Friday, February 16, 2007

Resistance Training

During the years of having a back problem I avoided doing any resistance training in the boat. The type of resistance that is achieved with a power band or rope that slows the boat down significantly. In the past we would do one session a week of power strokes with a band on, and the benefits have been in the form of increased strength.

What I have been using the resistance training for recently is to aid rhythm, acceleration and gradual adaptation. Instead of doing the traditional power strokes sessions that would involve interval work, with a focus of maximum output during the effort. The way I have been using the power band recently is to row 8 – 10km fairly continuously with the stroke rate on 18-20 with no distinct increase in effort. Rather row with the resistance and allow the loaded sensation to have the desired effect with out forcing or battling it. The result I find is that my heart rate sits around 150 – 160 bpm and the intent I carry is consistent and unwavering. The intent to find rhythm and a sense of flow with the resistance is key to the work I have been enjoying.

Due to the resistance I find it’s important not to fight the sensation of load. What I mean by this is it takes a certain amount of time for the drive phase to be complete. Think of a 100m sprinter, the aim is not to shorten the track, but to find a way to cross the distance faster. When I watch sprinters, the very best of them are super relaxed while at full capacity. This relaxation does not fight against the resistance, but allows the moment to optimise in relation to the resistance. In rowing it seems that when things become tough most tend to shorten the running track in an attempt to increase the speed. This is an illusion that is like fools gold. What appears to be a short-term reward turns out to be nothing more than a wasted opportunity that could easily be avoided. The thing I notice is that with more traditional power stroke session it becomes a focus of maximising the force you can produce and often in a way that has little care for efficiency and length. The result is unrealistic out put and dishonest application that is achieved through principles that are not ideal. Most rowers I have spoken to have said that it’s great after you take the power band off after a session and certainly coaches like to see the obvious visual exchange of effort and energy from their rowers. The sensation of ease after the band that is described is something we all marvel at. It feels fantastic in an awkward way. The perception of speed is remarkable. This is short lived though as many agree that their movement eventually returns to the old and this can be a bit of a negative in contrast.

Where am I going with all this? It’s my think that if we can increase the benefits and create sustainability then that would be more ideal. How can we create that easy, dynamic and explosive movement and make it highly repeatable?

First thing I have been working on has involved having the band on for a longer period of time. Then I considered repeating the sessions and increasing the number of resistance session in a week, say three or four rows in a week with the band on. The other element of my think is that, instead of exaggerating the force production it is important to learn the value of rowing with the resistance in a way that challenges subtle adaptation.

Using resistance qualities to enhance the rowing movement
When we exaggerate things I think it becomes difficult to embed the movement. This is because exaggerating or forcing something is like an elastic band and no much how you stretch it if it doesn’t break, it will slap back to its original shape. There maybe slight changes, but my thinking is it’s minimal. What we need is to shift both physically and mentally in a way that is reinforced and supported. Each step of growth must be meet with an immediate and appropriate support. Extreme experiences don’t allow this, as they can be a shock of unrealistic influences. They may have a place, but the view I am considering here is subtler, even systematic. Now this would be against my nature and this might be a strong reason why I feel compelled to follow this path at this time in my rowing career.

Let me use another example to show this elastic effect. If you have ever accidentally put your hand under boiling or very hot water, you know immediately the response that comes with the stinging sensation. This is what I think of as an elastic experience. It’s extreme, unsustainable, reactive and vivid. If you place your hand under cool water and gradually increase the temperature the effects are quiet different. Even as I write this I am aware that the temperature might not get to boiling point, but that in it's itself could be the lesson. Due to self-governing management approach we have inside us this approach leads to anticipatory self adjustment that is sustainable and repeatable. Is it fair to compare different outcomes involving the water temperature? Maybe not, but the adjustments and adaptations to the situation are about sustainability. Also I am not suggesting that you can keep you hand under the boiling water necessarily, but there is an opportunity to confront the extreme in a way that I think can lead to a great optimisation of ability under stress. Just maybe over time we could learn to adapt in such a way as to be able to sustain boiling water, who knows?

How does this relate to resistance training? I think it’s principally the same. If over time the gradual nature of rowing for longer periods with resistance and repeating the sessions allows the adaptation and adjustment to occur with little shock to the system. It’s a constructive building process, not an extreme tactic. The fact is both ways have advantages and disadvantages, and I have used and been involved in training that has benefited and suffered from both. This might all be one sided as I know many coaches an athletes like to jump in to the deep end at times. The results are like a scolded cat and in the short term this can produce outstanding results and performances, but does would the cat come back for more? Personally I am in this for the long haul and so my motivation is to find ways that will assist preparation long term for improved outcomes.

The resistance training I have been doing of late is an experiment and so far I am satisfied with the incremental gains. At some time in the future I am sure there will be a place in my training for more extreme methods to shock my system, but I don’t feel any need for them now. When I return back to Melbourne tonight I will be training in the single scull for the next few days and the aim will be to use the band in the way I have described. Actually it just occurred to me that because I am comfortable with my current state of mind, conditioning and motivation, I don’t feel any need to force things. My focus is on selection in about 6 weeks, but even then I see it as being a gradual building process all the way to Worlds in Munich and then on the Beijing. Not wanting to sound presumptuous, but I have to have a long-term view of the path ahead. Resistance training will play a big part in enabling me to explore loaded stresses combined with high repeatability for optimal performance. It’s a good sign that I am no longer fearful of the resistance training due to my former back injury and the genuine excitement I have for exploring the possibilities of how to improve performance is something that I am grateful for.

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