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Transitioning Back to the Water After Winter Training

Transitioning Back to the Water After Winter Training

As the spring season gets started, there is growing excitement to get off the ergs and back into the boats all around the country.  Some southern teams even have races completed!  Do not overvalue speed in the boat too early in the spring. Lets discuss a plan of attack that can help a coach navigate the transition from indoor to outdoor rowing.

1. Attack a strong technical foundation

Your rowers have been off the water for months.  For the most part, they have been on an erg working as individuals.  They haven’t had to place or retract a blade and more importantly, they haven’t had to coordinate their physical efforts with their teammates to be effective. They will not have efficient practices on the water until they improve these skills. Technical skills to work on early in the spring are horizontal effort on the drive, blade placement, and your agenda on the recovery. Whether you are teaching a gather at the finish or fast hands away, getting your athletes on the same page in these areas will help accelerate their ability to apply force at the same point. The boat cannot be fast if the athletes are applying force at different times.

Make it a priority to understand that.

2. Fitness

​Having just spent months in the erg room, fitness should be a strength. Do not lose the fitness the athletes have worked hard to attain. If you are working extremely technical practices early on, it can be easy to lose some of the fitness base you have built all winter.  Do not let that happen!  I strongly recommend half land/half water practices to start your spring season.  A firm 20-30 minute erg and a 40-60 minute technical row is great combo for transitioning practice to the water.  Keep in mind that it is likely still going to be cold out there. Doing a 1.5-2 hour technical row in the cold is not ideal. If the athletes are too cold they will lose focus. However, I am not a fan of rowing sloppy pieces just to “keep warm”. This can undo a lot of the technical gains you are making and develop bad habits in your rowers.  As your rowers begin to gain better technical prowess, you can eliminate or cut down the erging and start doing the full workload in the boats.  Be patient with this.

3. Stroke Ratings

​Low ratings are great evaluators of timing.  Use this as a teaching tool, especially in the early transition to the water.  Higher ratings can often work the opposite way so its best to avoid them early in the season.  Build the rating slowly as your crews make progress.  When your crew can row hard and effectively at 22spm, bump your pieces up to 24 spm the following week.  Follow this model through out the spring and be patient.

If you are rowing poorly at 30 spm, rushing to race at 36 spm is usually not the answer.  

Using this approach will also help you find what ratings your crews perform best at.  Even when they have the same coach, some junior crews will be faster down the course at 34 spm and others will be best as high as 38 spm. Be patient and open minded while evaluating this.

4. Early Season Regattas

​The results at these regattas will not define your season but they can still have a lot of value. When evaluating the early season results, focus on the execution of your crew’s race plan instead of wins or losses. Crews will be at different levels of development when they race the first time. Form a plan based on how your crew is performing in practice. Based on that information, this might mean your race plan is a base rating of 28-30spm at your first race. This may be good enough to win, it may not be. That result is not all that important. After a hypothetical early season race, which crew is in a better position for May and June? The crew that took 2nd or 3rd place rowing soundly at 28spm or the crew that won rowing sloppy 6 beats too high? Odds are it’s the crew at 28spm. This crew is rowing well from a technical standpoint and still has a lot of room to gain speed as they gain the skills to bring the rate up effectively in the coming weeks. Perhaps more importantly, this crew is racing with composure. They believed in their plan and executed it despite what was going on in the other lanes.  Do not let the early season regattas results distract you from the true goal of optimum performance in May and June.  Instead, use them as a platform to teach and evaluate both performance and progress.

-Mike Wallin

Mike Wallin is a regular contributor for Rowers Choice and the Director of Rowing at Chicago Rowing Foundation.  
He rowed at St. Joe’s Prep in Philly, Cal Berkeley, and was on the US Junior National team.