For this month’s post, I have put together my thoughts on including circuit training in your conditioning and why it helps. I have fond memories of the 60+ minute “Worchester Circuit” we did during college and the circuits we did before lifting when I was a high school rower.
Rowing strength physiology is 80% muscular endurance and 20% maximal strength. As a result, some recommend that the strength conditioning is that same ratio. I’m not entirely convinced because it depends on the person, but there is a certain amount of logic to it.
There are various stages in the strength conditioning program for a rower. All of this must be carefully planned out and applied in the right measure at different points in the year.
The first thing to ensure before you do any heavy strength conditioning is that you have a reasonably good level of base fitness. At the beginning of a season, it would be wise for you to spend the first few weeks of your training in the low-intensity zones and establish a reasonable level of base fitness before you do any high volume/heavy strength conditioning.
This first phase of strength conditioning is called anatomical adaptation and is a prerequisite before any other strength training takes place. With that said, I am also advocating for this type of training happening at most points in your training calendar, particularly at the parts of your plan where you are building aerobic capacity and muscular endurance.
As part of anatomical adaptation, I usually give my clients a simple 8-10 station circuit training routine which works the entire body. Rowers were doing circuit training well before it was modified and called CrossFit.
The different exercises are planned by alternating between legs, core and upper body. Avoid putting two or more exercises in the sequence that work for the same muscle groups. For example. The series of air squats followed by crunches followed by pull-ups makes more sense than air squats, lunges, and star jumps sequence.
As far as reps and time goes, I find it is crucial to proceed appropriate to your experience level, and fitness allows.
As an example circuit, I present the following.
I would start by doing as many reps as you can in 40-45 seconds (you can scale up or down as appropriate for you) and then rest for 15-20 seconds before the next exercise. If you have a higher level of fitness and experience, you might increase/decrease the work/rest time or eliminate it (rest time) entirely. Aim to keep a pace that you can maintain for the entire time you are performing the exercise.
1. Rowing Machine
2. Sit Ups
3. Star Jumps
5. Lemon Squeezers (abs)
6. Push Ups
7. Alternate Leg Lunges
8. Superman Hold
9. Tuck Jumps
10. Triceps Bench Dips (find a chair or similar sturdy object)
To bring the intensity down between exercises you could choose to do 1 minute of high knees in place before going to the next exercise. High knees give you a little break while reasonably maintaining the heart rate and keeps you in the aerobic training zone.
I have deliberately provided a sample circuit that uses the minimum of prerequisite equipment. It is essential to keep your movements reasonably simple. There’s no need to overcomplicate the types of movements you are making.
Don’t have a rowing machine handy for the first station? Then do shuttle runs over a 20m distance or find a stationary bike or even do skipping (double unders or single unders).
The trick to tapping into the muscular endurance aspect of this is to keep the heart rate in the UT1 zone on average. Your heart rate will naturally be higher on exercises such as the erg sprint, and lower on things like crunches.
There are lots of different ways to structure the intensity and repetitions. You can rest for a few minutes between each circuit. Or, you can work the circuit 2/3 or 4 times before you stop. The trick is to figure how you can push yourself without overdoing it and maintain the correct, safe and effective movement pattern for each station in the circuit.
To check you are in the right heart rate zone, wear a monitor or at the end of a round or exercises count your pulse for 10 seconds and then multiply by six.
Ensure that every movement is correctly executed and under control.
My high school coach used to tell me that make sure every movement you are making should help the boat go forward as fast as possible. Regardless of whether or not you are performing the rowing motion, this should be your mantra for anything you do in your training.
In my experience, circuit training is a useful training tool (done correctly) and results in better performance if you are preparing for a 2k piece or something else.
In conclusion, I hope that the above helps you on your training journey.
If I can help you with your training in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.