The Self Directed Rowing Athete: How To Train Effectively When Traveling For The Holidays

The Self Directed Rowing Athete: How To Train Effectively When Traveling For The Holidays

It’s a fun time of year. Often that comes with travel and family time. It’s all awesome stuff. However, sometimes travel presents some challenges in terms of keeping training going.

One of the key competencies that I instill into my athletes and students is the competency of being a self-directed athlete/learner. This set of skills is key for any athlete and has parallels to learning in an educational setting.

In essence, the skill I am looking for in my athletes when they travel or other similar situations is fundamentally the ability to be resourceful in a different environment. If there is no access to water or a rowing machine, what are the best strategies for getting some training done?

Set Expectations

I personally never expect to make huge gains in physiological performance while I am traveling. I am usually happy to find somewhere to train and maintain fitness levels. Even if you only manage a 20 min run each day for a few days, that is much better than doing nothing.

This is primarily about not losing ground.

It is also possible that you have just finished a important block of training with lots of volume. It can be beneficial to scale the volume back, allow your mind, body, and spirit the time to rejuvenate and rest.

Therefore, entering a period of training for a week or two might be what you body needs to repair from the hard block of training, so you can reap the benefits of the hard work you have already done.

Reaching peak performance is always a balance of fitness and recovery.

I recall going back to the UK to visit family during the December/January holidays while I was rowing at Boston University. I spent the three weeks running, doing some lifting and rowing the single on the River Thames, mainly doing UT2/UT1 work. When I returned to the US, although I had not trained with the same high volume as the three weeks before, I always went faster on my 2K in mid January because my body had the time to “catch up”.

Plan A Training Strategy For Your Trip

It’s a good idea to research if there are any gyms or rowing clubs in the area. If there is a chance you can find access to a rowing machine. This makes a good difference to what you can achieve while on the road. Making a phone call or sending an email is a good option. Best case, the club or organization has a guest policy and you will be able to get some strokes done in a boat or on the Erg and do some networking!

Planning also involves getting your traveling nutrition in order. This could mean packing a supply of protein bars so that you have a healthy option while hungry in airports, or when food is not available wherever you are staying. Packing a water bottle to stay hydrated is also key.

I am currently in the habit of logging my calories for every meal and snack. I use the app Lose It, I like the app, and I sure that there are others out there that are just as useful.

I find it helpful to be able to look up macros such as carbs and proteins even when I am not traveling. It’s easy to make a judgement on whether you are overeating or not and whether the food choices you are making are helping you hit your targets for the day.

Finally, write out a plan for the time you will be away. Include plans for food and for the type of training you will be doing.

If you can’t get access to a boat or a machine, here are some other options worth considering.

Walking Is Exercise!

You don’t necessarily need to row all the time or get your fitness. Consider going for a nice walk to get your fitness. The great thing is that you can walk almost anywhere and it can still be beneficial. It’s good for the soul!

Mobility and Flexibility

The great thing about the internet, provided you can get access, is that there is loads of content on YouTube. To that end, doing a few searches for yoga or mobility routines will provide the benefit of having your own personal instructor. Look for total body flows, as well as routines to help hip and ankle mobility. The added benefit is that this can help loosen you up after a long day of travel on planes, cars etc.


Pack a good pair of running shoes for your trip. I have always been a fan of running and it has been a great supplement to my training on the rowing machine. If you haven’t done much running leading up to your travel period, then start with a short amount of running and build from there each day. No doubt you may experience delayed onset muscle soreness if you haven’t run much even with a small amount of running, so be mindful of that.

One option for running includes finding a hill close to where you are staying and doing some hill sprints. If you keep a 1:2 work rest ratio and do 6 to 10 repetitions, you will be able to keep the high energy systems switched on.

Other options for running include:

  1. Tempo runs. (30-40 minutes around your anaerobic threshold zone – around 80-85% of max heart rate)
  2. Base runs 30-60 minute UT1 runs around 70-78% of max heart rate (I find it is difficult to run in the UT2 zone, but it is possible). My main point here is that a 40 minute UT1 run is a practical amount of time while staying somewhere else and scheduling around family activities and meals.
  3. Interval runs such as 3 x 10 minutes with five minutes rest (@AT).

Bodyweight and Core Training

There is always the option for doing some body weight exercises. You can build a circuit of exercises that don’t require equipment or very little equipment and get a good training session done.

For example, the following circuit could work

All exercises 40” on/ 20” off (or adjust as you see fit). Repeat two or three times (or more if you like)

Or three circuits of descending reps:

21, 15, 9 reps (for a total of 45 reps) 

  • Squats or single leg squats.
  • Seated Rock backs or dead bugs.
  • Push ups. (or push ups as various inclines)
  • Jumping Jacks.
  • Plank holds. (left side, right side, or straight plank)
  • Pull ups, or bent arm hangs. (hold for a duration)

Bottom line, even if you have a little space and no gym or equipment you could do a 18 minute to 36 minute circuit and have another option to keep your training going.

Another option that exists is to combine the body weight circuits with running to mix things up a bit. For example, running for 3-5 minutes and then stopping to do a set of pushups or core or more leg work and the when finished carrying on running for another 3-5 min interval, and repeat etc.

Cross Training – Offer To Do Yard Work!

Other modes of training could exist depending on where you are traveling to. For example, cycling, swimming, golf, tennis, team games (fun with the family!) are other options to think about.

Additionally, if you are staying at someone’s house and they need their leaves swept (it’s the time of year!) volunteer to help doing a couple of hours of yard work. You will feel good because you got some physical exercise, and you will also have expressed your gratitude for the hospitality of your hosts.

The Self-Directed Rowing Athlete

In conclusion, a sign that you are a self-directed athlete is the ability to plan for a trip and make uses of resources available to you whatever they may be. Planning for training, nutrition, scheduling, while also balancing this with family time and fun is the key. 

There will obviously be some family pressure, but if you set the alarm clock, and plan to get your training done early this plan will work.  The reality is that there are times when it’s OK to be selfish with your time when it comes to training. However, there is a way forward to take care of your training needs as well as spend time with friends and family. 

I once read that the Olympic Decathlete Daly Thomson trained twice on a Christmas Day because he knew that his competitors might not do the same and that gave him an advantage.

In summary, when I assess the students in my classes as well as my athletes, I am often looking for behaviors that indicate they are engaged and they act in a manner to indicate that they are self starters. It’s all about attitude and playing the long game when the major regattas are four to five months away.

The above provides some strategies to navigate and complete a training regime when away from your home environment.

However, the underlying competencies are universal. We want to be able to plan, assess resources, and take the initiative in any situation that comes our way in life.

If I were a college coach looking for potential recruits, I would want to see this in the athletes I recruit as it is an essential part building the culture of my team.

If I can help you with some coaching support, please consider scheduling a 15 minute free consult so that we can plan a strategy for your success, whatever you goals in life might be.

Happy Holidays!


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