It was brought to my attention that a follow up article to my Row Row Row your Erg might be in order. I was asked for specific workouts that can be done on the rower specifically to help improve your paddling in the next season. Below I will lay out 3 different workout "types" that I personally would try to fit into my off season training program.
It would by my recommendation to get in at least one of each of these type of workouts in a week based on an inverted periodization protocol. More on this type of periodization in another article but for now all you need to know that at this time of the season you will have less volume and more relative intensity as a percentage of overall training time. If you are adhering to a more traditional periodization plan you will want to do less of the more intense workouts and more of the easier efforts that I lay out below.
The power interval type of training is meant to help increase our top end speed/power output. As this is rowing workout and not a paddling workout these are really designed mostly to help improve overall athletic power and not so much paddling specific power. There will be some carryover however and working in these intensity zones will help our bodies when we ask to preform these types of efforts in a race setting (i.e. starts, sprints, and finishes). The basic premise of these intervals is to keep them short enough so you do not build up excessive amounts of lactate that will negatively affect the amount of power you are able to produce on subsequent intervals. I would suggest the work intervals for these workouts to be in the range of 30 secs - 2 minutes. Now here is the hard part for most endurance athletes, the rest between sets. One way to think about these workouts is like they are strength training sessions. When you are doing strength training you typically perform a certain number of reps of a exercise, rest and recover, and repeat. Over time you are able to use heavier weight or more reps. You do not continue to do the exercise in your rest periods. When we are talking about the rest periods for these power sets they need to be there to help you recover so you can produce maximal power outputs during the sets. If rest periods are short you probably will want to have complete rest, if the rest breaks are longer you can do some active recover at a very easy effort. The general rule should be the rest period for these will need to be at least equal to the work interval. If you find that you cannot keep the same power for each working set, try lengthening the rest between sets and you should then be able to repeat peak power.
Here is an example of one of these power interval workouts. These are also great for workout where you do not have much time for. Start with a 5-10 minute warmup where you increase the intensity from very easy to moderately difficult. Then perform the main sets structured as such. 6 sets of 30 secs work with 1 min 30 secs rest. As your fitness progresses you can add sets ideally working up to 10-12 working sets. For these rest periods keep 3 secs of total rest and the last minute very easy effort, you should feel pretty fresh each work set. After your work sets are completed follow this up with 5-10 minute cool down at an easy pace. This workout can be completed in as little as 30 mins. If you have more time on a given day you can extend your warm up and cool down periods to lengthen the workout.
Your anaerobic or lactate threshold is basically the point at which an activity intensity starts to accumulate lactate. Accumulation of lactate is what gives your muscles a burning sensation and will prevent you from working out at higher intensities for longer durations. This threshold may be the most important marker in overall endurance performance because the harder or faster you can paddle without accumulating lactate will mean you can go faster for longer. Typically one can work at this threshold for an hour. If you want to find where your current threshold is at, I would suggest reading my previous article What's your FTP Man?. Working at or close to this threshold is the way to improve this over time. The issue here is that if you work at this level for too much time it can be both mentally difficult and also physically difficult to recover from. That is where threshold intervals come into play.
For these workouts they will be longer work interval periods with shorter rest periods between. I would still start with a 5-10 min warm up the same as you would for power intervals but then the working sets will look a bit different. I would start with 2 sets of 10 mins followed by 1-2 mins of complete rest. I would then follow this up by a similar cool down to your warm up. As your fitness progresses you can increase the time of the interval and increase the number of working sets. Ideally we are looking to reach 3 sets of 20 mins.
The last type of workout will be one geared at building endurance and the aerobic system. This type of training is also sometimes referred to as base training especially when one is adhering to a more traditional periodization plan. The whole purpose of these workouts is to increase your ability to perform a task for longer periods of time while also improving the energy needed to perform this activity. These sessions will help to increase fat oxidation which basically means you will become more efficient at using fat a fuel source instead of carbohydrate. This helps prevent the dreaded "bonk" and increases your ability to go for longer distances. The hardest part of these workouts is to keep the effort "easy" enough to elicit these benefits. For you to maximize the training effects of increased fat oxidation it is critical that you are not working over your aerobic capacity threshold. Many athletes will make this fatal flaw, and doing so will make it harder to recover from the workout and also not elicit as strong of a training effect from the workout. When you work above your aerobic threshold you increase your carbohydrate utilization instead of maximizing fat oxidation.
For aerobic workouts you can generally think of just overall time instead of sets like the previous two workout types. The longer you can go on these workouts generally better and these need to be at least 30 mins in length. It might be hard to log long time on a rower due to the boredom factor so my suggestion is to pick a set number of meters and alternate between regular rowing and arms only rowing. For arms only rowing I take my feet out of the foot stretchers and place them on the ground basically reducing the ability to utilize leg power. I generally like to switch every 1000m. I like doing this as it breaks up the session and also gives you more upper body involvement that will be more paddling specific. Over the course of the off season you can work these workouts up from 40 mins to over 2 hours.
If you are planning on doing more than 3 rowing workouts a week during the off season, my personal suggestion would be to add more of the aerobic capacity workouts. These are easy to recover from and will help you plenty come paddling time. You want to make sure that you are balancing your hard work with the easier efforts to maximize adaptations on both ends of the spectrum.
Be on the lookout for more off season training articles like this in the near future. If you have an idea for a topic that you would like discussed go to our Facebook page and leave a comment and we will try our best to address your requested topics.