Strength Coach and Author Will Ruth Q and A

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rowing stronger strength training to maximize rowing performance questions and answers will ruth

I took the time to catch up with Will Ruth author of “Rowing Stronger – Strength Training To Maximize Rowing Performance” with some questions. You can read my review of his book by clicking this link. I hope the following provides more context about Will’s journey and the book he has produced.

Can you provide some background of your rowing experience and qualifications?

My grandfather rowed way back when, and started our whole family on it. My uncles, parents, and cousins all rowed, and I knew it was only a matter of time until I picked up an oar as well. I did my junior rowing in Olympia, WA, in a small program where we rowed and raced a lot of small boats. I played club lacrosse in college at Western Washington University, but I was friends with rowers on the men’s team and found myself helping them out in the weight room when I’d see them. I studied Kinesiology at Western, and did a year-long internship as a weight-room assistant for the varsity track and field team. I was in the weight room a lot during this time, still helping out rowers, and the rowing coach asked if I’d like to work with the whole team in an official capacity. I continued this after I graduated in 2014, and also started coaching more on the water, including full-time for the entire 2016-2017 year. I have my BS in Kinesiology from Western with an emphasis in Sport Psychology, my NSCA-CSCS and US-Rowing L2 certifications, and I completed an MA in Sport Coaching degree online at the University of Denver in 2019. In addition to the Western program, I’ve done coach education for local high school programs, consultations and online programming for masters rowers, and online education via my website and guest articles and podcasts at Rowperfect UK. My goal is to help everyone get stronger so they can row faster, healthier, and longer.

How long did it take you to write Rowing Stronger and why did you want to write it?

I wrote the first edition over a few months in 2015, courtesy of a day job that left me with a lot of time on my hands. The Western coach was getting a lot of questions from other rowing programs about what our team was doing for strength training. He would give them my email address. For the most part, they’d ask the same 3-4 questions, so I found an audience with a desire for strength training for rowing resources, and also got to practice my writing and responses. I started my website based on these key questions, and then just kept writing. I got questions on social media from readers, and turned all of it into a training manual, which became “Rowing Stronger.” I got a big break when Rowperfect UK offered to publish it, which took me quickly from a local level to a global level. I coached, wrote, and learned a ton between 2015 and 2018, when I started working on the updated second edition. The second edition took me about a year to finish, and I about tripled it in length with adding extra detail, clarification, and expanded content based on my learning over the 3-4 years of coaching, consultations, reader questions, and my MA degree.

To whom do you think the book will be most helpful?

I wrote the book with the goal that any rower or coach could understand and apply the material to their own training. I wrote the core of the manual based on a general system of strength training for rowing, including the exercise science and strength training concepts necessary to its understanding, and then specific chapters on adaptations from the central system to juniors, masters, lightweights, endurance rowers, and yes, even coxswains. I tried to include enough exercise science to provide valuable context for the system, without turning it into a textbook. I also wrote it with the goal that a rower or coach would not have to be a strength training expert to apply the knowledge in the book. Use your rowing knowledge, get someone to help you with the technique of the exercises, and then use the concepts and systems in my book to build a strength training program that works for you. It’s not a “just add water” stock template system, it’s an understanding of how to apply the training concepts to your own individual rowing, equipment, and racing needs.

rowing stronger strength coach will

If you had one piece of advice to offer athletes and coaches about strength conditioning, what would it be?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. The “perfect” training program is one that gets the job done for the athletes. That means accommodating the rowing training, equipment situation, racing schedule, erg tests and seat racing, and holidays, academic breaks, final exams, and anything else. If you don’t have a piece of equipment, either find a way to get it or work around it. If the training blocks don’t line up perfectly, find a way to work around it. If the rowing coach needs to seat race when you’ve planned a heavier week, reduce the load and let the athletes focus on rowing. All training is a form of compromise, so understand the core concepts and learn how to apply and adjust them to your own situation and needs. You can still make a great improvement in the strength, performance, and injury resilience with a “good enough” training program.

There is a great quote in one of the chapters from Ed McNeely about why strength training is important. Can you expand on that quote if possible?

Yes, I love this quote. “Strength endurance training without adequate strength only means you are getting better at being weak.” Rowers get so much endurance training from rowing training already. The system of strength training that I use is based around improving the athlete’s peak force, so that their race pace becomes a smaller percentage of their max force, and thus easier to endure for their racing distance. For example, if your 2k watts target base pace is 480W (6-min 2k), it will be easier to hold this pace if your max watts is 850 compared to 750, 650, or 550. We improve endurance by increasing strength to reduce per-stroke effort, also reducing cumulative stress on the athlete to reduce the risk of overtraining and injury. It’s a win for rowing performance, a win for strength training efficiency, and a win for long-term athlete health.

Can you provide any anecdotes about training programs you have supervised that have benefitted from adding a strength and conditioning program?

One of the greatest pleasures in my coaching at Western was watching first-year novices turn into big senior beasts. Many of our athletes are first-time rowers, and almost none of them come in with a solid foundation in strength training. The athletes who really get into it and commit to the four-year process benefit immensely, and it’s impressive to look back on how much effort they put in and how much they improved month by month and year by year from where they started. I also love hearing about the other benefits of strength training beyond just performance improvement, athletes who found a love for feeling strong, and especially athletes who continue training after they graduate and become “lifers” of physical activity.

How can folks purchase the book if they are interested in finding out more?

“Rowing Stronger, Second Edition” is available on my website in print and e-book. You can read reader reviews, table of contents, and a free preview of Chapter 1 here: https://rowingstronger.com/book/

Read my review of “Rowing Stronger” – here.


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