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This week one of the world’s oldest sporting rivalries is settled. Well, for another year at least. That’s because on the historic banks of the river Thames Oxford and Cambridge will compete in a rowing event of such global notoriety it’s known simply as, “The Boat Race”. Which is exactly why TPW’s Ross Edgley headed to Cambridge to live and learn from last year’s champions. Uncovering the training secrets kept under lock and key at their boathouse, Ross will detail…

• Why Everyone Should Learn To Row
• The Difference Between Low Intensity vs. High Intensity & Polarized Training
• How To Create The Best Nutrition Plan For Rowing


The Workout


The perfect rowing training and nutrition plan doesn’t exist. This may sound odd to many, but allow us to explain. Sports science teaches us there are too many biological variables and there are too many individual differences to prescribe one single and successful blueprint. This is why researchers from the Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Hull, England, published a paper stating there is no one best way to train for endurance. Claiming, "There is insufficient direct scientific evidence to formulate training recommendations based on the limited research.”

In short, rowing is both an art form and a science.

But after 150 years’ experience and with 82 victory plaques on its walls, the Cambridge University Boat Club has come pretty close. Lead by Head Coach ― and former Olympic gold medallist ― Steve Trapmore, the club is home to some of the greatest rowing talent from around the globe, all of which are hell bent on winning the prestigious Cancer Research UK Boat Race. Here’s how they train for it, and here’s what you need to know before embarking on any rowing training or nutrition plan:

Polarised Training: 80:20 Rule

Rowing is basically a powerful movement sustained for long periods of time. It’s a strange blend of strength and stamina which makes training for it tricky. But one training plan that’s receive a lot of attention and success in recent years is the concept of 80/20 Polarised Training. What this means is 80% of the time you row at a slow, low intensity to emphasise aerobic efficiency (of the heart and lungs) and rowing economy/technique. The other 20% of the time involves high intensity intervals to improve the body’s ability to reuse and remove excess lactic acid while also increasing rowing speed and building up strength.

80% Long Slow Distance (Lsd) Training

Long slow distance rowing involves rowing at a sustainable and slow pace over long distances. This method helps rowers improve aerobic metabolic capacity in the leg muscles (supplying them with oxygen), develops the basic physical strength required to complete long distances and it also gives you plenty of time to learn to row. This sounds odd I know, but rowing is a novel movement so it’s therefore a skill we must learn. Should you learn it well, rowing faster and further all becomes possible. This is based on the work of Dr Arthur Steindler ― one of the early pioneers of this theory ― who defines your “kinetic chain” as, “A combination of several successively arranged joints constituting a complex motor unit.” Put simply, how well all your joints and movements work together during certain movements. A good technique means a good rowingtraining plan, it’s that simple. So spending 80% of your time performing long slow distance rows to perfect technique is never a bad thing

20% Interval Training

Row Fast. Rest. Repeat. This training method involves repeating a series of fast-paced and slow-paced rowing intervals all to improve the body’s ability to remove excess lactic acid (that burning sensation you get when mid-way through a 500m row). While many rowers vary the speeds of their fast-paced work, it is important to maintain a slow recovery speed, and the next sprint interval should start before a rower’s heart rate drops too far.

This type of training improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. What does this mean? Basically any activity can be classed as anaerobic and aerobic. Aerobic means, “With oxygen” since this relates to all activity where we need to breathe to complete them. This is 5km or 10km row since trying to any without oxygen (and therefore non-aerobic) is impossible. Anaerobic exercise relates to those shorter, quicker activities that don’t need as much oxygen like a 100m row (which can be done without heavy breathing). Now rowing 10km ― and endurance generally ― needs both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Which is why researchers at the Department of Physiology and Biomechanics wanted to test the, “Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on aerobic fitness and anaerobic fitness.” Contrary to popular belief, they found that "moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves aerobic fitness does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly.” So a leisurely 3km row will improve your aerobic fitness, but may not enhance your anaerobic fitness. But an interval based workout ― trying to complete 5 x 500m rows with 90 seconds rest between ― could potentially improve both.

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