Olympic rowing training programme

Eight-month training plan to improve all aspects of rowing

This training programme was created by three times Olympic rowing coach Terry O’Neill. It covers an eight-month period and is subdivided into three eight-week training blocks. Each block has a specific training aim.
The high-intensity programme is ideal for veterans (masters) as their race distance is 1000m – a distance that takes between three and four minutes. It is also suitable for rowers (of 2000m) with limited training time and for clubs who normally race over distances less than 2000m. The training programme should be seen primarily as a guide: you may find it useful as it is but may have to adapt it to suit your needs.

The high-intensity programme will draw criticism from traditionalists, who will quite rightly point out that, even when racing over 1K, the sport is still predominantly aerobic. This high-intensity programme is based on anaerobic sprint training principles and not aerobic endurance. My answer is that although it is based on sprint training, I have produced a training programme that will still provide good results, particularly with limited training time.

I would like to dispel some myths. Some time ago, a research study showed that exposure to high levels of lactate could lead to muscle damage. As a result of this report, training schedules were produced that avoided building high levels of lactate. However, although lactate is an acid and can cause damage, we have to keep this in context (the damage is not long-lasting and is caused by the irritation of muscle nerve endings). The total training time in the programme where high levels of lactate are present amounts to a couple of hours a week and this exposure does not present itself as a risk.

All training causes muscle damage, and it is in response to the damage that adaptation in the muscle takes place, so that for any given level of intensity this damage does not occur again – basically, endurance and/or strength is elevated. But this damage is microscopic in nature and a natural consequence of training and it should not be confused with muscle damage caused as a result of impacts or strains.

Block 1
Weeks 1-8
Block 2
Weeks 8-16
Block 3
Weeks 16-24
Block 4
Weeks 24-32
Training aim/aims Training aim/aims Training aim/aims Training aim/aims
To develop speed over short distances and Increase mechanical efficiency To improve aerobic capacity, maintain mechanical efficiency and speed (AT) To develop the cardiovascular system (TR) and increase basic strength. This is achieved by medium intervals plus speed retention To develop fast strength and lactate tolerance. Specific to race distance and composite containing sessions from previous three blocks

See below for a guide to the types of training required in each block.
Key to blocks
MHR refers to maximum heart rate. You’ll see these terms used to describe the workouts you should be doing in each of the sessions in the blocks.

UT3 50%MHR Bursts 100% MHR Pyramids 100% MHR Pyramids (PYR) Medium intervals 95-100% MHR (TR) Anaerobic Threshold (AN) 85% MHR
Aim: to improve mechanical efficiency by long continuous rowing. Intensity should not exceed 50% MHR Aim: speed work using the creatine phosphate energy system. 10-stroke bursts flat out performed in groups of 100 (10×10), ie. 500 strokes = 5(10×10) rest between bursts is when heart rate reaches RHR x 2* Aim: extended speed work using anaerobic system. Blocks of
100 strokes performed as follows: 15-20-30-20-15, rowed flat out with equal-effort light strokes between. 4 minutes’ rest between sets
Aim: development of lactate tolerance and lactate metabolism. Series of intervals from 2-4 minutes duration are performed with equal rest. All at max speed (TR) Aim: develop cardiovascular efficiency. Series of intervals of between 5-8 minutes duration (AT). Sessions last 45-60 minutes

Further clarification of terms used in the training programme:

AN:
Training band at the border of where the body switches from using oxygen as its primary fuel source through the aerobic energy system, to anaerobic energy production (hence anaerobic threshold). There is a greatly reduced reliance on oxygen and lactate levels rise despite attempting to remain at threshold.
TR:
These are extremely tough workouts producing significantly elevated levels of lactate. They develop muscles’ ability to better combat its detrimental effects on performance.
Creatine phosphate:
This training band specifically targets the short-term anaerobic energy system directly. This energy system has very little reliance on oxygen to fuel it and instead uses stored body-fuel sources, primarily creatine phosphate, to supply the energy. The short-term anaerobic energy system supplies energy for up to 90 seconds.
UT3:
This training band utilises very low heart-rate levels (50% of max heart rate) and will not have a very significant effect on improving rowing performance directly. However, it will, develop the body’s ability to preferentially burn fat as a fuel source (at all aerobic intensities) if included in the rower’s training on a year-in, year-out basis. These sessions are also suitable for recovery and warm-down purposes.

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) recovery

You’ll see that some of the sessions have a two times RHR recovery. To work this out, you’ll need to take your RHR over a couple of days and calculate the average. Therefore the designated recovery is determined by the drop in heart rate until twice RHR is reached. RHR is taken a few minutes after waking.

Block 1 weeks 1-8
Week No. Rating Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
1 Light 30min. UT3
200 bursts
40min. UT3
300 bursts
45min. UT3
45 min. bursts
50min. UT3
500 bursts
2 Medium 60min. UT3
200 Pyr.
45min. UT3
300 Pyr.
45min. UT3
400 Pyr.
40min. UT3
500 pyr.
3 Hard 60 min. UT3
500 bursts
70 min. UT3
600 Pyr.
80 min. UT3
700 Bursts
90 min. UT3
800 Pyr.
4 Light 50 min. UT3
500 Pyr.
60 min. UT3
400 Pyr.
40 min. UT3
300 Pyr.
50 min. UT3
200 Pyr.
5 Medium 60 min. UT3
300 Bursts
80 min. UT3
400 Bursts
70 min. UT3
500 Bursts
90 min. UT3
600 Bursts
6 Hard 90 min. UT3
700 Pyr.
80 min. UT3
800 bursts
70 min. UT3
900 Pyr.
60 min. UT3
1000 bursts
7 Light 50 min. UT3
400 Pyr.
60 min. UT3
300 Pyr.
45 min. UT3
400 Pyr.
50 min. UT3
500 Pyr.
8 Medium 90 min. UT3
500 bursts
80 min. UT3
500 Pyr.
70 min. UT3
500 bursts
60 min. UT3
500 Pyr.
Block 2 Weeks 9-16

Before AT sessions, do a 20min. warm-up and do a 20min. cool-down after sessions, both at UT3. Rest until your heart rate drops to twice RHR, before going again (see above).

Week No. Rating Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
1 Hard 2×8 min. AT 3×8 min. AT 2×8 min. AT 90 min. UT3
800 Pyr
2 Light 30 min. UT3
200 bursts
2×6 min. AT 3×6 min. AT 4×5 min. AT
3 Medium 3×7 min. AT 50 min. UT3
300 Pyr.
5×5 min. AT 4x7min. AT
4 high 4×8 min. AT 7×5 min. AT 80 min. UT3
700 Bursts
5×8 min. AT
5 Low 3×8 min. AT 4×7 min. AT 5×4 min. AT 50 min. UT3
200 Pyr
6 Medium 60 min. UT3
300 Bursts
8×5 min. AT 5×8 min. AT 8×5 min. AT
7 High 6×5 min. AT 80 min. UT3
800 bursts
5×5 min. AT 8×8 min. AT
8 Low 3×8 min. AT 4×6 min. AT 45 min. UT3
400 Pyr
45 min. UT3
400 Pyr
Block 3 Weeks 17-24

30mins warm up should be carried out before TR and AN sessions. 20mins cool down on completion of the set. Rest between sets resting heart rate x 2.

Week No. Rating Day 2 Day 2 Day 4 Day 5
1 Medium 4×3 min. TR 6x2mins TR 60mins UT3
500 Pyr
4×3 min. TR
2 High 4×8 min. AT 7×5 min. AT 80 min. UT3
700 Bursts
5×8 min. AT
3 Light 3×5 min. TR 8×2 min. TR 3x4min. TR 45 min. UT3
400 Pyr
4 Medium 60 min. UT3
300 Bursts
8x5min. AT 5×3 min. TR 8×5 min. AT
5 High 6×3 min. TR 2x(10x1min.) AN 80 min. UT3
700 Bursts
6×3 min. TR
6 Low 3×5 min. TR 4×4 min. TR 50 min. UT3
400 Pyr.
3×5 min. TR
7 Medium 6×2 min. TR 8×2 min. TR 90 min. UT3
600 Bursts
6×2 min. TR
8 High 90 min. UT3
500 bursts
4x3min. TR 6×90 sec. AN 6×2 min. TR
Block 4 weeks 24-32
Week No. Rating Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
1 Light 50 min. UT3
400 Pyr
4×3 min. TR 6×2 min. TR 10x1min. AN
2 Medium 10×45 sec. AN 20×30 sec. AN 4×3 min. TR 60 min. UT3
300 Bursts
3 Hard 8×90 sec. AN 10×90 sec. AN 6×90 sec. AN 8×90 sec. AN
4 Light 3×8 min. AT 4×6 min. AT 45 min. UT3
400 Pyr
10x1min. AN
5 Medium 10×45 sec. AN 90 min. UT3
600 Bursts
8×1 min. AN 6×2 min. TR
6 Hard 90 min. UT3
500 bursts
4×3 min. TR 6×90 sec. AN 6×2 min. TR
7 Light 50 min. UT3
400 Pyr.
60 min. UT3
300 Pyr
45 min. UT3
400 Pyr
50 min. UT3
500 Pyr.
8 Medium 10×45 sec. AN 8×2 min. TR 90 min. UT3
600 Bursts
6×2 min. TR
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