Tag: winter training

Improving your technical skills during winter training

Coxing Technique

Improving your technical skills during winter training

Next week is our last week on the water and then after that – it’s winter training time, baby.

A common question I get around this time of year is how to become a better coxswain when you’re stuck on land for 3-5 months. (For starters, scroll through the “winter training” tag.) It definitely requires a bit of creativity and a lot of initiative, particularly when it comes to improving and refining your technical eye. I’ll be the first to admit that my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m watching people erg so it takes more effort than usual to get/stay engaged but – and yes, I know this is beating a dead horse – having a loose plan of the skills I wanted to improve always made it easier because I could zero in on specific things to watch/listen for rather than just staring off into the void.

Related: Hi, I am a novice cox and was just wondering about what to do during the winter training. Thank you so much.

Below are a couple ideas to help you form your own plan for tackling the indoor season.

Get on the ergs

I talked about this in more detail in the post linked below so definitely check that out but when you’re off the water (and even when you’re not), one of the best ways to develop an understanding of the stroke so that you’re able to effectively coach the rowers from inside the boat is to get on the ergs or in the tanks with them. Nobody cares about your splits and nobody cares if you’re not as good as the top people on your team but you do have to take it seriously. Don’t be that coxswain that gets on the erg and just screws around because “haha I’m a coxswain, I’m so weak, I have no idea what I’m doing…”. Nobody thinks it’s funny, it annoys literally everyone that’s trying to do something productive, and it does nothing to help you earn the respect of the people in your boat.

Related: Coxswains, get on the erg

Listen to your coach

Don’t just hear what they’re saying – actually listen to and process it. Winter is a great time for note taking for this exact reason because there’s just so much content available right at your fingertips. Everything the coaches say is fair game, from the pre-practice run down when they’re laying out the workout, the goals for each piece, what the focus and takeaways are, etc. to what they’re saying when they get up right behind someone and are pushing them to get their splits on track. The former helps you develop and understand the nuances of the training you’re doing and the latter helps you go from a coxswain who says “get those splits down!” to one who says “alright Sam, sit up and find your length at the front end, get that 1:43 back now on this one…”.

Listening to what’s being said is half the work. You can easily – easily – fill up a page in your notebook with calls and things you’ve heard over the course of a single practice but before you start saying the same things yourselves, you’ve gotta make the connection between what the coaches are saying/asking for and what the rowers are actually doing. Our phones make this so simple now too because you can isolate each part of the stroke into 1-2 second slow-mo clips and really analyze what you’re seeing and how the feedback they’re getting initiates or impacts the changes they make. (Couldn’t do that in the dark days before iPhones, circa the early to mid 2000s).

Related: Row2k interview with Katelin Snyder on winter training

Learn how to call drills effectively

This was a mandatory part of winter training for the coxswains when I was in high school – we’d frequently do the same technical drills on the ergs that we’d do on the water and the coxswains were responsible for their execution. I remember being super intimidated when I initially had to do it but one of the varsity coxswains and said they all sucked and had no idea what to say the first few times they did it but this exercise is what helped them get comfortable coxing everyone on the team (not just their normal rowers) and allowed them to test run different calls, tones, ways of executing the drill, etc. with minimal backlash if something went wrong. I’ll say the same to you guys too – we all sucked at this stuff when we first started. None of us knew what to say and the stuff we did say made us cringe because we thought it sounded stupid AF. Persisting through and past the urge to crawl inside yourself is such a necessary part of this though – if you can do it on land, you can definitely do it on the water where and when it counts the most.

In addition to improving the call and tone side of drill execution, actually learning the purpose of the drill, what your coach is trying to accomplish by doing them, the important things to watch for, etc. were also a key component of this. Combine that with actually getting on the ergs and going through the drills yourself helps you improve your ability to explain what it should feel like to the rowers. “Hang your weight off the handle” might not always make sense to someone but “you wanna feel the lats engage as the blade enters the water and the leg drive begins” gives a bit more clarity to an otherwise arbitrary call. This is especially important if you’re coxing novices or other less-experienced rowers. In the more senior boats, attention to detail like that can be a difference-maker throughout the season when it starts to be less about how powerful you are and more about how well you move the boat.

Image via // @harvardheavies

Training: Overtraining vs. Burnout

Rowing Training & Nutrition

Training: Overtraining vs. Burnout

Now that we’re approaching the midway point of the winter training season, I wanted to follow up on the previous training post on pain vs. soreness and talk about overtraining and burnout. Today’s post is a super brief overview of what both are so that as we continue through the winter months you (rowers and coxswains) can be aware of the signs + symptoms and hopefully catch yourself (or a teammate) if you suspect you’re experiencing one or the other.

Overtraining

The simplest definition is this: overtraining is the result of working your body too hard and putting it under more stress than it can handle. It occurs when you go through a period of high intensity training and fail to give yourself enough time to properly recover and repair the damage done to the muscles. Since overtraining happens over time rather than with a sudden onset it can be tough to nail down whether or not that’s what you’re actually experiencing – an easy way to tell if that’s what’s going on (or if you’re trending in that direction) is if you experience “unexplained underperformance for approximately two weeks even after having adequate resting time”.

When you push your body despite it telling you that you need to back off, your performance is gonna suffer (or the very least plateau) because muscles that are this fatigued aren’t able to work as efficiently or respond as quickly as muscles that are receiving an adequate amount of rest post-workout. (This is another reason why it’s important to know the difference between pain and soreness.)

Related: Training: Pushing hard and pain vs. soreness

It can be easy to explain away the more obvious physical symptoms of overtraining (having trouble finishing workouts, having low energy, insomnia, etc.) but one of the stand out symptoms is an elevated resting heart rate over the course of a few days post-workout. Tracking your resting heart rate is good practice in general but it can be really useful in instances to help you identify what’s going on with your body.

If in the two to three days following a hard workout you notice that when you wake up in the morning (i.e. after a sufficient period of rest) your RHR has increased from its usual average of (for example) 52 BPM to 60 BPM, that can be an indication that your body hasn’t fully recovered from that workout. Keep in mind too that RHR is pretty variable – a fluctuation of a couple beats is normal but what you’re looking for in this case is an increase of 5-7 BPM above what your normal average is.

Now, obviously one data point isn’t enough to declare yourself “overtrained” but if you continue tracking your RHR in the mornings and see that over the course of two or three weeks it continues to rise, it’s likely that you are overtraining and need to take a step back to give your body more time to recover between practices.

Burnout

Burnout and overtraining tend to get used synonymously but where overtraining is a type of physical stress, burnout is a type psychological stress that’s characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion. You tend to lose interest and motivation in your sport (before developing aggressively strong aversions or resentment towards it if you continue trying to train), your energy levels are pretty low, and there’s this nagging feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle because regardless of how much (genuine) effort you put in, you’re not satisfied with the results you got and/or you’re not achieving the ones you want.

One of the things that leads to burnout is not having any semblance of balance between rowing and your actual life. There’s a big difference between “loving” it and being so obsessed with it that you become what’s known as a “24 hour athlete”, where you essentially live and breathe crew to the point where you have no time for anything else (social or otherwise). The resulting loss of your internal motivations leaves you with only external “obligations” to continue on with the sport – the big one that we’ve all probably experienced at some point is not wanting to let down our coaches, teammates, or parents.

Another factor that can lead to burnout is one I struggle with and know other coxswains will relate to as well: self-imposed unrealistic expectations. This leads to the same loss of energy, motivation, and interest in participation that I mentioned before because you’re consistently failing to meet standards that go beyond what would be considered reasonably achievable in any normal situation. When you hit that tipping point (which is different for everyone but you know it when you experience it), you find that you’re just exhausted trying to process everything to the point where all you want to do is … nothing … and even that can seem like it’s too much effort.

The process of recovery here is a little more complex thanks to the scales being tipped more towards the mental wellbeing side than the physical side. That’s not to say there isn’t a physical component, it’s just not as prevalent as with overtraining. When it comes to burnout, an extended period of time off is usually the first step, mainly because it helps you clear your head which in most cases is what’s needed the most. Another step is reevaluating your goals … or if you didn’t have any concrete goals to begin with, developing some so that you’ve at least got something to work towards rather than just aimlessly going to practice each day without any actual reason to (beyond those external obligations).

Recovery from burnout isn’t a quick process. With overtraining you can take a week or two off to let your body sort itself out but with burnout … burnout gnaws away at you over a really long period of time which means the time it takes you to get back to 100% isn’t a matter of weeks but rather a matter of months. I took five years off from rowing (and sports completely) before I felt like I was mentally and emotionally stable enough to jump back into it. When you consider that burnout is usually coupled with anxiety and/or depression too, it makes sense why taking an extended time off is the healthy and necessary thing to do … it’s just a matter of convincing yourself that it’s actually OK to do that, which in my experience is the hardest part.

There’s a lot more that goes into overtraining and burnout than what I’ve listed here so I’d definitely recommend doing some research on your own so you can educate yourself further on the signs + symptoms (and dangers) of both. Between the horde of exercise physiology and sports psych classes I took in college, I read a ton of papers on this so you’re interested in reading some actual peer-reviewed research, let me know and I’ll dig out the links to the ones we spent the bulk of our time discussing. If you wanna read something a little less dense, Wikipedia and the NCAA both give a solid overviews, as does this article from The New York Times called “Crash and Burnout“.

Training: Pushing hard and pain vs. soreness

Rowing Training & Nutrition

Training: Pushing hard and pain vs. soreness

Now that most of us (in the Northeast at least) are in the early stages of winter training, I wanted to deviate from talking about coxing for a minute to go over some training stuff that’ll hopefully help you guys make it through the next few months injury-free.

Related: Do you have any advice on dealing with a coach pressuring you to continue practicing through injury?

Runner’s World posted a great article last summer on the difference between pushing hard and overtraining where they described the goal of pushing hard as “stressing the body just beyond your fitness level to gradually increase the stress loads on your body and ensure recovery”. Their example was that if you’re doing six sets of intervals with three minutes rest, “pushing harder” might mean transitioning to eight intervals or reducing the rest to two minutes. You’re basically putting your body just far enough outside its comfort zone that it gradually begins adapting to the added stress and you, as a result, get stronger/fitter.

The hurdle that a lot of people hit though, particularly younger athletes or walk-ons who might be completely new to sports in general, is not knowing the difference between soreness and pain.

Soreness

Soreness is there but it’s not in your face. It’s mainly concentrated on the muscles so when you’re working out you might feel some tightness in that area but while just going about your regular activities it shouldn’t be more than a dull ache that only really makes itself known if you’ve been inactive for awhile. Standing up after sitting through a long lecture or when you first get out of bed in the morning are when you might feel it the most.

When you’ll feel it the most is around 24-48 hours later, which is why it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness. As long as you stretch or roll out you should be OK to keep practicing, although it might be worth taking a day off from the erg and hopping on the bike or going for a run instead. If you get back on the erg the following day you might feel some lingering soreness but it shouldn’t be anything that actually detracts from the quality of the workout. If it is, spending a longer amount of time rolling out will usually help.

Pain

This is that sharp feeling that hits you all of a sudden in the middle of a piece or when you move a certain way, like bending over to pick something up. Rather than just being focused on the muscles, pain can/will extend to your joints too, which is when you start hearing about a “shooting pain” in the knees, shoulders, hips, and low back.

Unlike soreness which might hang around for a day or two at most, pain can be felt for several days at a time, sometimes consistently and other times off and on, even after taking time off to rest. It’s at this point where you should be making an appointment with the trainers or your doctor, particularly if it’s been a week or more without any improvement.

As your workouts get longer or ramp up in intensity, experiencing some soreness is inevitable but still manageable as long as you’re diligent about going through some sort of recovery sequence after practice. If you don’t have 10-15 minutes to spare because you’ve gotta get to class, make sure you’re holding yourself accountable and finding time to do it later in the day.

Sharp pains or anything that instantly makes you think “this isn’t a normal feeling” isn’t something you should push through because that’s what leads to an injury. Communicating that to your coach is important so that they’re aware of what’s going on and can adapt the workouts as necessary while you recover. Get over yourselves, put your egos aside, and keep your coaches informed if/when you’re not at 100%. 

I won’t lie and say they’re not gonna be annoyed or roll their eyes when you leave the office (sometimes we will be and sometimes we do – it’s our coping mechanism) but I can promise you that no coach who is serious about their job and cares about their athletes will make you work through an injury. In the post I linked to at the beginning I said that if it seems like they’re pushing you to keep practicing it’s usually because they’re skeptical about whether you’re actually in pain or if you’re just mistaking soreness for pain. Knowing the difference between the two and being able to clearly articulate how you feel, what you’re feeling, where you’re feeling it, etc. can go a long way in helping you recover faster because the sooner you communicate with them, the sooner they can give you time off, and the sooner you can start doing whatever’s necessary to get back to 100% (even if that literally means doing absolutely nothing at all).

For the coxswains, there’s obviously not a ton you can do here so my suggestion is to put your observation and awareness skills to the test and just keep an eye on  your teammates. If I see the guys grimacing on the ergs (beyond the usual amount) or get off mid-piece I always ask them if they’re OK and then follow up with them a little bit later or after practice to see how it’s going. From there I’ll pass on whatever they said to the other coaches since they’re not always aware that something’s up. One of our coxswains is really good about this and being that in tune with how the guys are feeling has done a lot as far as helping her connect and develop that trust with them.

Advocating for the rowers in situations like this can also fall on your shoulders. If the coaches are skeptical about what’s going on and/or the rower hasn’t communicated with them then you might need to be the one who says “hey, just so you know Sam’s been having some back pain over the last few days and I think the 30 minute piece this morning made it worse, which is why he didn’t finish it” or “I know we’re supposed to be seat racing today but Dan was pretty sick all weekend and still isn’t feeling well – any chance we can push it back to tomorrow?”.

Again, not gonna promise that they won’t roll their eyes or be annoyed but it’s not your responsibility to care about that. You’re the messenger and sometimes that means getting poked with an arrow when you’re passing along info that the other person doesn’t want to hear. It’s not that big of a deal. What is a big deal though and can help you earn their respect of the rowers is being aware of this stuff as it’s going on and advocating for them when they need it.

Image via // @cubcsquad

Coxing Ergs Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Coxing 1000m on sliders

Next winter when you inevitably are like “how do I work on my coxing in the winter”, “how do I get ready for spring racing while we’re inside”, etc. think back to this video because this is a great idea. It’d also be a great way to walk through your race plan in the spring if for whatever reason you can’t get on the water the day or two before (weather, someone can’t make it to practice, etc.).

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi, do you have any tips on staying motivated through a long winter? This is my fifth year coxing at high school and as usual we are heading into a long winter and the girls are doing a ton of small boats stuff. This means I am rarely out on the water coxing (once since May last year, actually). I feel like I’m losing all my motivation, I don’t want to attend practice as I used to, and dread every session even though I love my team. I really don’t want to be training at the moment but I know if I quit now I will regret it in the summer, thinking about how amazing it was racing at nationals last year, and how much I want to do so again. The summer really is amazing but at the moment it is too far away to even comprehend!! Obviously watching them row in smaller boats from a launch can be beneficial but after so many hours it gets a bit tiresome. I know winter isn’t the most enjoyable for rowers either but at least they are developing and improving… I hope this makes sense! Have you ever felt like this?

I actually felt like that this past year. I absolutely love my team but there were times this past winter/spring where I questioned if that was enough to keep me coming back every day. When I first applied for the job  the coach I was talking to told me straight up that the team is small and how much coaching I was able to do would be dependent on our numbers. Last year we were really small and only had an eight and a four, which meant I wasn’t going to have my own boat to coach. Occasionally I’d take the four out if the other coaches both wanted to go out with the eight but I spent the majority of the year being a launch puppy.

Once I get bored with something I lose interest fast and I felt that happening starting sometime in late January. I’d wake up at 5am, be at the boathouse by 6am, sit around for two hours, go to work, come home … rinse, wash, repeat. There were a few times when I thought about telling the other coaches that I was just not coming anymore (during the winter) because technically they didn’t need me but I never did because even though I know they would have been fine with that, I’d signed up for this. Showing up everyday, even on the days I had zero interest in driving the 20+ minutes in sub-10 degree, snowy weather to stare at bunch of ergs, was just part of the job (at least from my perspective). I knew that negative mentality had more to do with not feeling like I had a sense of purpose than anything else so that was when I started to really ramp up what I was doing with the coxswains. I looked at it like if there wasn’t something for me to do I’d come up with something on my own and that’s what I did. We watched video, listened to recordings, shared stories about past races, talked about the technique we were seeing on the ergs, or just sat in the lounge and complained about stuff (which sounds unproductive but it was fun and actually gave me a lot of good ideas). In the spring when I was in the launch I’d take a lot of notes (either mentally or on my phone) on what we were doing, what the other coaches was saying, etc. and then I’d pass that along to the coxswain(s) to use for the next race/practice. It was a good way for me to feel productive and in turn it helped the coxswains, which by that point had been firmly established as my “niche” on the team.

Being bored during the winter is a given. It’s going to happen so you just kinda have to accept that it comes with the territory of being a coxswain. I think it’s good to not always have something to do (like you do when you’re on the water) and to be able to just sit and quietly watch but it does get old after awhile. If you don’t have something to do, come up with something on your own. See if you can get the other coxswains on board with having weekly meetups during practice where you talk about a recent race, film the rowers on the ergs so you can study their technique, crowdsource calls for races, practice, drills, etc., … stuff like that. The winter is a GREAT time to work on your technical eye so try to come up with (as juvenile as it sounds) “activities” that focus on that. (You can obviously do that on your own but I think it’s a good idea to do it in a group when you can.) At the very least, this would be a GREAT opportunity for you to step up (as, I’m assuming, one of the more experienced coxswains on the team) and take the initiative to help train the younger coxswains.

Don’t be afraid to take some time off either. I’ve said this every year but outside of the summer, the winter (particularly the start of winter training/anytime before Christmas) is really the only opportunity that coxswains have to take a break. If you’re feeling burned out, bored, or you need to get back on track with classes, talk with your coaches and see if you can work something out. Obviously don’t say “I’m bored and don’t want to come anymore, hit me up when it’s time to go back on the water!” but just communicate how you’re feeling and if the coaches don’t foresee any immediate need for you to be at practice, see if it would it be possible to take a couple days/week/two weeks off to recharge. If they absolutely insist that you come every day, bring a notebook on the water with you and start taking notes. I try to write down just about everything the coaches say (to individuals and the whole crew) on technique, as well as whatever offhand phrases they say that could potentially turn into calls so I can share it with the coxswains later. “Try less hard to go faster” is one of my recent favorites. I’ve been working on this for most of the fall so I’ll probably spend some time next week now that we’re indoors organizing the Google Sheet I’ve got everything sitting in so it’s ready to go for our training trip in January. A project like that might sound sorta unnecessary in theory but I think it’s useful and it’s a good way to utilize time that I’d otherwise spend mindlessly staring at erg monitors.