Strength testing and training of elite rowers

Lawton, Trent William
Cronin, John Barry
McGuigan, Michael Richard
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

In the quest to optimise 2000-m rowing performance, various weight-training protocols have been incorporated into preparation plans for rowers, despite beneficial evidence for such practice remaining unclear. Subsequently, the purpose of this thesis was to establish the benefits of strength testing and (weight) training over various phases of preparation for international regattas for elite rowers.

Initially a series of three descriptive investigations were undertaken to establish reliable and valid strength tests. The major findings of these studies were: 1) low-repetition testing (e.g. 5RM leg pressing) is recommended, as the measurement error associated with high-repetition tests (e.g. 30RM, 60RM or 120RM) involving upper-body exercise was considered problematic when testing elite rowers (i.e. percent typical error > 5.0% or intra-class correlations < 0.90); 2) after adjustments were made for strength covariates (effect sizes (ES) = 0.9 to 1.4), greater 2000-m performance differences were attributed to the greater upper–body strength (males) and muscular–endurance (females) of seniors in comparison to junior rowers; and, 3) the best two strength determinants of 2000-m ergometer time (R2 = 59%; SEE = 6.3 sec) recommended as assessments for senior rowers, were a 5RM leg press (r = –0.69; 90% confidence interval (CI) = –0.88 to –0.30) and 6RM prone bench pull (r = –0.68; 90%CI = –0.88 to –0.28).
As descriptive relationships do not imply cause and effect, the second phase of this thesis consisted of three case-control research designs, to establish benefits associated with strength testing and training within the context of training time (weeks) available to prepare elite rowers for competition. After 8–weeks training, differences in aerobic condition ( @ blood lactate 4 mmol/L, ES = 0.15; ± [90% confidence limit] 0.28, P = 0.37) and upper-body strength (6RM prone bench pull (kg), ES = 0.27; ±0.33, P = 0.18) between weight–training and rowing–only controls were trivial. However, only weight–trained rowers increased lower–body strength (isometric pull: 12.4 ± 8.9%, P<0.01, and 5RM leg press: 4.0 ± 5.7%, P<0.01) and muscular–endurance (30RM leg press: 2.4 ± 5.4%, P<0.01). Similarly, after 14–weeks of intensive training involving resisted rowing (e.g. towing ropes), leg strength was only increased when weight–training was integrated with rowing (5RM leg press, ES = 0.72; ±0.62, P = 0.03). As the link between greater lower–body strength and on–water rowing performance was unclear, the final study investigated factors influencing selection of national crews. Selected crews who won by an average margin of 13.0 ± 0.7 seconds over 1500 meters had no better 2000-m ergometer times (ES = 0.2, 90%CL = -0.6 to 1.1, P = 0.63) nor any anthropometrical advantage, but had moderately greater leg strength (5RM leg press: ES = 1.1; 90%CL = 0.3 to 0.9, P = 0.03).
In conclusion, strength testing provides valid data on which to benchmark development and to select rowers. Furthermore, where the volume of training to prepare for international regatta is less than 14 weeks, greater leg strength to improve boat speed can be gained from weight-training.

Rowing performance , Strength testing , Weight training , Endurance , Ergometer tests , Dynamometer
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