Top 5 Things To Coach A Rowing Team While On The Water Or On Land

I have been in touch with a few rowing coaches over the years and I want to touch on the top 5 ideas I’ve learned while rowing in order to get the most speed out of an individual on the Concept 2 Rowing Machine and or team boat. Let’s start with on the water rowing and the top 5 things to focus on while gaining more speed in a boat.

jack 3
Here are my Top 5 drills, ideas, and applications to use while rowing on the water in order to optimize top speed:
#1. Focus On Rowing In Small Boats Throughout The Fall Rowing Season
Start rowing in pairs and fours if you can for the entire fall season. If you have the fleet or can get a bunch of pairs together to row in everyday this will drastically improve the boys ability to row. It will force them to row with great technique and skill. If you can race in pairs this is the best way to ‘Seat-Race’ because you can’t hide in a pair like you can in a four or especially an Eight. Rowing a pair will tell you and the rower exactly what they are doing wrong in the boat and how to balance.
jack row 6#2. When you do row in Eights or Fours try to cap the ratings at no higher than a 26 stroke rate for most of the fall racing season.
Focus on length and speed at lower stroke rate pieces from a 18-26 spm pieces. Use the leap frog workout in order to really make things interesting in practice and make it fun for the kids in Eights or Fours. If your not sure what the leap frog workout is just….
#3. Row with the feet out of the shoes for every single practice in every boat for at least the first 20-30 minutes of the row.
Sometimes at Cal Berkeley we would even race with our feet out, in practice of course, and not tie in at all for some practices. jack row 9This drill will really make your legs strong and keep you much more connected to the boat so that there is minimal check while the boat is moving.
#4. Instruct your athletes row to look out to your rigger, lean in to you rigger, and watch your blade enter the water every stroke or every other stroke as you try and get back splash with a quick catch. (This is a debate that I go back and forth with numerous coaches)
Most coaches tell you NEVER to look out of the boat (which is the right thing to teach when your racing) However, in practice how do you know and how it feels like to have a great catch if you can’t see what you are actually doing with your hands and the blade. Gladstone and Craig would teach us to always do this while practicing and in warm ups. Watch your blade and jack row 10follow it all the way into the water!
#5. While rowing in sweep boats try to use the outside arm ‘hang’ drill, balance drills, and high blades off the water. Constant practice in these areas…
Here are my Top 5 drills, ideas, and applications to use while rowing on land in order to optimize top speed!
#1. Be creative with your workouts but use the C2 for at least 40% of you total training. At Cal and national team we would row in the machine at least 50% of the time. Yes… even in California where we can row on the water most all the time.
jack 11Our most common workout was a 3×20 min workout with varying stroke rates and split avg goals every 5 minutes within each 20 min piece.
For example:  10 minute warm up and stretch
1st 20 minute piece     5min @ 1:55…  5min @ 1:52…  5min @ 1:55… 5min @ 1:50
10 min rest
jack row 122nd 20 minute piece    5min @ 1:52… 5min @ 1:48… 5min @ 1:50… 5 min @ 1:45
10 min rest
3rd 20 minute piece    5min @ 1:50… 5min @ 1:45… 5min @ 1:48… 5min @ 1:42
This is just an example… you have to see where your boys are at with strength and power and then write this on the wall for a general erg workout. The Stroke rates can either be open or held at a certain goal. At Cal we usually had open rates and open damper settings jack row 15wherever we wanted to be at while rowing. Some crews now are strict on damper settings being all the same and stroke rate caps as well. I don’t necessarily agree with this.
This type of erg workout accounted for about 70% of all of our workouts at Cal under Gladstone and Craig.
#2. Test every 2 weeks for 10k or 6k. Track improvement and also weigh the kids to also keep track of power to weight ratio.
However, please don’t get too technical on the matter of weight vs. power. I have had a few coaches in the past that put way too much reward for lighter kids going fast on the machine while the bigger kids are looked at in a biased way. To give you an example…. Soon after I left Cal jack row 14the freshman coach years later put together a fast crew of the entire boat weighing an average of 190 pounds and pulling around a 6:15 average 2k. A great average! However, he overly rewarded the kids who were light and dropped other guys that were bigger and stronger. That same year Washington had a freshman who was 240 pounds but he pulled a 5:52 2k as well as other kids who made the boat and weighed well over 200 pounds. Cal finished a distant 4th that same year at IRA’s while Washington ran away with the Championship. This is the same reason why they have different divisions in rowing. Heavyweight vs Lightweights. The best heavyweights will win every single time against the best lightweights in the world!!!
Also, only do a 2k a couple times during the year. 10k’s and 6k’s are where you can really tell if a kid is mentally and physically strong!
#3. Pull ups, jump squats, bench pulls, and stomach exercises everyday as part of your workout. Everyday we would somehow incorporate these types of workouts in our training sessions.
#4. Inspire and connect with the individuals that you are coaching at least once a week. Create a goal for that particular week and get the kids focused on that goal in order to maximize speed.
lowhighShow your passion for the sport of rowing and make it contagious to everyone around you. Let the team or individual know that rowing is a daily grind sport. It is the day in and day out training and punishment that they need to embrace. Usually in High School and College there are only a handful of races throughout the year. Explain to the team that if they are on the team just to focus on those big races towards the end of the year then they are in the wrong sport. It’s the day to day challenge and mentally tough team that competes throughout every single practice that wins on race day. Races are not won on race day…they are won throughout the constant training and punishment that you give to the body throughout the year as you prepare for those races. When you show up on race day it’s as if it is just another practice. There is nothing magical about it and teams don’t just win on luck, teams win with hard work and mental toughness taught by the coach and influenced throughout the rest of the team. The rowing machine is the perfect tool in order to separate the weak from the strong. It tests both mental and physical toughness on a very personal level.
#5. Twice a year try these 2 workouts.
jack 2Note: These are the hardest designed workouts that I have ever done in my life so make sure the team is prepared enough to take these on. Do not use these tests more than a couple times throughout the year.
Workout #1
10-9-8-7 Workout…. UC Berkeley Ultimate Concept 2 Rowing Machine Fitness Test
10 minutes full power/open rate then take a 10 minute rest
9 minutes full power/open rate then take a 10 minute rest
cal pic 108 minutes full power/open rate then take a 10 minute rest
7 minutes full power/open rate then take a 10 minute rest
Add up the total meters from the entire time rowed and rank the individual against the entire team. This is one of the ultimate fitness tests in order to measure mental and physical strength and capability. At UC Berkeley Steve Gladstone took these tests very seriously and were probably considered his most important fitness test on the Concept 2 rowing machine.
calWorkout #2
Sub-Max Watt Workout…. US National Team Ultimate Concept 2 Rowing Machine Fitness Test
Idea is to start with 200 Watts and then rise 40 Watts every 2 minutes until failure. If you drop below the suggested Watts even for one stroke you are out. This requires someone to watch the screen behind the individual as they row. Below is an example of the kind of workout and Watt numbers that we were told to start with and the chart we were to try and follow. Most guys dropped out of the test and could not hold the numbers from 520 to 600. There was one individual, Ian Coveney, who approached 720 Watts before failure. This test should be done every 4 months or so. It is extremely intense and difficult. Design this test and appropraite power Watts for you team or individual who you are coaching.
jack row200 Watts for 2 minutes…
240 Watss for 2 minutes…
280 Watts for 2 minutes…
320 Watts for 2 minutes…
360 Watts for 2 minutes…
400 Watts for 2 minutes…
440 Watts for 2 minutes…
480 Watts for 2 minutes…
520 Watts for 2 minutes…
560 Watts for 2 minutes…
all for one600 Watts for 2 minutes…
640 Watts for 2 minutes
680 Watts for 2 minutes…
720 Watts for 2 minutes…And yes.. I witnessed a guy that held on the US Team that held 720 for just over a minute before he cracked. Very impressive!
This movie was filmed during my freshman and sophomore years at Berkeley 97′-99′. I am rowing in this movie and at various parts of the movie you would be able to see me 🙂 This is a great movie and I suggest every rowing coach in the world
show it to their athletes. Very powerful and inspiring movie! You can order the movie here!

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Jack Nunn

Jack Nunn is the head trainer and owner of Roworx. Jack is a former national team rower who has competed in more than 100 triathlons, including 9 full Ironmans. He has created a system of rowing that prepares the whole body for both competition and fitness longevity.

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