Weight training

Weight Training: In hopes of improving their raw muscle power, competitive rowers engage in weight training during the off-season, but new research suggests that they might be better off pushing on their oars instead of using weight machines or free weights.

At Ohio University in the United States, 18 elite male and 12 elite female rowers were evaluated before and after 14 weeks of off-season training. Half of the athletes engaged only in rowing during this period, while the other half devoted 30 per cent of their training time to resistance training and 70 per cent to actual rowing. Resistance training included standard exercises such as squats and bench presses. Prior to the 14-week period, there were no differences between the groups in maximal aerobic capacity (V02max), muscle power while rowing, or overall muscle strength.

At the end of the 14 weeks, athletes who spent all their time rowing improved their performances and raised V02max by a whopping 11-16 per cent, while strength-trained rowers failed to improve in either area. Strangely enough, members of each group bolstered muscle strength by about equal amounts: bench-pull power advanced by about 5-8 per cent, and squatting strength increased by 3-9 per cent.

The results reinforce the time-honoured 'specificity of training principle,' which says that to get better at a specific activity, you must practise that activity; devoting time to other, related efforts may produce smaller gains in capacity. Compared to lifting weights, working on your rowing during the off-season can produce larger improvements in rowing ability - improvements which will allow you to train at a higher level once the real season begins.

('A Comparison of Traditional and Non-Traditional Off-Season Training Programmes of Elite Rowers,' Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 26(5), Supplement, p. 575 1994)

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