Rowers Riding: Why?

There are some great stories of rowers crossing over to riding. This is less about why some rowers might make good cyclists and more about the benefits for rowers that can be gained from riding.

Over the last two months I have done a heap of reading about cycling to learn more about how cyclist improve, race, train and stay up right in the rain. A least for a rower the greatest danger we face is catching a crab, being belted by your partner(on the water not at home), having your coach throw a megaphone at you, running head on into another crew(danger of going backwards and add to this hitting bridges), and injuring your self while cross training(weights, cycling etc). Cycling does have a risk for the uncoordnated and often unaware rower, but I believe the upside far out weighs those risks.

What I love about cycling is the match between physiology and performance on the road. I understand the various elements relating to racing and the variables, but I love the transfer of power for example and body weight to performance outcomes. Rowing is far less clear which is why I think part of rowing suffers from the art form, the lack of clarity and the mystery of how and why a boat, a crew and performances can be fickle at times.

If an athlete or crew were 10-15% better then their rivals then it would be understandable to expect they could race in and out of form and succeed a high percentage of the time, say 95-100%. Redgrave was one such athlete and when you have a small combination like a pair or four the variables of others can be controlled and contained. From my understanding the Redgrave and co where determined to be physically so far ahead of the game that the art form or mystery was eliminated. That is not to say they didn't have focus on skill or movement, but rather I feel that their primary focus was on physiology superiority. This was a focus they could control more and one that the pushed to the limits. Reports of physical outputs were always flying around the rumor mill and the physical capacities of VO2 max etc where widely discussed and believed to be true. The connection I make here to cycling is that with everything I have recently reading about the physiology of cyclists. The power, watts per kilo, VO2 max and lactate threshold all points to what some in rowing have done like Redgrave.

Rowing can benefit from cycling from the training application and capacity development to the measurement and correlation of physiology to performance. Reading about Armstrong and lactate Threshold does not surprise me as we have understood and used this LT training with great effect. The difference is quantifying it to our on water performance. Redgrave and Pinsent with their coach were masters at this and their ability to be superior to most in the sport physically meant years of dominance. They neutralised the art and mystery.

Not many in the sport have had that capacity or do they? This is important to ask, because the assumption is based on a notion of, set or pre-determined physiology. Body size, shape and physiology testing indicate potential. What if we are missing something? What I feel has made a significant difference to my improvement over the last 8 years has been cycling. Cycling stimulates something, a capacity that others may have more naturally. The question could be asked then that if it can help one then it could help everyone. This may or may not be accurate. To me it is at least individual and need to be tested. If nothing else a change as they say is as good as a holiday. Riding for a rower is like a holiday, not a picnic, but an experience that can extend and expand what is possible.

Lets compare a few rough/approx results on athletes:

Cycling - Armstrong VO2 Max 85 mil/kg (6liters plus @ 72/74kg)
Rowing - Pinsent VO2 Max 68 mil/kg (7.5liters @ 110kg)

We know body weight play's a role in rowing, but how much of a role? It is certainly calculated in cycling as a key ingredient to perform, particularly with climbing.

Watts and Watts per kilo seem common place now in cycling through testing and measurement tools on bikes. Rowing has this but is so far behind due to cost and limited size of commercial market for tools.

The thought of rowers riding and the benefits is something I feel is obvious, but I have had experiences that make the connection between training and performance. I am grateful for cycling and am enjoying exploring how far I can take improvements.


jen said…
Hi Drew,
thanks for that insight into the correlation with bike riding to rowing. I completely agree. the better i have become at bike riding over the past three years i have become a better rower.
Love your blog.
life coach said…
Hi Drew,
I like riding very much! Through your blog I want to row.
Ollie said…
Hi Drew,

Thank you so much for sharing this blog with all of us over the past few years you have been a very influential and inspirational coach in my short carer. As a rower aspiring for the olympics (London 2012??), the question do more with less is ever present, and its interesting to discuss where cycling (or cross training) fits in. I suppose cycling simply provides another means of developing and increasing both our mental and physical capacity as an athlete.
Anonymous said…
"Reading about Armstrong and lactate Threshold does not surprise me as we have understood and used this LT training with great effect"

Drew, can you describe the kind of training you're talking about and give some examples.

Anonymous said…

Fascinating post. You mention Pinsent and Redgrave and how their aim was to be so physically superior to the opposition that they would always win.

I wonder, though, if a Pinsent/Redgrave pair would have beaten a Tomkins/Ginn pair or a Free/Ginn pair.

I think we could say that Pinsent/Redgrave would have been bigger, more powerful, with much bigger ergometer scores, but I suspect that the movement and cohesion you developed in your gold medal pairs would have trumped sheer physical superiority.

Perhaps art and mystery can prevail after all over brute science and sheer power?

I certainly hope so.
Anonymous said…
Interesting thought the comparison of more grunt vs stroke efficiency.....Pinsent & Redgrave vs Tomkins & Ginn.....but the ultimate combination has to be Free & Ginn against all comers......including the Hodge & Reed GB pairing that are racing in the World Cup event this weekend in Spain.....whilst the Aussie pair have a year or two laying in wait for the next challenge on their way to London 2012.....Grobler will priority target the Mens 4- again for 2012 on home on performance there is little to suggest any serious challenge to Free & Ginn...... other than Ginn's back!!!
Michael said…
"I think we could say that Pinsent/Redgrave would have been bigger, more powerful, with much bigger ergometer scores, but I suspect that the movement and cohesion you developed in your gold medal pairs would have trumped sheer physical superiority."

Alternatively, the facts that Pinsent and Redgrave didn't lose a race for five years, winning 61 consecutive races in a row - encompassing 4 world championship and 2 olympic golds in the process, and setting a world best that lasted for 8 years (2 entire olympic cycles), all suggest that they would have had a little too much for any pair, however graceful and technically adept.

Really, it makes a lot more sense to suspect they would win than wishfully assuming apparent artistry will triumph.

Indeed, this implicit attitude that holds that exploiting one's physical gifts to the fullest is so déclassé is in context pretty offensive. "Pity those poor artisans Redgrave and Pinsent! Sure, they're fast but they can't row very well."

I mean, to criticise a supposed lack of style, and a placing of emphasis on physicality in a sport where the goal is to travel a set distance in the quickest time? And in a sport with actually very little worthwhile variance in possible body movement pattern? That's ludicrous.

It smacks of sour grapes. It's an attempt to diminish the respective party's achievements. Why? We can only assume that jealousy is the most likely explanation. For all Ginn's achievements, including beating Pinsent in the pair, the astonishing international records of Redgrave and Pinsent grant them an infinitely more celebrated legacy.

Seriously, when you see how hard they worked for it, must you begrudge them their success?

It reminds me of what Ginn had to say either just before or after he and Tompkins beat Pinsent and Cracknell at the 2003 worlds. In a fairly high handed manner, he basically suggested they didn't actually lower themselves to anything as demeaning as regimented physical preparation for their event, rather they simply went for relaxed outings in their pair (thus implicitly denigrating those who did train hard, a deliberate stab at their chief rivals). I took this at the time to be a form of bullshitting bravado. But maybe he was being honest. Maybe they didn't train that hard. Maybe the jealousy is more for the fact that some people had the work ethic and motivation to push themselves in a way he couldn't, or rather, chose not to, and saw unparalled success as a result?

Who knows? A lot of idle speculation on my part, but I felt traducing probably the greatest pair in the history of the sport - in such a small minded, asinine way - demanded some redress.
Anonymous said…
Hi Drew,

Very interesting article regarding the benefits of cycling for rowing performance gains. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on chances in cadence in cycling (i.e Armstrong's development from riding around 80rpm to over 100rpm) could be adopted blade length and gearing.

Also, Pinsent's VO2 Max was 8.5 litres, (the largest recorded by the BOC, until Pete Reed measure over 11 litres) @ 105kg (racing weight).

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