Entries in Endurance (3)


Annual Planning, Periodisation and its Variations

Author: Tudor Bompa (CAN)
Fisa Level 3: Section 6- Annual Planning, Periodisation and its Variations.

Tudor Bompa

Tudor Bompa is the father of periodisation, a training system developed by the Soviets that aimed for optimal performance by varying the training stress throughout the year rather than maintaining a constant training focus. Bompa's training theory was laid out in his seminal work Theory and Methodology of Training

Bompa's understanding of assisted the Eastern Bloc domination of athletic competitions for three decades. He was on the faculty of the Romanian Institute of Sport.
As a coach, Dr. Bompa trained 11 medalists in various Olympics (2 gold medals) and World championships in 2 sport disciplines: track and field and rowing. He was himself an Olympic rower, and he later revolutionized the training concepts in cross country skiing. It is widely known that Jurgen Grobler uses these concepts when he plans his Olympic preparation. Bompa's book has simply been described as the Holy Grail of Training methodology and periodisation. A 'must have' for your training book collection.

North America: Periodization-5h Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training

United Kingdom and Europe: Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training

Annual Planning

The annual plan is often viewed as the most important tool for the coach to guide athletes' training over a year. Such a plan is based on the concept of periodisation, which has to be viewed as an important concept to follow if one intends to maximise his athlete's performance.

The main objective of training is to reach the highest level of performance at the time of the main regatta of the year. But in order to achieve such a task one has to carefully plan the main activities of a crew, to create the best training menu, and to periodise the dominant abilities such as endurance and strength in such a way that will result in the highest probability of meeting the annual training goals.
Considering the above goals, and the high level of knowledge of my audience, I will be focusing in this presentation mostly on the concept of periodisation and its variations.


Periodisation is a process of dividing the annual plan into small phases of training in order to allow a program to be set into more manageable segments and to ensure a correct peaking for the main regatta of the year. Such a partition enhances a correct organisation of training, allowing the coach to conduct his program in a systematic manner.

In rowing, the annual training cycle is conventionally divided into three main phases of training: preparatory, competitive and transition. Both the preparatory and the competitive phases are also divided into subphases since their tasks are quite different. The preparatory phase, on the basis of different characteristics of training, has both a general and a specific subphase, while the competitive phase usually is preceded by a short pre-competitive subphase. Furthermore, each phase is composed of macro- and micro-cycles. Each of these smaller cycles has specific objectives, which are derived from the general objectives of the annual plan.

High levels of athletic performance are dependent upon the organism's adaptation, psychological adjustment to the specifics of training and competitions and the development of skills and abilities. On the basis of these realities, the duration of training phases depends heavily on the time needed to increase the degree of training and to reach the highest training peak. The main criterion for calculating the duration of each phase of training is the competition calendar.

The athlete trains for the competition for many months aiming at reaching his highest level of athletic shape on those dates. The accomplishment of such a goal assures very organised and well-planned annual training, which should facilitate psychological alterations. Organisation of an annual plan is enhanced by the periodisation of training and the sequential approach in the development of athletic shape.

The needs for different phases of training were inflicted by physiology because the development and perfection of neuro-muscular and cardio-respiratory functions, to mention just a few, are achieved progressively over a long period of time. One also has to consider the athlete's physiological and psychological potential, and that athletic shape cannot be maintained throughout the year at a high level. This difficulty is further pronounced by the athlete's individual particularities, psycho-physiological abilities, diet, regeneration and the like.

Climatic conditions and the seasons also play a determinant role in the needs of periodising the training process. Often, the duration of a phase of training depends strictly on the climatic conditions. Seasonal sports, like rowing, are very much restricted by the climate of a country.
As the reader may be aware, each competition and, for that matter, the highly challenging training that is specific to the competitive phase, has a strong component of stress. Although most athletes and coaches may cope with stress, a phase of stressful activities should not be very long. There is a high need in training to alternate phases of stressful activities with periods of recovery and regeneration, during which the rowers are exposed to much less pressure.

Periodisation of Biomotor Abilities

The use of the concept of periodisation is not limited to the structure of a training plan or the type of training to be employed in a given training phase. On the contrary, this concept should also have a large application in the methodology of developing the dominant abilities in rowing (endurance and strength).

Figure 1: The Periodisation of Dominant Abilities in Rowing

Periodisation of Strength Training

The objectives, content and methods of a strength training program change throughout the training phases of an annual plan. Such changes occur in order to reflect the type of strength rowing requires muscular endurance (the capacity to perform many repetitions against the water resistance).

The Anatomical Adaptation - Following a transitional phase, when in most cases athletes do not particularly do much strength training, it is scientifically and methodically sound to commence with a strength program. Thus, the main objective of this phase is to involve most muscle groups to prepare the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints, to endure the following long and strenuous phases of training. A general strength program with many exercises (9-12), performed comfortably, without "pushing" the athlete, is desirable. A load of 40-60% of maximum, 8-12 repetitions, in 3-4 sets, performed at a low to medium rate, with a rest interval of 1-1:30 minutes between exercises, over 4-6 weeks will facilitate to achieve the objectives set for this first phase. Certainly, longer anatomical adaptation (8-12 weeks) should be considered for junior athletes and for those without a strong background in strength training.

The Maximum Strength Phase - Ever since it was found that the ergogenesis of rowing is 83% aerobic and 17% anaerobic, the importance of strength has diminished in the mind of many coaches. In addition, the rowing ergometer has captivated the attention of most coaches. Often the rowing ergometer is used at the expense of strength training.

All these changes in training philosophy favoured the development of aerobic endurance to high levels. The results were to be expected: rowing races were never faster than now. However, what coaches should observe in the future is that to spend the same amount of time for the further development of aerobic endurance might not result in proportional increases in performance. One should analyse whether or not his athlete has maximised his endurance potential? Or, is there anything else which could improve the rower's performance?

In our estimation now is the time to add a new ingredient to the traditional training menu: maximum strength (which is defined as the highest load an athlete can lift in one attempt). This shouldn't frighten anybody! Nobody proposes to transform the rowers into weightlifters! As illustrated by the following figures, maximum strength has to be developed only during certain training phases of the annual plan.

Why train maximum strength anyway? A simplified equation of fluid mechanics will demonstrate this point: D ~ V²

That is that drag (D) is proportional to the square of velocity (V²).

Assuming that a coach has concluded that endurance has been developed to very high levels, spending more time on it might not bring superior performance. He might decide that in order to cover the 2,000m in superior speed the rowers have to increase the force of blade drive through the water (say by an average of 2 kg per stroke). But, according to the above equation for any additional force pulled at the oar handle, drag (water resistance) will increase by the square of blade's velocity. If one pulls against the oar handle with an additional 2kg (our example), according to the above equation, drag increases by 8kg! Therefore, the need to increase the level of strength has been demonstrated.

The duration of the maximum strength phase could be between 2-3 months, depending on the rower's level of performance and his needs. The suggested load could be between 70-90% of maximum, performed in 3-6 sets of 3-8 repetitions with a rest interval of 3-4 minutes.

The Conversion Phase - Gains in maximum strength have to be converted into muscular endurance; this type of strength is dominant in rowing. During these 2-4 months, the rower will be exposed to a training program through which progressively he will be able to perform tens, and even hundreds, of repetitions against a standard load (40-50%) in 2-4 sets.

The Maintenance Stage - Strength training must be maintained through some forms of land training, otherwise detraining will occur, and the benefits of maximum strength, and especially muscular endurance, will fade away progressively. And, rather than being used as a training ingredient for superior performance at the time of the main regatta, the reversal of such gains will decrease the probability of having a fast race.

A training program dedicated to the maintenance of strength will address the weakest link in the area of strength. It could be organised 2-3 times per week, following water training and could consist of either elements of maximum strength, muscular endurance or a given ratio between the two. In either case it has to be of short duration and planned in such a way as to avoid to unrealistically tax athlete's energy stores. Certainly, exhaustion is not a desirable athletic state.

The Cessation Phase - Prior (5-7 days) to the main competition of the year, the strength training program is ended, so that all energies are saved for the accomplishment of a good performance.

The Rehabilitation Phase completes the annual plan and coincides with the transition phase from the present to the next annual plan. While the objectives of the transition phase are through active rest, to remove the fatigue and replenish the exhausted energies, the goals of rehabilitation are more complex. For the injured athlete, this phase of relaxation also means to rehabilitate, and restore injured muscles, tendons, muscle attachments, and joints, and should be performed by specialised personnel. Whether parallel with the rehabilitation of injuries, or afterwards, before this phase ends all the athletes should follow a program to strengthen the stabilisers, the muscles which through a static contraction secures a limb against the pull of the contracting muscles. Neglecting the development of stabilisers, whether during the early development of an athlete or during his peak years of activity, means to have an injury prone individual, whose level of maximum strength and muscular endurance could be inhibited by weak stabilisers. Therefore, the time invested on strengthening these important muscles means a higher probability of having injury free athletes for the next season.

Periodisation of Endurance

During an annual plan of training, the development of endurance is achieved in several phases. Considering, as a reference, an annual plan with one main regatta (Olympic Games), endurance training is accomplished in three main phases: 1) aerobic endurance, 2) develop the foundation of specific endurance, and 3) specific endurance.

Each of the suggested phases has its own training objectives:

1. Aerobic endurance is developed throughout the transition and the long preparatory period (4-6 months). The main scope of the development of aerobic endurance is to build the endurance foundation for the regatta season and to increase to the highest level possible the rowers' working capacity (the cardio-respiratory system). The whole program has to be based on a high volume of training (20-28 hours per week).

2. The development of the foundation for specific endurance has an extremely important role in achieving the objectives set for endurance training. Throughout this phase, a representation of the transition from aerobic endurance to an endurance program has to mirror the ergogenesis of rowing (the aerobic-anaerobic ration expressed in percentage). Some elements of anaerobic training are introduced, although the dominant training methods are: uniform, alternative, long, and medium distance interval training (2-5 km).

3. Specific endurance coincides with the regatta season. The selection of appropriate methods should reflect the ergogenesis of rowing, its ratio being calculated per week (3-5% anaerobic alactic, 8-12% anaerobic lactic, and the balance aerobic endurance). The alteration of various types of intensities should facilitate a good recovery between training sessions, thus leading to a good peak for the final competition.

Variations of Periodisation

Figure 2 attempts to illustrate the periodisation of dominant abilities in rowing with the goal of peaking for the Olympic Regatta. This attempt is an adaptation of figure 1, but at this time it considers the time factor.

Figure 2: A Suggested Periodisation of Dominant Abilities for Rowing in 1992

Assuming that the coach may decide that in order to take his athletes to higher levels of performance, additional strength is desirable. In such a case a variation of the standard periodisation (figure 2) is suggested by figure 3.

In order to achieve this goal, two phases of maximum strength of six weeks each are proposed (total 12 weeks), each of them being followed by phases of muscular endurance so necessary in rowing (a total of 14 weeks). Such an approach is more desirable for elite athletes with very high endurance capabilities, whose progress in the past two years did not materialise. It is expected that this novelty in periodisation will bring the additional ingredient for a higher step in athletic proficiency.

Figure 3: A Suggested Variation of Periodisation for Rowing

In many walks of life improvements were often the result of challenging the tradition. It is expected that variations of periodisation signify such a challenge.




Training Methods and Intensity Distribution of Young World Class Rowers 

By Arne Guellich (1), Stephen Seiler (2), and Eike Emrich (3)
1 Department of Sports Sciences, University of Kaiserslautern, GERMANY
2 Faculty of Health and Sport, University of Agder, Kristiansand, NORWAY
3 Institute of Sports Sciences, University of the Saarland, Saarbruecken, GERMANY

From: International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2009, 4, 448-460


Purpose: To describe the distribution of exercise types and rowing intensity in successful junior rowers and its relation to later senior success. Methods: 36 young German male rowers (31 international, 5 national junior finalists, 19.2 ± 1.4 yr, 10.9 ± 1.6 training sessions.wk-1) reported the volumes of defined exercise and intensity categories in a diary over 37 weeks. Training categories were analysed as aggregates over the whole season and also broken down to defined training periods. Training organisation was compared between juniors who attained national and international senior success three years later. Results: Total training time consisted of 52% rowing, 23% resistance exercise, 17% alternative training, and 8% warm-up programs. Based on heart rate control, 95% of total rowing was performed at intensities corresponding to <2 mmol.L-1, 2% at 2-4 mmol.L-1, and 3% at >4 mmol.L-1 blood lactate. Low-intensity work remained widely unchanged at ~95% throughout the season. In the competition period the athletes exhibited a shift within <2mmol-exercise towards lower intensity and within the remaining ~5% of total rowing towards more training near maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) intensity. Retrospectively, among subjects going on to international success three years later had their training differed significantly from their peers only in slightly higher volumes at both margins of the intensity scope. Conclusion: The young world-class rowers monitored here exhibit a constant emphasis on low intensity steady-state rowing exercise, and a progressive polarization in the competition period. Possible mechanisms underlying a potential association between intensity polarization and later success require further investigation. 

Keywords: high performance, training analysis, intensity distribution, endurance, rowing


Elite endurance athletes subject themselves to very high training loads in pursuit of maximal performance. For example, world class senior rowers compete over a 2000m distance requiring ~6-7 minutes; yet invest a training volume in a season equivalent to many hours for each minute of an international competition. A key question that occupies the minds of athletes and coaches is how best to utilize this training investment. For numerous reasons, systematic intervention for research purposes is constrained in elite sport and experimental studies are lacking to identify any “optimal” training organization for maximizing both physiological and technical adaptations. We contend that the international competition environment is a quite effective experimental arena, in a Darwinistic sense. Extreme performance standards stimulate the emergence of self-organizing processes where athletes, national teams, and governing bodies pursue the training structure which gives the most consistent success. This process together with inter- and intra-individual method iteration, evaluation, and adjustments presumably drives changes in training over time that correspond with continued performance improvements. For example, one of the major changes in the training evolution of international medal winning Norwegian rowers over three decades was an increase in total training volume associated with a substantial shift in intensity distribution from higher to lower intensities.2 Accurate descriptions of the training characteristics of highly successful athlete groups have value in furthering our knowledge about performance improvement in endurance sport and catalyzing experimental studies.

Also, within an elite athlete generation fairly small improvements in performance may be critical to success. Top performers approximate the margin of individual load tolerance in training, and minor variation in the balance of beneficial adaptation and maladaptive load-related stress reaction may account for critical differences in performance development. The day-to-day and seasonal distribution of training intensity appears to be a crucial variable in training organization for endurance athletes. Following the 3-intensity zone structure representing exercise intensity below the first ventilatory threshold (VT1; where the ventilatory equivalent for O2 breaks from linearity, without an increase in the ventilatory equivalent for CO2; typically < 2 mmol.L-1 blood lactate), from VT1 to VT2 (where the ventilatory equivalent for CO2 also begins to increase; ~2-4 mmol.L-1), and above VT2 (> 4 mmol.L-1),3-5 it has previously been proposed that two basic intensity distribution patterns emerge from the research literature.5,6 The “threshold training model” emerges from some short-termed studies demonstrating that training at the lactate threshold intensity evokes significant physiological improvements among untrained subjects.7-10 A contrasting “polarized training model” has been proposed based on observations from a number of studies describing the distribution of work intensity among elite athletes in marathon running, rowing, track cycling, and cross-country skiing.2, 5,11-16 One consistent observation from these studies is that successful endurance athletes perform 75% or more of their training (sessions, distance, time) at intensities below VT1. In addition, about 10 to 20% of training volume is reported to be clearly above VT2, (i.e. 6-10 mmol.L-1 blood lactate).2,5,11,15,17 Consequently, remarkably little training is executed at the traditional lactate threshold. Thus, the training is apparently “polarized away” from the work range characterised by moderately hard intensity. If training intensity distribution is critical for optimal performance, we might expect to see quantifiable differences in organization between highly successful and less successful athletes with similar performance potential.

Recent longitudinal observations in quasi-experimental post-hoc and experimental designs support the value of low intensity training in achieving desired physiological adaptations and performance enhancement.3,4,18,19

In the present study we extend these findings by reporting 1) a detailed description of the distribution of the exercise types and of the intensity distribution within the specific rowing workout, 2) their alteration over a complete training season from autumn until summer in a large group of internationally successful junior age rowers, and 3) a comparison of the training characteristics of the junior rowers who reached international senior finals three years later to those who did not attain this success level.


Study Design

The present study builds on the complete reported daily training data provided by 36 athletes from the men’s German junior national rowing squad. This study was approved by the German Federal Institute of Sports Science including the subjects’ informed, written consent for their training data to be used for research purposes.

All national squad members were requested to document their executed daily individual training in a standardized digital training diary and submit it to the national coach. Individual heart rate (HR) ranges for defined intensity categories in training were determined during a centralized rowing ergometer ramp protocol (Concept CIIC; 3 min stages, 20 W steps) in the first week of each training year. In addition, rowing power (watts) at 4 mmol.L-1 venous blood lactate (PLa4) was calculated from the blood lactate/rowing ergometer power relationship. The national rowing governing body did not perform standardized, centralized VO2 max testing on junior rowers. Therefore information regarding the maximal oxygen consumption of these athletes is not available. Individual heart-rate ranges were prescribed for each of the rowing intensity categories based on the stable blood lactate-heart rate relationship determined during ramp protocol rowing ergometry performed at the beginning of the training season.23 Heart rate was controlled during all rowing sessions via online HR-monitoring (Polar, Kempele, Finland).

Training monitoring

Prior to the training, athletes were briefed as to the desired training composition by the coach and provided a reporting scheme. Training was categorized as defined by the national federation (see Table 1). The training data reported here represents the executed, not the planned training for a complete training season (37 weeks, t1). In addition competitive senior success for the entire sample was followed up 3 years later (t2).

The intensity definitions used for training documentation closely correspond to the physiological 3-zone model used in a previous study of rowing intensity distribution.2 The categories Compensation and Extensive Endurance (<80% race pace; HR <160 b.min-1; [La-] <2 mmol.L-1; Table 1) correspond with work below VT1 (“zone 1”). Intensive Endurance (75-85% race pace; HR 156-168 b.min-1; [La-] 2-4 mmol.L-1) corresponds with work intensity between VT1 and VT2 (“zone 2”). The categories Highly Intensive Endurance, Race-Specific Velocity-Endurance, and Velocity Training (85-112% race pace; HR >180 b.min-1; [La-] >4 mmol.L-1) correspond with work intensity above VT2 (“zone 3”). This three intensity zone scheme has been previously described and used in both experimental and descriptive studies of endurance exercise intensity distribution.5,20-22

Training was recorded from the beginning of the training season (15th October) until the national trials for the junior world championships (30th June; 37 weeks in total). The 37 weeks were divided into 3 training periods: basic preparation period (BPP) 1st to 15th training week, specific preparation period (SPP) 16th to 25th week, and (early) competition period (CP) 26th to 37th training week. SPP culminated in the national small-boat championship regatta which is obligatory for all squad members. The CP recording concluded with the national trials.

To evaluate the reliability of athletes’ training documentation, diary figures reported to the national coach were compared to data reported directly to our research group (as “neutral” addressees) by 29 athletes participating in an anonymous postal survey after the referred season. Subjects were re-identified for this analysis based on birth date and success. The data from the training diary and from the postal survey correlated with r=0.88 (training frequency; p<0.01) and r=0.84 (training time; p<0.01). The diary figures deviated from those in the postal survey by 4.0 ± 8.5% in training frequency and –10.4 ± 12.3% in expended training time. No systematic relation between this deviation and performance achievement was observed (p>0.05, in each case).

Senior Success

The 36 athletes in this study continued rowing at a high level. We therefore retrospectively compared the junior training characteristics of 14 athletes who reached senior world championships and/or Olympic finals three years after the junior training registration period with the 22 who attained success ‘only’ at national level within the same period.

Statistical Analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 14.0. Physical, physiological, and training characteristics are presented as means and standard deviations. Training intensity distribution and other training characteristics were compared across the three defined training periods using Repeated Measures ANOVA. Comparison of the junior age training characteristics of internationally successful and less successful senior rowers was performed using Independent Samples T-tests. A p value of < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.


All 36 athletes remained members of the national junior squad throughout the observed training period (2001; t1) and became finalists at the national junior championships. Of these, 31 also reached the finals at the junior world championships, 27 attained a medal, and 15 became junior world champion. The athletes were 19.2 ± 1.4 years, 91.0 ± 6.0 kg and 193.3 ± 5.3 cm at t1. They performed a mean of 10.9 ± 1.6 training sessions and 12.8 ± 2.5 hours of (net) training time per week. Their PLa4 value during rowing ergometry ramp protocol at the beginning of the training season was 373 ± 29 W. Three years after the training registration season (t2), all 36 athletes were finalists at the national senior championships. Of these, 14 reached the finals at the Olympic Games (Athens 2004) and/or senior world championships, nine won medals.

Rowing specific activities made up 52% of total junior training time (Table 2). The remaining training time was devoted to resistance exercise (23%), general athletic training like jogging, strengthening gymnastics, and game play (17%), and warm-up programs (8%). Strength training was dominated by “power endurance” training with high repetitions performed with moderate loads (76%). The overall distribution of rowing specific training intensity is also provided in Table 2. Interestingly, ~95% of rowing specific training was performed at intensities corresponding to < 2 mmol.L-1 blood lactate (below VT1, zone 1; Compensation and Extensive Endurance range).

Weekly training frequency increased from 10.3 ± 2.5 in the Basic Preparation Period (BPP) to 11.3 ± 1.7 in the Specific Preparation Period (SPP; p<0.01) and was reduced again to 10.6 ± 1.8 sessions.wk-1 in the (early) Competition Period (CP; p<0.01). Figure 1 shows an approximate doubling in rowing specific training volume from BPP to CP. This doubling was achieved via both an increase in total training volume and a decrease in strength training and alternative training. The relative contribution of low intensity (zone 1) work to total rowing training remained almost constant throughout the entire season, but the higher intensity work became significantly more intense (Figure 2). Low intensity zone 1 endurance training made up 96% of all rowing volume during the BPP and only decreased to 94% in the CP. During the CP, there was also a small but significant shift within zone 1 rowing represented by a lowered volume of Extensive Endurance range (BPP 89%, SPP 88%; p>0.05; CP 84%; p<0.01) and an increase in the amount of very low intensity Compensation range rowing performed (BPP 7.1%, SPP 6.5%; p>0.05; CP 10.1%; p<0.01). The remaining 4-6% of rowing training distance shifted first towards a transiently higher volume of the Intensive Endurance range (“zone 2” lactate threshold intensity work) from BPP to SPP and then towards an enhancement of the highest intensity ranges (“zone 3”) of Race-Specific Velocity-Endurance and Velocity during CP (Figure 2). While high intensity training remained a small percentage of total training volume throughout the season, the 141% increase of the share of total rowing at race pace or higher intensity from BPP to CP (p<0.01) represents an enhancement of the absolute distance rowed at this intensity range by about 3-fold.



Among 14 athletes who reached the finals at the Olympics and/or senior world championships three years after the training registration period (t2), and 22 who did not, 12 (86%) and 19 (86%), respectively, had reached the finals at the junior world championships (t1), 10 (71%) and 17 (77%) had medalled, and 5 (36%) and 10 (45%) had been junior world champion. The respective groups did not differ systematically in age (19.0 ± 1.3 and 19.4 ± 1.4 years; M ± SD), weight (91 ± 6 and 91 ± 6 kg), height (193 ± 5 and 193 ± 6 cm), or PLa4 (368 ± 28 and 376 ± 30 W) at t1 (all p>0.05).

Table 3 compares the junior-age training characteristics between internationally and nationally successful athletes. The rowers reaching international success as seniors did not differ systematically (p>0.05) as juniors in total training frequency or volume, distribution of expended training time, or their time distribution among different training modes. However, small but statistically significant differences were exhibited within the intensity distribution of their specific rowing endurance training. The international finalists completed more distance in both the lowest intensity Compensation range and the highest intensity Race-Specific Velocity-Endurance range.


An underlying premise for describing the training organization of highly successful athletes is that they are successful, in part, because of how they train. In this context, we believe the most important finding in this study is that, based on time-in-zone heart rate monitoring, internationally successful junior rowers performed 95% of all specific rowing training over a 37 week training period in “zone 1,” at a heart rate corresponding to blood lactate concentration under 2 mmol.L-1. In comparison, the same time-in-zone, 3-intensity zone method applied to a group of well-trained, non-elite distance runners showed that 71% of their training was in zone 1, 21% in zone 2 and 8% in zone 3.3 Accepting that this well established intensity quantification method tends to overestimate time spent at low training intensity,5 these findings still demonstrate a marked emphasis on basic endurance training throughout the training season. In the present group of rowers, the remaining 4-6% of rowing specific training volume quantified at higher intensities, progression from the basic preparation period to the competition period was associated with a shift from emphasis on moderately high intensity “lactate threshold” training, towards more race pace intensity training at near maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) intensity. That is, the intensity distribution became more polarized in the competition period.

This was a quite homogenous group of talented rowers who had reached national elite level in a very strong rowing nation. Their physique (mean 91 kg, 193 cm) clearly exceeded previously published descriptions of rowing finalists at junior world championships,24 consistent with the fact that 15 of the subjects in the sample became junior world champions during the season training data was collected. The range in performance between “more successful” and “less successful” athletes as defined here is very small. Also, this study did not compare effects of different training programs on performance and thus does not establish a causal relationship between intensity distribution and performance. It was an ex post facto analysis of common variation between characteristics of junior training and later senior success. Based on a 3-year follow-up analysis, the only significant difference in training volume or organization observed between the most successful and less successful rowers in this sample was a modest but significant increase in the degree of intensity polarization observed in the most successful athletes. Athletes who went on to senior international success had, as juniors, tended to perform slightly more of their total rowing endurance exercise at very low intensity and at very high intensity compared to their peers. We can only speculate what advantages this increase in intensity polarization might have provided. It might be that the increased polarization observed merely demonstrates a form of intensity management discipline (keeping hard training hard and easy training easy) among the most successful athletes that could prove protective against overstress.

The present findings are consistent with previous studies demonstrating that low intensity (below LT1 or VT1) training dominates the total training volume of successful endurance athletes in a variety of sports.2,11-16 However, the extreme emphasis on low intensity, steady state training seen in these elite junior rowers has not been reported in the research literature previously. The 2000 meter rowing distance requires ~6 minutes to complete in a large team boat and is performed at 100-110% of VO2 max intensity.25 Clearly this distribution violates conventional wisdom regarding training intensity specificity; these athletes train relatively little at competition intensity. Recently, Ingham and colleagues compared 12 weeks of training at low intensity only (98% of total training performed at <75% of VO2 peak) with a regimen of 70% low intensity and 30% high intensity training (>84% VO2 peak). They found that in the British national standard rowers involved, both training regimes gave similar improvements in VO2 max and rowing test performance, but that low intensity only training actually improved blood lactate responses at sub-maximal intensity to a greater extent.19 No indicators of overreaching were present in the mixed intensity training group, making it unclear why the mixed training model failed to induce a greater performance improvement.

One of us has previously concluded that elite endurance athletes in running, cycling, cross-country skiing, and rowing often perform surprisingly little of their total training at intensities typically described as lactate threshold training, but instead tend to polarize their training away from this moderate intensity, training both a great deal at below VT1 and a significant amount above VT2 intensity.22 The present descriptive study of internationally successful rowers, and the recent experimental study on rowers by Ingham and colleagues,19 both suggest that marked performance adaptations and very high level performances in rowing can be elicited with a regiment of training that is dominated by low intensity, high volume work, with relatively little race pace, high intensity training. These findings run contrary to accepted theories that substantial high intensity training is critical for optimizing centrally limited oxygen delivery capacity in endurance athletes.26,27

Anecdotally, the training intensity distribution reported here is not unique to German rowers, but is also observed in other highly successful international programs. We propose that there are several unique characteristics of rowing specifically, as well as the elite training process in general that may explain the training distribution employed.

Expansion of total training volume generally is achieved at the expense of the high intensity work proportion. High performance athletes expose themselves to voluminous training load, mostly involving multiple daily sessions, and they approximate (at least temporarily) the margin of what is tolerable. Athletes attempt to balance loads evoking maximal positive adaptations (gene expression, synthesis of mitochondrial and other relevant proteins, cardiovascular performance, buffering capacity, technical efficiency at near race velocity) while avoiding excessive sympathetic stress leading to overtraining. Consistent with the evolution of training organisation among international rowing medallists over recent decades and with reports from elite athletes in other endurance sports,2,11-16 achieving this balance apparently favors the selection of a training intensity distribution characterised by voluminous low-intensity rowing below the lactate threshold with only intermittent highly intensive bouts.

Rowing power is a function of mean stroke force and stroke frequency. In trained rowers, peak forces during a rowing stroke remain quite consistent across rowing frequency,28 with rowing stroke rate (i.e. duty cycle) being the primary intensity control variable. We might speculate from this that extensive training at low intensities remains effective in recruiting a large proportion of available motor units, and achieves the specific muscular adaptations necessary to row at high power outputs as well. Elite rowers may therefore gravitate towards training below the first ventilatory threshold in order to stabilize technical aspects of the rowing stroke while still achieving desired physiological adaptations and perhaps avoiding excessive stress reactions.22 It is also important to point out that although the relative percentage of high intensity rowing was low, during the competition period, these athletes were still performing ~20 minutes of rowing weekly at heart rates corresponding to high intensity. Because a heart rate based “time-in-zone” approach to intensity classification will tend to underestimate the actual time (and physiological stress) of rowing at high work intensity due to delays in heart rate responses, the actual high intensity work duration each week is perhaps 30 minutes or more.

Rowing also differs from endurance sports like running and cycling in that substantial volumes of non-rowing training are performed. While almost all training time may be movement specific among road cyclists and distance runners, little more than 50% of the total training time of these rowers was rowing. Traditionally, rowing training often incorporates a significant strength training component, which reduced the relative time spent on rowing specific training. Rowing ranged from 40% during the basic preparation phase to 65% of total training time during the early competition phase. Previously, it has been suggested that 70% of total training volume of rowers should be specific.29 However, the lower value reported here is consistent with the fact that junior rowers often do not have the same access to good on-water conditions during the late fall and winter. In contrast, elite senior rowers are more likely to live in or travel to locations affording year-around access to on-water training.

Because a large proportion of total training volume in these elite junior rowers was not rowing, it is worthwhile to consider the impact of this training on the overall training intensity distribution of the rowers. Heart rate was not monitored during non-rowing activities such as stretching, game play, and jogging, but they were always performed at low intensity according to coaches and therefore would likely contributed almost exclusively to the low intensity volume. Strength training made up 23% of total training time. It is likely that some strength training sessions induced transient periods where local muscle metabolic rates and muscle and blood lactate values were consistent with training in zone 2 or zone 3. The potential contribution of this training to power output and fatigue resistance at race pace in rowing is unclear.

We contend that the reported observations prompt further research on training intensity distribution with particular attention to highly selective samples of extraordinary performers. Future goals are 1) to describe training load in more detail, including physiological responses and 2) to examine the effects of varying intensity distributions on physiological capabilities and performance.


The authors wish to express their sincere thanks to Michael Mueller, performance director of the German Rowing Federation, and Dieter Altenburg, national junior coach, for fruitful cooperation and helpful suggestions in this project.


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Weight training and endurance training partnership?

By: John Shepherd
From: Does weight training and endurance training make the perfect sports conditioning partnership?
Link: Concept2.co.uk

About The Author

John Shepherd is a specialist sports, health and fitness writer and is Ultra-FIT magazine's contributing editor. He has authored two best selling fitness books: Ultra-FIT: your own personal trainer and The Complete guide to sports training - both published by A&C Black. John was an international athlete.

Does weight training and endurance training make the perfect sports conditioning partnership?

Let's begin with the logical assumption that weight training benefits endurance athletes by focussing on rowing. Rowing requires an anaerobic contribution of about 30% for the 2k race distance (although this can vary between individuals and in regard to age). In consequence rowers train their short term anaerobic systems as they race sharpen. These workouts are of high-intensity short duration, for example, 30 seconds to five-minute intervals, with very short often 1:1 recoveries. These workouts target all muscle fibre types, but specifically hit the fast twitch variety (type IIa and type IIb). These fibres contribute much of the power for these turbocharged efforts. Logic says that weight training these fast twitch fibres will be beneficial as weight training tends to target fast twitch fibres.

Rowing research

Bell1 and associates looked at the effects of three different weight training programmes on 18 varsity rowers during their winter training. One group performed 18-22 high-velocity, low-resistance repetitions (thus targeting slow twitch fibres), while another did 6-8 low-velocity, high-resistance (fast twitch targeting) repetitions. All exercises were rowing-specific and were performed on variable-resistance hydraulic equipment four times a week for five weeks. A third group did no resistance training. All groups carried out their normal endurance rowing training. So what happened? When tested on a rowing ergometer the researchers found no difference between any of the groups in terms of peak power output or peak lactate levels (lactate is produced at all levels of energy production and is part of the energy creation process. The greater its level, the more intense the workout). So weight training served no purpose. Similar finding were made by researchers at the University of Ohio2 whose elite male weight-training rowers displayed no increase in VO2 max, when compared to a rowing only group who improved their VO2 max by up to 16% during pre-season training (VO2 max is a measure of aerobic capacity and references the maximum amount of oxygen the body can process).

Research from other sports

Tanaka and team3 looked at the effects of weight training on swimming. 24 experienced swimmers were surveyed over 14 weeks of their competitive season. The swimmers were divided into two groups of 12 and matched for stroke specialities and performance. One group performed resistance training three days a week, on alternate days for eight weeks, the other group did no weight training. Weights were selected for their swimming specificity - both fixed and free weights were used. The swimmers performed three sets of 8-12 repetitions on: lat pull downs, elbow extensions, bent arm flyes, dips and chin-ups. The weights were progressively increased over the duration of the training period. Two weeks away from their major competition a tapering period took place. So what did the researchers discover? As with the rowing studies it was found that weight training did not improve swim performance, despite the fact that those swimmers who combined resistance and swim training increased their strength by 25-35%.
Paavolainian et al4 considered the effect of weight training (and other power training methods) on the performance of x-country skiers - long considered the epitome of aerobic athletes. Seven skiers performed explosive strength training including plyometrics (jumping type exercises). In terms of weights they performed 80% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM ) squats regularly. Another eight of their peers performed three weeks of endurance based, high repetition strength training for the legs and arms. At the end of the survey Paavolainian cited no difference in VO2max or aerobic or anaerobic threshold.

Why weight training and endurance training might not actually be the perfect couple

Tanaka introduced weight training into the competitive phase of his swimmers - perhaps not the best time to do so. It's possible that the swimmers' performances could have actually been impaired by the added training load, rather than improved by it. Paavolainian got one group of his skiers to perform very dynamic exercises and admitted that their ability to express peak power improved accordingly, but what good is this to a x- country skier who requires one of the most highly developed aerobic systems of any athlete? Additionally the strength endurance group also showed no positive benefit, but perhaps they were doing the wrong weight training - more on this later. Or as the exercise scientist Saziorski5 suggests as theirs was an ultra-endurance sport weight training held little direct relevance to improving their performance in the first place. He believes that maximum strength is of little importance to sports with a maximum strength requirement of less than 30%.
The rowing findings are more difficult to explain but there is a possible answer. It's argued that when an endurance athlete reaches a certain level of performance strength - this can be developed through their everyday CV training or with weight training (or other resistance training methods) that further improvements in weights based strength will not bring about any further improvements in sport performance. As the rowers in the studies were all at a high level of performance it could be argued that they already had more than enough 'performance' strength developed over years and years of correctly executed rowing technique. The author is aware of the comments of top rowers, such as Jonny Searle who have a similar belief in the direct contribution to rowing.
The interference effect - why weights and endurance training can get in each others way
 Shepard6 offers a very succinct explanation as to why weigh training and endurance training can be the wrong bed-fellows:
'Some of the most important and influential factors that result from physical conditioning occur at the cellular level in the muscles, that is the majority of training effects are peripheral. The number and size of mitochondria, the amount ... of ATP and CP (energy producing chemicals) that are stored and the concentrations of key enzymes associated with particular energy systems are increased. Training is specific and selective of the types of muscle fibres used. That selectivity will determine the nature of training effects and the type of performance that is improved.'
Basically he's saying that training different energy systems at the same time can produce a confused physiological affect. How can fast twitch type IIb fibre be expected to gain in its size and power generating capacity through weight training, if it is being relentlessly bombarded in the same training phase, indeed workout, by extensive long slow distance work or intense interval training designed to improve its endurance?

Can weight training be of any use to rowers and endurance athletes?

1. Select the best weight training option for your sport:

Choose a weight training methodology and exercises that develop as close as possible the physiological and neuromuscular responses/patterns produced/required by your sport. As an example circuit resistance training can offer a great deal for the endurance athlete as it targets slow twitch muscle fibre and can develop VO2 max and lactate threshold. Use a weight set at 50-60% of 1RM. It seems less likely to interfere with the development of enhanced endurance capacity. Concept2's weight training plans follow a similar methodology.

2. Carefully consider the training variables of 'order and recovery' when combining endurance and CV training:

Maximise your recovery time between the two methods in your workout schedules and perhaps even consider weight training your legs in separate specific workouts. Sporer et al7 looked at the effects of weight training on aerobic/anaerobic CV performance. Sixteen male collegiate athletes experienced with strength training, submaximal aerobic training and high intensity anaerobic interval training took part in a research study to see if the type and intensity of aerobic training affected concurrent strength training after four, eight and 24 hours of recovery. One group performed steady state work at 70% of heart rate max (HRMax) and another 95-100% intervals, with 40% HRMax recoveries. Both groups then performed 1RM maximum strength testing on bench press and leg press. It was discovered that for both the steady-state and the interval training groups that strength training gains were compromised by the endurance work unless adequate rest was allowed. Specifically the participants' leg muscles were (not surprisingly) negatively effected by their aerobic training as measured by the leg press, although bench press performance was not. In consequence Sporer recommended that at least eight hours be allowed between aerobic training and strength training if the athlete must do both workouts in one day and that lower body strength training should be performed on a different day to any aerobic training.

3. Develop weights' strength in a specific training cycle:

Expanding on point 2 coach/athlete could consider the possible benefits of developing strength in a specific training cycle away from endurance training, particularly at the beginning of the training year to minimise the interference effect. Periodic returns to weight training micro-cycles could then be used to 'top-up' strength levels. Under these conditions a Canadian study of rowers8 ) discovered that a group that strength trained for five weeks before five weeks of endurance training profited from a 16% increase in VO2 max and 27% improvement in lactate tolerance after the 10 week programme, whilst a group that trained in the reverse order only gained a 7% increase in VO2max and displayed no improvements in lactate tolerance. The explanation? The strength before endurance group gained quality rowing muscle, without compromise and were able to use it to row harder and faster with greater fatigue resistance when they endurance trained. Working out for weight training gains alone, may have enabled them to push beyond their 'normal' previously conditioned rowing power levels.

4. Weight train for injury prevention:

Finally, if you are an endurance athlete you should use weight training (and other suitable pre-conditioning exercises) to avoid injury. Doing this will bolster your soft tissue (ligaments, muscles and tendons) against injury.


There are rowing coaches that believe in the value of heavy and lighter weight training routines for their charges. However, the majority of research indicates that weight training will have very little direct effect on improved endurance. Coach/athlete will have to account for the training maturity of the athlete, their strengths and weaknesses, their injury history and the time in the training year when deciding when and what type of weight training to perform. Careful monitoring should also be applied for evaluation. Note: weight training (and other resistance methods) IS very important for injury prevention.


1. Bell, G.J., Petersen, S.R., Quinney, A.H., Wenger, H.A. (1993). The effect of velocity-specific strength training on peak torque and anaerobic rowing power. Journal of Sports Sciences, 7, 205-214, 1989. back
2.Medicine and science in sport and exercise, vol 26 (5) p575 1994.
3. Tanaka, H., Costill, D.L., Thomas, R., Fink, W.J., Widrick, J.J. (1993). Dry-land resistance training for competitive swimming. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 25, 952-959.
4. Paavolainen, L., Hakkinen, K., Rusko, H. (1991). Effects of explosive type strength training on physical performance characteristics in cross-country skiers. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 62, 251-255.
5. In Dick F - Sports Training Principles p238 Theroy and practice of strength development A and C Black 4th edition 2002.
6. Shepard RJ Aerobic vs Anaerobic Training for success in various athletic events.
7. Spoorer - Effects of aerobic exercise on strength performance following various periods of recovery. Journal of strength and conditioning research 2003 nov17 (4) 638-644.
8. Sequencing of endurance and high velocity training - Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Science vol: 13:4 pp214-19 1988.