I am writing this as a partner piece to my “Are you training in the correct zone?” In this post, I am going to discuss my methodology and philosophy when it comes to structuring a week of a rowing training plan. This model assumes a six-day microcycle with one day off per week. In this example, the first day of training is a Monday and the last day of training is a Saturday with a day of rest on Sunday.
Before I start, I want to also say that this is by no means the only way to structure a rowing training plan as there are other approaches out there. In addition, this week of training represents a generalized approach. It is worth mentioning that whenever I train a client there is always context and there should be allowances made for the fluidity of this training program should they need to scale, or can’t do a workout because other parts of their life require more of a priority in any particular day. However, the sequence of workouts is important and should be adhered to wherever possible. It should also go without saying that you need an adequate warm-up (10 – 15 minutes) and flexibility and mobility routine before training. As this article mainly focusses on the various aerobic modes, I will not be discussing this in-depth. However, there is a really good warm-up flow on Strength Coach Will’s YouTube Channel and I include it below.
Monday: Aerobic development and/or Strength/Power Training
Tuesday: Aerobic development and technical training
Wednesday: Anaerobic threshold training
Thursday: Aerobic development and/or strength/power training
Friday: Aerobic development
Saturday: Anaerobic training or fartlek training (speed work)
With the structure outlined above, 80% of the volume in the week is low-intensity volume training. The other 20% is at anaerobic threshold and anaerobic threshold training. The rationale for this is that it has been shown empirically that this ratio of energy systems has been shown in studies to be the most effective means of improving your physiology for rowing. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here and doing the majority of your work at 60% to 80% of working heart rate provides a strong foundation upon which to build. I don’t personally subscribe to the no pain no gain approach in my programs (for most of the training). Therefore, it’s worth backing off the intensity on the long rows and rowing a little longer than you are used to.
Keep an eye on your heart rate and keep it in the correct zone which can be challenging as the longer rows occur. In college, I used to think that a 60-minute row should be completed as hard as possible, so I would row the piece at 1:48 for an average. However, during my sophomore and junior years, my 2k time did not improve much. It was only in my senior year when I started to do the long rows at +20 to +25 seconds slower than my best 2k test 500m split average when the needle moved in the right direction and I ended up rowing a 6:13 at CRASH-B my senior year.
Therefore, along with the research studies, I have my own experience as a coach of twenty-three years, a collegiate Division I and junior national team member to draw from when I structure a rowing training plan.
If you want to use a spreadsheet that will calculate your zones (roughly speaking), go ahead and click the link and make your own personal copy.
There are a few ways to improve your strength. If you are younger or inexperienced with Olympic lifts (note: I am not advocating that these are the best route to go as it usually takes time and patience to learn how to do these movements properly), I usually think that bodyweight exercises or some kettlebell work are a good way to mix up the training routine and provide some benefits. As a result, Monday is a good time after a day of rest to do some strength work.
If you wish to know more about strength training and rowing, I’d like to refer you to a couple of articles written by strength coach Will Ruth. I have recommended his book in a previous post as a must buy if you want to learn how to periodize and strength train effectively. Here is a link to a Q and A that I did with Will that was published in the past. My thanks to Coach Ruth for his support of this article by providing these links.
Monday should also include some aerobic conditioning. Work this in after the strength conditioning because you want to be fresh and in control when you do your strength conditioning. If you can’t or don’t fancy the lifting then treat this as a base UT2 or UT1 day. It’s a good way to get back into the swing of things after a day off on Sunday (if that is your rest day). Another alternative for this day would be to do some circuit training (see my post here on this) to help mix up the modes during the week.
This is a good day to keep developing your aerobic base. Keep things lower in intensity the day after a strength training session or circuit training. You might be sore if you are just starting lifting or doing circuit training. So, take the time to do some UT1 or UT2 training and work on your technique. I would also add that it’s a good idea to put some drills into your steady-state rowing. If you are learning to row for the first time, and your technique is starting to break down, the drills can help get your technique hack on track and also keep your heart rate in the zone.
This is one of the two really hard days in this weekly schedule. It’s worth putting the foot down a couple of times per week and this is one of those times. Training such as 3 x 7 mins, or 4 x 8 minutes are good options for anaerobic threshold training. Make the rest 1:1 in these pieces. This will provide you with adequate time to recover and make each piece quality. Ideally, you want to aim for three pieces that are roughly the same distance rowed +/- 25 meters or better. This is more effective than one piece which is great, the next piece you do much worse because you are recovering from your first piece, and then an OK last piece.
You could also do 4 x 1000m, 4 x 5 minutes sessions. This will provide a more intense AT workout with shorter efforts. You have a certain finite number of truly “hard” strokes each week. Therefore, on a Wednesday, drop the hammer and work hard in the 24 to 30 strokes per minute. Work to maximize your power per stroke.
You are likely to be tired After Wednesday, so take a breather and go low intensity on Thursday. It’s also been three days since strength training, so you could do some strength training or core work on this day. I also recommend changing up the mode for this training. For example, it’s a good idea to mix in some swimming, cross country skiing, cycling or running. This will allow some of the low-intensity work to be done off the rowing machine or the boat. There is always the danger of pushing your back too hard on the stationary rower. Mix up the training so that it interesting and varied to avoid burnout.
Note: It is also possible to train five days a week. Thursday could be a day of rest and you can switch strength conditioning to Friday. Schedule at least two days a week for strength and conditioning. One day a week is not enough to truly see the gains.
Another light day in preparation for a hard anaerobic session on Saturday to round out the week. So work in technical drills here in addition to logging some miles. The technical drills that I would recommend would be some drills pausing at various points in the recovery. The most important (IMO) being pausing a body over. This day can also be a cross-training day similar to Thursday.
You are almost there at the end of this microcycle. Saturday’s work requires the second “hard” effort of the week. Your reward will be a day off on Sunday, so it’s time to empty the tank. The workout that I would choose would be some sprinting type efforts which are 1 to 2 minutes in length. You might also choose an effort like 30 seconds on, 15 seconds of for 10 or so minutes and at least of a couple of repetitions. You can always head on over to my article about Fartlek training if you want to know more about this type of speed work.
Finally, in an overall sense for a month’s rowing training plan, you can progress each week, gradually adding more volume each week for three weeks in a row. Then cut back for the fourth week. You will likely be in better shape by the end of the third week, but you will be tired. So your performance will be not your best as your level of fatigue will be a subtractor from your fitness and thus diminish performance. Use that fourth week to cut back the volume, but not the intensity. So a workout on the fourth Saturday might be 4 x 500m rather than 6-8 500m. If you were rowing 60-80 minutes for your longer rows, then shorten the long rows back to 40 minutes.
As always, remember to listen to your body and scale the volume either up or down as you see fit. If you are just starting rowing, then start with shorter rows and if you are a seasoned rower, then you can always add more to the training plan below. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this article is just a general methodology for preparing your fitness and getting faster each month. I don’t represent that this is the only way to get faster at rowing, it’s just my general approach when I sit down and plan a program for an individual.
I hope this piece provides some value and direction for your training. If you found some value in this article, please consider sharing it with someone who might benefit.
Also, I thrive on your feedback, so if you have any thoughts on this information or think there is something that you would like to see included, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, happy rowing!