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Fitness - Boat Training

  • Published in Coaching
Boat Training

In Boat TrainingIn Boat Training

Nothing beats actually getting out in the boat and rowing for direct fitness, strength and technique training. A crew should be making it their priority to get into a boat as much as is possible. After all, as previously stated, specificity is key, and you cant get any more specific than actually rowing in a surf boat. 

The principles of training are really quite simple. I believe in and follow the periodisation scheme that is outlined under the Periodisation section. This is basically that early on there is lots of volume and as the season progresses, the volume decreases and the training intensity increases. 

There are some important factors to remember when training in the boat, and when doing any training for that matter. The old adage says “Practice makes perfect”. Well, that isn’t true. Only “Perfect practice makes perfect”! When doing any training it is imperative that good form is followed. This is especially important when in the boat or on the ergo, as they are the movement pattern we are tying to train for. So when in the boat (or on the ergo) not only are we interested in the work intervals and rates, but also the technique being employed. 


A good crew is one that has good technique and rows together (there should be more on this in the technique section). 

So onto the fitness stuff.


I personally don’t believe that there is a need for a session to be longer than 1 hour in a surf boat (#-see below) . That is 1 hour of work, not one hour of training (i.e. from the time you turn up to training to when you are done). You will see below that none of these sessions contain any more than 60min of effort.


Pre-season or Base Training 



This is nice and simple. Long Stuff!  



This is the stage of the season where the rowing that is done in the boat consists of long efforts at a relatively low intensity. This is the stage that any correction of technique should take place, and the correct movement patters are ingrained due to mass repetition. Putting rolling seats in can be useful at this stage of the season of you have some flat water to train in, or are preparing for some of the distance races on offer.  




Some examples of pre-season sessions:  



  • 3 x 15min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)


  • 3 x 20min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)


  • 2 x 30min @ 75% (2-3 min rest in between)


  • 70 or 80 Stroke Pyramid – 20 firm, 20 light; 30 firm, 30 light; etc to 80 AND BACK DOWN!! (efforts are done at 80-90% with light being about 50-60%)

  Pre and Early Competition




Here the training intensity starts to increase along with the volume. This is the stage in the season where the really hard work gets done. These sessions are very physically taxing and can leave you feeling flat and tired. As long as this tiredness isn’t chronic and is monitored, this is the desired effect in this training period. Only hard work in this phase will allow you to be at you racing peak at the end of the season.




Of course, doing this work in the surf is of vital importance. Improving boat skills is imperative at this stage of the season, so doing this sort of work in “moving” water is great (if possible).  



There are literally THOUSANDS of boat sessions that can be done in this phase of training. The aim is to have training intensities at just below race pace and little or active recoveries. Below are some examples.  



  • 70 or 80 Stroke Pyramid – 20 hard, 20 light; 30 hard, 30 light; 40 hard, 30 light; 50 hard, 30 light; etc to 80 AND BACK DOWN!! (efforts are done at 90-100% with light being about 60%) *Increased intensity and reduced rest from the pre-season model.


  • 5,4,3,2,1 – 1 x 5min, 2 x 4min, 3 x 3min, 4 x 2min, 5 x 1min. There should be 1 min of rest between sets and 30sec rest between reps i.e. 1 x 5min (1min rest) 1 x 4min (30sec rest) 1 x 4min (1min rest) 1 x 3min (30sec rest) 1 x 3min (etc)


  • Race simulation efforts – 2min out to sea off beach, 1min rest; 2min out to sea with buoy turn at 1:20, 1 min rest; return to shore. All work at race effort. Repeat 4-8 times.


  • Row 12 x pre set distance (which should take around 1:30 per effort). Use a ser distance to make the efforts independent on time. Row back to the “start” line of the effort as recovery (maintaining technique and some weight).




This is where the training load comes off and the training intensity increases another notch. Boat and surf skills are honed during this time. More surf work is done in this phase and the efforts are short, sharp and at or above race pace. Recovery is either light active or total.


Some examples:


  • Starts – 10 x 20-40 stroke starts (in surf). Continue to row light out the back, and catch a wave back in. Try and keep it to a maximum of 4-5 min between efforts.


  • 4,3,2,1 – as above, but start with 4min effort and increase quality and intensity of efforts.


  • Swell running – chase swells for 30sec – 1min. Rest between efforts, trying for total rest.

  Peak or Taper  




This can be a frustrating time as rowers should feel like they are jumping out of their skins and can do heaps of work, but the idea is to just do short, high intensity efforts with TOTAL rest in between.   A session can be as short as 25-30min, with there only being 5 or 6 efforts in that time. 




Some examples:   After a warm up:  



  • 3 x 2min efforts and 3 x 1min efforts with total rest (4min in between).


  • 6 x 20-30 stroke starts with total rest and a wave to the beach


  • 3 x 4min simulation races with 6-10min between efforts


  • 40min stroll along the beach (hard sand) and maybe a stop off at the ice cream shop for a gelato (low fat of course).

      #- this information is based on a crew competing in a “sprint” season and not competing in a full marathon season (eg. George Bass Marathon).



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