Monitoring performance of elite rowers
This thesis represents five studies of measurement and monitoring of elite rowers during periods of intensive training and competition. The first study established the smallest worthwhile effect and the variability of competition performance of elite rowers. Study 2 is a review of the literature examining measures of rowing performance and focusing on the errors in these measures using the yardsticks established in the first study. Studies 3 and 4 examined the relationship between changes in performance and changes in various markers during a period of training in a group of elite rowers. The final study focused on how three successful elite rowing coaches monitored their rowers so as to reduce the risk of overtraining.
In Study 1 the finals times for ten men's and seven women's single and crewed boat classes in world-class regattas from 1999 to 2009 were analysed using a linear mixed model. Differences in the effects of venue and of environmental conditions, estimated as variability in mean race time between venues and finals, were extremely large (~3.0%). The race-to-race variability of boat times (~1.0%) and the smallest worthwhile effect (~0.3%) determined from Study 1 were used as yardsticks to determine the accuracy of the various measures of rowing performance examined in the review of literature (Study 2). It was determined that the measurement of boat speed, especially with a good GPS device, has adequate precision for monitoring performance if wind and water current remain consistent. The off-water measure that has error low enough to track an individual’s change in physiological performance is the 2000-m time-trial on the Concept II rowing ergometer. Other Concept II measures with acceptably low error for tracking changes include peak power output in an incremental test, some measures of lactate threshold, and measures of 30-s all-out power. Studies 3 and 4 involved a group of elite rowers undertaking a month of overload training followed by a taper. Changes in test performance were compared to changes in various physiological and psychological markers. The changes in many of these markers considered to predict performance maladaptation (e.g., worsening mood, decreasing morning testosterone, increasing inflammation) actually had small to large positive linear relationships with performance. In Study 4 a rower suffered overtraining syndrome but these markers did not show the consistent changes that would have made them useful for predicting overtraining syndrome. In the final study it was found that the strategies used by the coaches to monitor their rowers for overtraining were based largely on intuition, communication, observation and their subjective analysis of training performance. These strategies had little in common with those promoted in the sport science and medical literature. It could be argued that these differences are the result of the coaches’ decision making being primarily based on subjective processes and influenced by various stressors unique to their positions. Future studies should investigate the accuracy of on-water ergometers, the utility of some Concept II test measures, the use of stress markers to prescribe training, and how coaches monitor elite athletes in other sports.