The Science of Rowing is a relatively new development in the rowing world. Will Ruth, Blake Gourley, and Joe DeLeo have created a platform that allows for the analysis and discussion of research and how it applies to rowing. I am a subscriber and I recommend checking out their website so that you can learn more about this new venture. I have learned a great deal from these coaches and therefore keen to feature a Q and A to help spread the word about this resource. Read on to find out more…
WR: I rowed in high school, though I left the sport behind when I went to college at Western Washington University, ended up coming back via the weight-room as the men’s team strength coach during my senior year. I stayed there for five years after graduating, coaching the team on-water as well as strength training, and getting a master’s degree in Sports Coaching online via the University of Denver. In 2019, I moved to Vermont and went full-time with online coaching, writing, and guest coaching at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s summer sculling camps.
More from Will at RowingStronger.com
BG: After 4 years of rowing in high school and a career-ending back injury in college I decided to start coaching at the high school level. I ended up coaching high school men for 8 seasons, I was the strength and conditioning coach for a Division I men’s rowing program for two years, and I held internships with Stanford Sports Performance, and Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. I’ve been running my own performance training business since 2010.
More from Blake at RowingStrength.com
JD: I started rowing in the summers between 5th and 6th grade. I rowed throughout high school and college. After undergraduate studies, I spent three years as the graduate assistant coach for Syracuse University Men’s Rowing. This was my first experience coaching. In 2014, I launched LEO Training. I’ve been consulting and podcasting ever since!
More from Joe at LeoTraining.io
The three of us first got together in 2015 as the “Strength Coach Roundtable” on the Rowing Chat podcast network. We enjoyed working together and launched Science of Rowing in 2020 as a way to focus more on our collaborative work and fill a need that we had identified in the rowing community. Our whole goal is mobilizing information from academic research into coach-education and athlete training practices. We have learned and continue to learn a lot from academic research, but what we most often hear from other coaches and rowers is that they can’t find it, can’t access it, can’t understand it, or don’t know how to actually put it into practice. International or top college/club programs usually have a sports science person whose job is to break down new information for the rest of the staff. We make that available to everyone, covering a variety of topics each month from injuries to strength training to rowing training and performance, for coaches and rowers of all types, ages, and levels.
WR: There’s a general movement for greater understanding of the how-and-why behind training methods and performance factors. “Because I said so” doesn’t hold as much water as it used to, and for good reason. One thing we’ve heard from rowers and coaches regarding this particular point in time, meaning ongoing pandemic-related shutdowns or reduced rowing time, is that Science of Rowing has been a great way to invest in their education, dig deep, and have more informed discussions with other coaches and rowers.
BG: The best rowers are constantly finding ways to improve. These same rowers are often strapped for time. Will, Joe, and I spend hours each month digging into our research reviews to lend rowers another way to improve, while saving them time.
JD: Rowing is a sport that has a strong emphasis on history and tradition. We feel it is very important that the sport utilizes the latest evidence-based research to inform and guide coaching and training practices.
WR: We’ve heard a very positive response from coaches and rowers who have traditionally been under-resourced in coach/athlete-education. Junior coaches and masters rowers, in particular, tend to not have the sport science resources of bigger programs or the time, desire, and ability to dive into academic research themselves. It’s also often hard to know how much research on elite performers is applicable to the non-elite. We’re always writing with this in mind: How is the material useful to coaches and rowers of all levels? We also have a few NCAA programs and high-performance rowers and coaches in our membership who appreciate having the materials condensed and delivered each month without having to go dig for it. Rigorous, practical information benefits everyone–there’s a saying here about high tides and rising boats…
BG: We hope that the information we share continues to encourage a positive change in the sport that we all love. Although some research articles can initially be focused on one particular demographic we dig deeper and use our coaching backgrounds to share our best insights for everyone involved in the sport. Occasionally I’ll receive a message mentioning that rowers had success putting an idea into practice but more than anything, it starts the conversation and gets people thinking. We don’t have all the answers, but we might stimulate some thought that will help someone’s individual rowing, or their team’s rowing.
JD: Our goal with each article and every issue is to write for coaches and rowers of all levels: juniors, para rowers, masters, collegiate/university, and elite. I would like to continue to see us grow our membership base with junior parents, coaches at the university level, and masters athletes. I believe this is where we can have a positive impact on the sport and rowing community as a whole.
WR: We learn every month through the researching process, the individual specialties that we each bring to the table, and the benefit of reading and brutally editing each other’s writing for each issue. One specific thing that surprised me is from the article I reviewed in our free Sample Issue about trunk muscle function in the stroke. Briefly, they found that the posterior trunk (back, glutes, hamstrings) were highly active at the catch and early drive, and then the abdominal muscles were very minimally active until the late drive and into the recovery. There was almost no period of co-contraction or a time during the stroke when both the posterior and anterior muscles were highly active together. In other words, the abdominal muscles act as a “braking mechanism” to slow down the torso swing around the back end. Without abs, you’d fall over backward at the release. But that’s their main function, and I think a lot of rowers and coaches really over-estimate abdominal muscle contribution and therefore over-emphasize abdominals in their training. We should be training the core muscles proportionately to all the other body parts involved in the stroke, rowing performance, and reducing the risk of injury, not just doing core circuits without other strength training, and we should include specific training for the trunk muscles and how they function in the stroke. We have a video for this article demonstrating core exercises we like, beyond planks and crunch variations, and more takeaways in the article to guide training.
CORE VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/eMw8ovSvMwc
BG: One of the great parts about this project is that we are continuously learning. I’m learning along with the readers as I write each piece. All three of us learn from each other’s pieces as well. Even if I start researching a subject that I think I have a good handle on I find a rabbit hole of research that further clarifies or changes my position. The biggest trend that has stood out to me thus far is the need for individualization and the importance of communication. Communicate clearly with your athletes or yourself and adjust to the individual, as the same method won’t work for everybody.
JD: Overall, the research continues to shine the light on how important it is to do the fundamentals at a very high level. For example, this fall I reviewed a journal that looked at rib injuries in a collegiate team. One of the factors they found was that the athletes were not meeting the recommended daily requirements for calcium. A very simple and critical ‘to do’ for every athlete at every age and level is to ensure you take a food-first approach to your diet and nutrition. You have to have make sure that the food you consume meets the energy requirements for your training and daily life activities, otherwise you run the risk of being in a perpetual state of low energy availability
WR: I’ve really enjoyed the response from researchers whose work we’ve reviewed. We try to team up whenever possible, bringing them onto the podcast or bonus content to discuss their experiences and share their knowledge further. It’s too much work for one person to be coaching, collecting data, publishing research, and also writing for a general audience, making accessible videos and graphics, posting on social media, and doing podcasts and such. We’ve been able to help get the information out more broadly, which the researchers seem to really appreciate and support.
BG: In general people have found them to be really thought-provoking. Like Will said, amplifying the research and broadcasting it out to a wider audience has allowed people to be exposed to ideas they may have never seen. Sports science is often seen as only for elite or high-performance athletes, so it’s fun to hear from people introduced to new ideas and feeling an effect in their own training from something that they might have looked at initially and thought it wasn’t for them.
JD: I echo Will’s comment as well. It’s been wonderful to connect with researchers in the field and scientific community who are doing this research and providing a platform to make it more accessible to the rowing community as a whole.
We have a few different membership options. Everyone gets access to the same content: one downloadable PDF each month containing our three research reviews, video and graphic content, and a podcast episode of the three of us discussing the findings and our experiences, plus access to all previously published issues.
We offer $15 monthly memberships and $150 annual memberships (two months free). We also do team deals for rowers or coaches who want to join as a group or staff. Finally, we offer a reduced rate for anyone on a tight budget thanks to pandemic-related income losses. There’s no specific income amount required for this, just email us and we’ll work it out with you so finances aren’t a barrier to joining.
We have two free issues available presently. One is our Sample Issue that we launched with in August of 2020, featuring the core training research we mentioned earlier, a study on textured insole technology and rowing performance, and a review of injury data on competitive masters rowers. We also have a “Best of 2020” issue available for free, including three of the most popular articles from our first four issues. You can create a free account with your name and email address only (no credit card required) at the link below to download both of those.
SAMPLE ISSUE LINK: https://scienceofrowing.com/sample-edition/
WR: Right now we’re focused on putting out one good issue after the next, along with all of our other work and coaching. We’d love to do workshops and training events in the future, once that’s feasible again. We’ve talked about this for a few years now, but have always been too busy with coaching or too scattered across the country (now world, with Joe in Ireland for 2021 pursuing a master’s degree) to pull it off. We’re able to produce Science of Rowing entirely between the three of us, all the way from writing to final product and delivery, and that gives us a lot of flexibility to grow it organically and respond to what readers actually want as our membership grows each month.
BG: Over the next year I’d love to see this get into more and more hands. I’d love to see more discussions generated by our work, and I’d love to see the sport of rowing continue to evolve based on ideas that we’re sharing. I also think everyone has different learning preferences, so being able to offer different ways to digest our information beyond the article, graphics, video, and podcast, getting into in-person seminars or online webinars can offer an extra element of engagement for even more learning and discussion.
JD: As the world begins to move out of the COVID-19 Pandemic I think we can start to look at the possibility of doing an in-person workshop. It would be great to do something live and hands-on with rowers and with our team. Beyond that, I look forward to continuing to produce high-quality content and growing our membership base at all levels, as well as starting to gain greater membership internationally.
Check us out at ScienceofRowing.com. You can download two free sample issues, one from when we launched in August and the other a “Best of 2020” issue. Membership includes access to all previously published issues, so join us for one month and then decide later if you want to stick around. Each issue includes three research reviews, bonus video, and graphic content to help move the knowledge into practice, and a podcast episode of the three of us discussing the articles and our hands-on experience with the takeaways, as well as occasional guest interviews with experts from around the rowing world.