The Atlantic Ocean: fifty foot waves, hurricane-strength winds, and 105 degrees. No wonder more people have climbed Mount Everest or even been into space than rowed the Atlantic.
Yet, four friends have chosen this 3,000 mile challenge in order to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust, after the group’s friend Max was diagnosed with Leukemia aged just 18. Max and his family were supported by the Trust, and within a year he was fighting fit and off to college with his friends.
The Ocean Reunion team is no ordinary group of friends – Gus Barton is a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach, Joe Barnet a semi-professional cricketer, Jack Mayhew is a keen triathlete, and Angus Collins has successfully rowed the Indian Ocean, so you could say they’re a pretty active bunch. With this level of competitive sportsperson you’d expect them to be preparing for the Ocean Row with military precision, and you’d be right.
Training to Row Across the Atlantic
From their nutrition and supplementation to their training and pre-Atlantic rows, everything is programmed down to the letter by PT Gus. Training was split into three phases.
Phase 1: Mobility, Core Stability and Technique
This early stage gave the guys strong foundations, focusing on core strength, mobility work and rowing technique. Though many endurance athletes may neglect these key aspects, this foundation will pay off in the long run for the rowers, ensuring they stay injury-free throughout their journey.
A strong core is essential for good rowing technique, too: by remaining tall and not collapsing at the catch, the team will maintain maximum power throughout the stroke. Flow into recovery can be maintained by using the core to sit tall.
Phase 2: Strength
Research suggests that 23% of the energy required for endurance rowing comes from anaerobic production – that’s the type associated with forceful muscular contractions, like strength training, which is why so many rowing coaches are advocates of weightlifting. The Ocean Reunion team followed a program including compound movements like deadlifts, Olympic lifts, and accessory work, along with continuing with core work.
Weights increased week-on-week, with a minimum 5kg increase, as the the rep range decreased.
Phase 3: Hypertrophy
The third phases was designed to increase size, with the key focus being Time Under Tension (TUT). This technique stresses the muscles to create maximum adaptation, and gets the team’s muscles used to the fatigue they will feel when they are rowing two hours on, two hours off in the race. There is also evidence that suggests increased TUT causes protein synthesis to elevate faster and higher than when performing faster contractions.
Form and technique is still important at this stage – by completing movements fully with good form, the team are making the most of their time training, plus there’s less chance of injury!
Top Rowing Tips from PT Gus Barton
Don’t Pull With Your Arms
It’s a common mistake for people to pull with the arms. The power you get will be mainly driving through your legs; 60% of the energy should come from the legs, 20% from the core, and 20% from the arms. If you pull through the arms, you will quickly fatigue through the forearms and biceps.
Make Specific Goals
Rowing is one of the most effective forms of cardio available to the gym goer, although just sitting on it for 10 minutes wont do anything for you! Make it specific to what your goals are – short intervals are a massively effective method for fat burning and improving anaerobic performance, and longer rows are good for building endurance.
Relax in the Recovery Phase
Having finished the pull phase, you’ll be fully extended through the knee and hip. Avoid a stop and pause – instead push your hands away immediately towards your feet. Instead of pulling yourself in using your legs, use the momentum from pushing your hands away to slide in. This will avoid loading hamstrings and calves.
Long, Powerful Strokes
Avoid short, fast strokes – these will feel messy. You’ll be missing out on a huge amount of power, as well as tiring yourself out and increasing risk of injury. You should imagine you’re on the water, and therefore smooth movements are far more beneficial.
Feel the Connection Through the Feet
The whole way through the movement you should feel the foot plate connected to your feet. If you can’t keep your heels pinned down at all times, there’s a good chance you’re lacking mobility through the ankle and hip. Avoid your toes coming off while you’re fully extended as this will load you hip flexors unnecessarily.
Even when training for endurance activities, like a row across the Atlantic, or even just your first 10K run, it’s still important to work on core strength, mobility and technique. This will prevent injury in the long term and also loss of energy and power. Having a plan and a goal will also focus your efforts and ensure you don’t make excuses not to train.