Finding Your Winter Training Groove

There’s nothing better than taking that first stroke in the spring and feeling the thrill of it being the strongest, most confident stroke you’ve ever taken. Booyah!

Sadly, dear Novice Rower, this doesn’t happen every year. One stroke like this means hours of dedicated, hard work of the right kind during the winter.  

What swoops in to scuttle your spring rowing dreams are the cold facts about winter training. It can get lonely. And boring. And (I'll say it again!) it’s hard work. This means you’ll have a million reasons to sit by the fire and read The Boys in the Boat for the third time and fewer reasons to become that stronger and faster rower we both know you can be.

In my winter rowing life, I’ve tried a lot of approaches to make the most of winter off the water. I’ve tried new sports, erg-ed alone in my basement, joined gyms, followed online rowing programs, followed online rowing coaches, and hired personal trainers. And more.

Sometimes I’ve come back a stronger me in the spring. Other times…well, let’s just say I’ve been a tad disappointed and leave it at that.

Although my winter training has taken many forms, my most successful and fruitful winters have included the following elements:

Indoor rowing. To come back strong in the spring, rowing must be my main workout focus. I must erg a lot, in a dedicated way.

This stinks because (*understatement alert*) I am not a fan of the erg. I find it dull beyond measure. However, after a winter of erging 3-4 or more times a week, I never fail to find myself stronger on the water. While other sports are said to complement rowing (I’ve tried swimming, cross-country skiing, running, yoga, and pilates), for optimal rowing fitness they can’t seem to take the place of hours on the ol’ erg. This is very disappointing to me, and I pray every winter to find a 1:1 replacement for erging. So far, no good.

Find a tribe. I am not afraid to be alone, and rather enjoy it sometimes. But a tribe that holds me accountable is motivating and more fun. Sometimes it’s been a virtual tribe of online rowers. Other times, I’ve had friends at my CrossFit box who push me to do more than I thought possible. This year, it’s an indoor rowing gym where I get to row indoors with my on-the-water teammates (Squee!). Every “get back in shape after the holidays” article tells you to exercise with a friend, and there’s a lot of truth there. Just be sure your tribe is positive, pushes you in motivating ways, and has similar goals. Which brings me to…

Have a goal. Your goal should be attainable, measurable, and specific. This winter, I want to sit down to row an indoor 2K without feeling like I’m about to be waterboarded. I also want it to be my fastest 2K ever (and yes, I have a split and a finishing time in min, but I’m too shy to share). Think on your goal, write it down, share it with your tribe, and commit.

Strength training is your friend. I added weights as a component in my third year of winter training, and it was a revelation. Now I try to do at least some weight training throughout the year. Squats, cleans, presses, kettlebells—they will all make you more powerful in the boat. They’ve also improved my balance and my confidence, and unleash an inner Arnold Schwarzenegger I didn’t know I had. (Disclaimer: if strength training is new to you, be sure you have someone well qualified teaching you to do lifts safely.)

Get with a training program. The one constant in my years of winter training is a workout schedule/program that keeps me motivated and accountable all winter, and works toward my rowing goal. Coaches, online rowing coaches, and even personal trainers that know rowing or know endurance training are great sources. Just be sure your plan comes from an expert. Even if it costs you a bit to get one, splurge. Your rowing career is worth it.

photo credit: ejmoreno783 via photopin (license)