kilometres on an erg as fast as possible. I've never seen anyone exhaust themselves in the gym to the same level as is achieved on a 2k test. Anyway this gave me an opportunity to watch a lot of rowing technique, particularly as its much easier to watch technique when you?re not having to focus on not cycling into the river. I could also hear all the cues that the other coaches were giving.

I've always thought that rowing and deadlifting were such similar movements that surely the deadlift must be the perfect training movement to generate power on the rowing stroke. However there is one subtle difference between the technique we teach in deadlifting and what is taught when you want to row. In rowing it is important to keep the angle of your back constant until you've completely straightened your legs, then you lever from your hips to extend your back, and finally finish with the arms. In deadlifting however you will start to straighten at the hips when the bar comes passed your knees, which should be before your knees are locked out, otherwise you'd end up with the bar hanging out in front of you.

This might seem like a really subtle difference, and it is, but I think that might be a big part of the problem. When two movements are very dissimilar it's very unlikely that the motor patterns of one will conflict with those of the other. But when they're so similar then there is a risk that the two might interfere, and good deadlift technique (which is obviously what I'm teaching) leads to sub-optimal rowing technique.

Anyway, after I then decided that perhaps it wasn't an issue, because in the deadlift your body is completely straight at the finish (i.e. you're locked out) whereas when you row there is still an angle at your hips (otherwise you'd be lying flat in the boat). So maybe this is what distinguishes the two: because the range of motion is slightly different then the motor patterns won't conflict so much. Unfortunately what made me more confident that I might be on to something is that those girls who were naturally better at deadlifting were pulling with their backs too early on the erg, robbing themselves of a faster time. There is definitely some correlation, although I don't know which way initial causation runs. Either way what worries me is that by teaching good deadlift technique I might be at risk of worsening this effect.

The truth is that after a couple of hours thought I can't think of a way to solve this problem. I do think that the deadlift is a really good training movement for rowers in that it works all the important muscle groups and allows a great deal of loading. But I do think there?s a conflict technique-wise. If anyone can think of a good way to work around this problem, or a good argument about why I might be (and hopefully am) talking nonsense, I would be really grateful to hear it.


First off I'd like to say thanks to Alex Forte for his reply to my previous post, which I've decided to copy below because not everyone views this on Facebook, and I think it's definitely worth reading:

"Matty Matt! I think that trap-bar deadlifting would probably be a nice compromise because of the grip variation (which increases its difference from rowing technique) and the impossibility of using the back early in the movement (which might actually be more bio-mechanically similar to rowing). Best, Alex"

Alex was one of my old training partners at Oxford, and knew more than most people I've met about training. I think the most important point about this, and something I definitely should have thought of myself, is not trying to reconcile the conflicting movement patterns of rowing and the deadlift, but actually changing the deadlift subtly (with the different hand position) which may be enough to distinguish the movement patterns without losing any of the training effect. I do think this is probably enough of a change to prevent the two movements from overlapping. If not entirely, I definitely think it will be an improvement. I'm very grateful to Alex for his reply and we'll definitely be doing trap bar deadlifts as part of the training once the trial process starts in September.

Building the Efficient Athlete

The main purpose of this post is to talk about the new DVD sets that I've been watching, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson?s 'Building the Efficient Athlete'. I've only watched the first two DVDs (out of 8!). Unsurprisingly, it's brilliant. I started watching in my chair but (genuinely) ended up about 2 feet away from the TV with my laptop out taking notes, pausing and rewinding to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I think it would be unfair to give all the details of the DVD on here, and to be honest if I did I?d be typing for days anyway. Again, this is something I would recommend to anyone interested in improving their own training or coaching of others. So far it has been pretty much all functional anatomy, which I really don?t know enough about and I need to read up on. The main focus of the seminar seems to be assessment and correction, but there may be much more to it and I will post more when I've watched the rest.

It's already given me a couple of ideas though, and has particularly made me realise the importance of glute training in the girls both to increase their power in the boat and to avoid injury. Since they're all students they spend most of their days sitting down behind desks, and unlike most athletes their sport also leaves them in the seated position, so even there they don?t really get to activate their glutes. All the injuries that I've heard about have been back injuries, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was a big part of it.

Anyway, I'm going to go and watch some more of this, and then possibly go over Stuart McGill's stuff again. At some point I should probably do some work on my PhD too.


Unfortunately if I copy text from my blog to here it replaces apostrophes with question marks. I've been through and tried to correct them all, but if there are any left then that's the reason.


You'll come to find the squat is also in a similar position as the deadlift is for rowers. After 10 years of competitive rowing myself, I can tell you that one of the biggest things I struggle with in my own squat (and my kids struggle with) is squatting like we row. This usually results in us collapsing in the hole with our chests nearly touching our quads. I consider squatting to be more GPP and leg pressing to be more SPP due to the nature of the sport. They both have carry over but too many S


I understand you do like to stick with the Big Basics, as a powerlifter, but I am thinking that in non-lift technique training, you need to think about the rowing mechanics, and not powerlifting, parse.

Why wouldn't you break down the movement into three training sequences? First sequence would consist of Glute isolation training for correction, second Good Mornings for back and hip extension, and a third Leg Press as leg-vs-back isolation.
Afterwards you could rig up a band based ergo for some rowing technique speed. Maybe that is a little far fetched haha, just stick to normal plyos.

You can still use a powerlifting style program with these three seperate movements, by simply prioritizing the Good Morning as the main lift, and the rest as correction and assistance.


I wouldn't priortize the good morning as the main lift, rowing is about 80% legs. Definitely would not use bands on an erg either as the issues it'll cause with technique.


Well it is hard not to train the leg press heavy. I was talking about the way you would consider powerlifting style program for rowers. Glutes activation, Good Mornings in 4-6 rep range, Heavy leg press assistance. Assistance is just a jargon word though, so you would still be concentrating on strength gains on the leg press. The point of the break down is to mimic rowing technique, where I believe good mornings are more closely related to rowing than the deadlift.

The bands were a bit of a joke :stuck_out_tongue:


I'd agree to that in part though I do feel as though deadlift has great carryover as well, and due to the heavier loads possible can be more effective at developing explosiveness at the catch.

Didn't know if you were joking about the bands, I've seen people do dumb things like this or worse (one club had built a low row cable setup where the seat moved similar to an erg - recipe for disaster).