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Rowing Analysis

Seeing as how I’m not posting the workouts this week I figured I would busy myself with a discussion about the days workout. Today’s workout is a fun one because it can tell us a lot about an athlete and their ‘engine’. So, let’s delve into it a little further.
We have two extremes in the athletic realm. With power at one and and capacity at the other, the contrast can be seen in a workout like today’s. While there are a few variables that can play into it, like rowing technique, workouts like this give us a pretty good idea of which end of the spectrum our athletes lie towards.
In the sport of CrossFit we want it all. Tons of power with the capacity to extend into long periods of time. It’s very challenging to concurrently develop the body’s energy systems but it can be done and certain coaches and athletes are making some pretty big waves with this type of training; doing what most people once thought to be impossible.
Todays workout was 1000m row, rest 3 min, 750m row, rest 2 min, 500m row, rest 1 min, 500m row. The rower is a great tool for this type of testing. With the way the machine works, as well as the stroke (closely resembling a dead-lift) we can see both power and capacity expressed in the same workout.
Now, in a perfect world, being CrossFitters and striving for excellence in every corner of fitness, we would want to have a low split for each effort and also be able to maintain that low split across all 4 efforts. The problem is that these two qualities are at opposite ends of the spectrum (Power-Capacity). For consistent splits we need a well developed aerobic system that can recover well between efforts. While to achieve low split times we need a powerful body that can pull hard enough to accelerate the rower. This high effort, high power output requires large amounts of energy and produces metabolic waste that causes fatigue and discomfort.
To have the best of both worlds, we need to make sure we balance our training across both domains so that we can develop the power to pull hard on the rower but also the stamina to provide enough energy to sustain that power output as well as clear any metabolic waste.
3 Examples from the morning classes:
Dave: 1000m – 3:16(1:38/500m)
750m – 2:45(1:50/500m)
500m – 1:53(1:53/500m)
500m – 1:49(1:49/500m)
Alastair: 1000m – 3:40(1:50/500m)
750m – 2:44(1:50/500m)
500m – 1:50(1:50/500m)
500m – 1:52(1:52/500m)
Moe: 1000m – 3:26(1:43/500m)
750m – 2:41(1:48/500m)
500m – 1:50(1:50/500m)
500m – 1:52(1:52/500m)
With the data above we can see a few different things and a few trends. First we have to decide what this data represents. As our workout was programmed as ‘Max Effort’ we should assume that each athlete went as hard as possible for each row. This gives us two metrics 1. How much power the athlete is capable of producing and 2. How sustainable that power output is.
Looking at Dave, one things is very clear – Dave can generate massive amounts of power. His 1000m row was 10s faster than Moe’s and 24s faster than Alastairs. However, if we compare his 500m split from 1000m to 750m we see that that high output is not sustainable. He loses 12s on his 500m split even though the distance is shortened by 25%. If Dave were to do both efforts fresh we would see the 500m split even lower on his 750m row. This tells us that individually, Dave’s is producing more than enough power so to improve his overall ‘Fitness’ he would be best served focusing his energy towards building his capacity to sustain high efforts as well as recover from them.
Alastair falls on the opposite end of the spectrum to Dave. He still has a good level of power output but what really stands out is stamina. Looking at his split times over 500m we would normally see some amount of accumulated fatigue after the 1000m and 750m rows but5 Alastair is steady as a rock. If Alastair wanted to improve his performance on this workout he would be best to train in a manner that develops power. Heavy weight lifting and shorter bursts of <30s with full recovery.
Moe is our middle man. He’s still generating exceptional amounts of power but, as you can see in his splits, he’s only accumulating a small amount of fatigue as he does it. This is great from a fitness perspective. It means that Moe is as ‘Fit’ as he can be right now. Moe could choose to improve either his recovery ability to be more like Alastair or his power output to be more like Dave. The important thing to remember is that if he ups his power for the next time he performs this workout and we see a stark drop in recovery, that doesn’t mean he’s become any less ‘Fit’ or that his recovery has gotten worse. It just means that he is unable to recover from the increased amount of power he’s now generating.
There are plenty more details we can extrapolate from this data but for me this is the most important. CrossFit is a sport of balance in energy systems. Tests like this easily show us where we can quickly put some focus into improving our fitness. And this is the basic foundation for block periodization.

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