Training Principles & Concepts

Group Key points in this session

  • Understand the four main principles of training
  • Reflect on how these principles apply to you


Training principles

In this section, we will cover four principals that form the core of training for rowing or any endurance sport for that matter. Follow these training principles and you’re certain to be headed in the right direction. Violate one of them, and you greatly decrease your chance of success.

  1. Progressive overload
  2. Specificity
  3. Reversibility
  4. Individuality


1. Progressive overload

The principal of progressive overload basically states that in order to increase fitness, you must gradually, and steadily, increase the amount of training you do. In other words, if you want to increase your fitness, you must make your training plan progressively harder. How much harder? In general terms, the workout needs to exceed the current level of adaption, by stressing the body beyond what it did before. Without stress fitness cannot improve.

Physical stress, is evident when you are fatigued after a hard workout, or after several days of hard training. This is a sign, that your body has been overloaded, and will respond positively if the overload wasn’t too much. If it was too much, then you are into overtraining, and the overload is too great for adaption to occur. Instead causing you to break down in some way or another or perhaps even getting sick. Of course you shouldn’t take this principle to mean the training should become harder every day, in every way, to progressively increase the stress. There are times when you must reduce the workload in order to recover.

Your training plan will incorporate periods of overload and then recovery for you to progress. If you learn only one thing from this course, make sure you understand the benefits of working in cycles of stress and rest.

Tip 1: I tell my rowers, "Make your easy days easy and your hard days hard." "Treat your recovery days as training days." You need to have recovery, or else the body will not rebuild, and you’ll end up weaker.


2. Specificity

There are two broad physiological categories of changes that take place in your body when you exercise. Sport scientists refer to one category as central, and the other as peripheral. Central changes, primarily occur in the heart lungs and blood, but if all you do is row you’ll never even come close to achieving your potential as a great rower. That’s because of the necessity to also build peripheral fitness.

Peripheral change, is mostly to do with muscles. To train your muscles for rowing, you need to incorporate strength training to increase the power of the rowing specific muscles. It isn’t enough to simply load of working muscle with a lot of weight, you must move it in a way that is very specific to the way our muscles are used when rowing. For example dead lift, squat, bent over rows and single leg lunges to name a few.

So which is more important? Central fitness or peripheral for fitness? Both are critical. You wont be able to achieve your best performance as a rower without both systems being well trained and prepared.


3. Reversibility  

Reversibility is all about losing fitness. Whenever you miss a training session you will lose some fitness, albeit a very small loss that probably couldn’t be measured in an exercise physiology lab. However, after several days off from training, the rest would become great enough that it could be measured. This is called reversibility, use it or lose it. This doesn't mean you should never take a day off, there are certain times when it’s warranted. You need to take a day off for instance when you are really fatigued or to freshen up for a target regatta. I recommend at least one day a week where you rest and recover. For some rowers coming back from a few years off, a day or more off every week may be necessary in the first few weeks in order to adapt to the increase loads.

The basic idea of reversibility is that your fitness is always changing, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively and you have complete control over this direction. Too many days off training will see your fitness drop yet a day off every now and then can be beneficial. Consistency in training is key.

Note: Those that train most sessions ‘hard’ , because they like it, or they believe in The ‘no-pain, no-gain’ Approach, often end up having to take days off due to fatigue, injury or illness.


4. Individuality

The principle of individuality simply means, that as an athlete you are unique in many ways. Sometimes your uniqueness means, it’s best that you train in a certain way. You may be very good at the short sprint regattas, but not so great at the longer head races or time trials. Since you are unique, it therefore follows that your training must also be unique. You may not be able to do what your training partner does and expect the same results even though your favourite rower or star athlete may do a certain workout that doesn’t mean it’s good for you too.

The training program you follow, must match your distinctiveness if you are going to achieve your potential. That's why you’ll be using several tools to determine where you are with your current ability and condition, as well as adapting your training zones, to your heart rate which will most likely be very different from your friends that you’re rowing with.

Now that we've covered the main principles of training, let's get into understanding some of the key concepts you will be using to shape your approach and your training plan. Again, we are not going to get into the weeds on this, you will be taking home the key points of what the most successful Masters rowers do to prepare their season.

Remember these training principles as you continue through the course and start to create your own personal plan. Take a moment to reflect on how these principles apply to you, and you have approached your training to date.

  1. Progressive overload
  2. Specificity
  3. Reversibility
  4. Individuality


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