What is Low Intensity

I posted a workout on the facebook page for the Stuck At Home Rowing Club, and someone made the mistake of showing the slightest interest in what I was doing.  Now I will make her regret it.

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Q: What kind of low intensity pieces am I doing?

A:  Let’s start by defining low intensity.  The terms Low Intensity and High Intensity are generally used in the context of a polarized training, so let’s start there.  Polarized training applies the knowledge that there are different systems to power your muscles, depending on how hard you are working.

Here it is in graph form, from this article

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So, on the bottom of the plot is how hard you are working as a percent of your maximum power output.  Think of that as your VO2Max, or when your heart rate is very close to it’s maximum.  As fast or faster than 2k race pace.  On the vertical are two different things.  The graph that starts high at low power output is the percentage of the energy expended that comes from metabolizing fat.  The other curve, that starts low and climbs is how much power you get from carbohydrate (glucose/glycogen).

Where the cross over occurs can be moved by the kind of training that you do.  If you do a lot of training below the cross over point, you can increase your ability to metabolize fat and essentially push the crossover gradually to higher and higher powers.  The opposite can happen too, if your training focuses on more power and sprinting work, which stimulates the sensory nervous system, the cross over point can move down.

OK, so what does this have to do with polarized training?

Well, to get faster over typical 1K to 6K race distances, we need to have both power and endurance.  But we need a way to organize the training so that we get the benefit of power development, while minimizing the how much we can move the cross over point to the right.  Luckily, a lot of people have done a lot of good work to figure this out.  One of them is Stephen Seiler, and wrote a great survey paper about it.  It seems the an optimal approach is to put in about 80% of your training time at low intensity and 20% above.  This has been shown to be a good ratio for elites who train a ton. and for recreational athletes (like me).

Great, so that why polarized training works, but what does low intensity mean?

Low intensity means that you are training at a power below your cross over point.  There are a bunch of ways to figure out what that power is.  The key concept is that it is much better to make the mistake of going too easy than going too hard.  I have known this intellectually for 7 years and I still get it wrong all the time.  I have such a stubborn belief that I have to push as hard as possible that I am always sabotaging myself.  Don’t be an idiot like me. go easy and you will be miles ahead.

So, with that caveat, here are a few ways to test whether you are going slow enough.

  • RPE:  Stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion.  If you care, it’s a fancy scale from 1 to 17, but what it means is if you can’t speak in full sentences while you are exercising, then it isn’t low intensity.
  • Heart Rate:  My favorite, but a pain in the neck.  If you keep your workout below 75% of you maximum heart rate, you are doing it right.  Some people think 70%.  But to do this you need to get an idea what your max heart rate is, and that has it’s own complications, which I helpfully described here.
  • Lactate Measurement:  Incontrovertible evidence, but a massive pain in the finger.  You can measure directly whether you are using fat or carbs by measuring the by product of carb respiration (which is lactate) as it accumulates in your blood.  If it is below 2mmol, then you’re doing it right.   The challenge to this method is that you have to stab your finger and dab the blood on an expensive test strip that you plug into an expensive meter.  I did this for a year or so, and still go back and do it ever once in a while, but it’s way to master rower nerd-core for daily use.
  • 20-25 seconds slower than 2k pace.  Right now, if I had the guts to do a 2k test, I would probably pull a 1:45 split.  I do my steady state between 2:05 and 2:10.  This isn’t a great method, but if you are doing your steady state 10 seconds slower than race pace, then it isn’t low intensity.

So, the main thing is to make sure that your low intensity workout is low intensity enough, what else matters.

  1. Duration:  More is better.  And then even more.  Miles make champions.  Since going harder is counter productive, your main variable to get better is more time.  If you are just getting started, then 30 minutes will be beneficial, and over time, the improvements will start to slow down and you will need to add more time to get more gains in endurance.  I find that I can make very slow gains with 60 minute sessions and much better progress with 80, but having a life keeps me from being able to do that volume consistently.
  2. Stroke rate:  I read the wolverine plan years ago and it made a ton of sense to me.  The basic idea is to keep the amount energy you put into a stroke about the same, and scale down the stroke rate to do low intensity training.  If you think about it, that means that the drive phase of your stroke stays the same in duration whether you are racing or cruising, but you will take far fewer strokes per minute, so you go slower.  To be fancy you can can call it Work per Stroke.  So, I do my low intensity training at low rates, maybe 60% at 18 spm, 30% at 20spm, 10% at 22spm and above.
  3. Breaks:  80 minutes is a looong time.  I’ve read a bunch of stuff that recommends breaking up long rows into 20 to 30 minute chunks so that you can stretch, adjust and hydrate.  So, I do almost all of my low intensity work in 20 minute work / 2 minute rest format.  I will sometimes do a continuous half marathon to prove I can do it, but it is much more civilized to take short breaks and I think it helps to avoid back injuries.

Here are few example workouts

3 x 20′ / 2′ L4

3×30’/2′ steady state at 165W

And here’s an example of a workout that I pushed too hard and ended up in the “black hole”.  To intense to build endurance and not intense enough to build power.

So, a long answer to a short question.




Training Goals and Overall Plan

With the end of the OTW racing season, it’s time to take stock and decide where to go from here.

First, a quick assessment of how this season went.  Basically, it was a pretty up and down experience.  I did much better this year avoiding injury, but I still struggled balance work, life and training.  Here’s what that looks like from a training load perspective.

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A few key markers.  Went into July of 2017 in pretty good shape, then between travel and vacation, I lost fitness.  I jumped back in and hurt my back and struggled through the rest of the season, recovering just a little bit by late October, when I had my disappointing HOCR outing.

In November I did fitness testing to get a baseline and started working with Marlene Royle.  Over the next couple of months, things went well and I redid the 20′ and 75′ tests, gaining 15W on the 20′ test and 7W on the 75′ test.

After January 1st, I was plunged into a very heavy period at work and I struggled to train consistently.  This pattern continued all the way to the beginning of OTW season and although I was hoping to do focus on some sprint training and do a 1k event in early July.  But, my work kept me so busy that my training was still a mess.  I was so frustrated with the lack of training time that I cancelled out of the races.

I was so strung out that I contemplated quitting.  But I decided that rowing was something that was keeping me sane, and the competitive part of it was the most motivation thing for me.  But what was the right way to deal with balancing it all out.  I decided that I needed to set my goals on doing one head race.  I was hoping it would be the HOCR, but I’d be OK with any head race.  And I put together a short, simple training plan to work on middle distances.

Luckily, that also coincided with a period of a bit less travel at work, and I managed to get more consistency in my training volume.  I posted these ideas on August 14th.  And from there, things started clicking.  I formalized the plan into a weekly schedule by the end of August.  And from there, I did a pretty good job following the plan.  The following table shows the number of sessions planned of each type and what I actually did.  So over 8 weeks, I missed 2 short interval sessions, 1 long interval session, 1 steady state session (if you count cross training as steady state).  I had 4 extra “rest” days, but in actuality, many of the rest days were actually travel days, which don’t have any training value nor do they have any recovery value.

Plan Actual
SI 9 7
LI 8 7
TH 7 7
SS 24 19
XT 0 4
rest 7 11

The result was a steady improvement in fitness through September and October.

I was happy with my performance in the Snake Race, and then did a round of fitness tests.  These tests showed that I was in better shape than last year by a fair margin.

Compared to a year ago.

  • Peak power:  +21W
  • 1000m: +20W
  • 20′ test: +15W
  • 75′ test: +13W

So, a strong end to a pretty spotty season.

So, what’s next?

Step 1:  Decide on goals.

Planned testing and races

  • End of Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb: 20′ test
  • End of March:  Fitness Tests (Peak Power, 1K, 20′, 75′)
  • Early June:  Provincetown Coastal Regatta (8km, Head race)
  • Mid October: Quinsigamond Snake Race (4km, Head Race)
  • Late October: HOCR (5km, Head Race)

Additional Goal:  My weight is up to 209lbs.  I would like to weigh less than 195 when I get back on the water on April.  I will start tracking weight.

Step 2:  Rough Training blocks

  • November – January: General Prep
  • January – March: Optimize 10km erg performance
  • April – June: OTW, develop plan for optimal 40′ perf
  • July – October: Head Racing Prep

Step 3:  Plan out each block

I’m only going to plan out block 1 right now.  In this block I would like to reduce my erg volume and add in core and strength training.  The rough outline is:

  • Monday:  rest
  • Tuesday: Core, Strength, optional 30′ SS
  • Wednesday: Alternate Long and short intervals by week
  • Thursday: Core, Strength, optional 30′ SS
  • Friday: Core, 60′ steady state
  • Saturday: Hard Distance
  • Sunday:  80’+ Steady State

Any of the steady state sessions can be replaced with cross training.

More details on the strength plan coming soon.




Quick and Dirty Head Race Training Plan

Given my work and travel schedule, I have to be realistic about my training objectives.  I don’t think it is practical for me to do anything to fancy or time consuming.  What I need is a simple plan that puts me in the best position to row up to my capabilities.

So, what are my events?

  1.  Quinsigamond Snake Regatta, October 13.  This is a tune up event.  No taper.
  2. One of these two.
    1. Head of the Charles (if I get a doubles draw), October 20
    2. Merrimack Chase , November 3

The basic plan is 6 sessions per week, alternating high and low intensity.  Since it is a relatively short plan (~60 days), I will limit the session types so I can get a better idea of progress and zero in on achievable paces.

  • 3 Low Intensity sessions, HR range 137-155
    • 1 technique focused session (like drills on the fives)
    • 1 long and slow at least 90 minutes
    • 1 ~60 minutes upper end aerobic
  • 1 High intensity Long Interval Session at about head race pace
    • 4 x 2K / 4′
    • 5 x 1500 / 4′
  • 1 High Intensity short interval/short rest session at about head race pace
    • 15 x 3’/1′
    • 20 x 2’/1′
  • 1 Hard Distance Session
    • ~6K on water
    • ~10K on erg

The day by day details are shown on this google sheet

Rough patch

I got back from Korea late Friday night, around 11pm.  And even though the flights were fine and I got some rest on the flight, I was wasted.  I struggled to sleep on Friday night, and Saturday night, and Sunday night, and Monday night.  Each night, I would fall asleep, but wake up at 2am and spend the rest of the night tossing and turning.  I didn’t get a good night sleep until last night when I got 7 blissful hours.

Along with the sleep issues, I felt rundown and grumpy during the day.  My motivation to train was low and my training sessions were abysmal.  A lot of this was just being tired, but also knowing that I am in a period with a lot of travel and no immediate training objective makes it hard to push through.  Maybe it’s good not to in this case.

I reached out to Marlene for advice and she was fine with backing off a bit.  I decided to change things up.  For the next couple weeks, I’m modifying the plan.

  1.  Faithfully do my PT exercises 5 or 6  times a week
  2. 3x mini-strength sessions a week
    1. KB swings
    2. pull ups
    3. front squats
  3. on non-strength days do shorter erg sessions, working on proper technique and base aerobic fitness
  4. on strength days, do a short erg warmup and maybe a bit of cross training on the treadmill

I’ll do this through Feb 24th and then dive back into normal training.  The goal then will be to get ready to get back on the water.  I feel better having made the mental switch.

Recent training details….

Saturday – 2/3:  In the evening, I decided to try to do what I thought would be an easy 10K push on the dynamic.  I started at 2:04, and aimed to finish at 1:55.  I made it 6K and then backed off to a paddle.  With 1000m left, I was pretty pissed off, so I targeted 1:55 and it nearly killed me.

Workout Summary - media/20180204-0310250o.csv
Workout Details

Sunday:  I felt pretty awful all day long and didn’t train.

Monday:  Not much sleep, headed in to the gym with the intent to do the tough session that was originally planned for Saturday:

  • 6 x (3’@28, 7’@18) / 1′
  • 3’@28: Cat III (1:48)
  • 7’@18: Cat VI (2:05-2:08)

I gave it my best, but I flamed out after 3.  My HR never really came back down.  This was kind of a low point for me.  That’s when I reached out for advice.

Workout Summary - media/20180205-1240290o.csv
Workout Details

Tuesday – 2/6:

Another night of bad sleep.  I was awake from 2am, and gave up trying around 4am.  I did a couple of crossword puzzles and then headed to work early.

The plan:

  • PT exercises
  • Mini strength session (KB swings, front squats, pull ups)
  • 40 minute erg

The PT exercises were fine.  I had a blast with the strength stuff

  • 3 sets of 20 KB swings with a 16kg kettle bell.  I felt the third set.  I think I need a heavier KB, this is the biggest one on the rack at work.
  • Front squats:  I’ve always done regular back squats.   Mainly because you can do heavier weights.  But from what I’ve been reading, front squats are a bit more functional for rowing related strength, and because the weight is more limited, and you are forced into a more erect posture, there is less risk of injury.  Today, I did a set of 10 with the bare bar, and 5 sets of 8 with 50 lbs on the bar.  I felt that in the last set as well.
  • Pull ups.  5, 4, 3, 2, 1 with about 30 seconds between sets

Then onto the erg.  Between the swings and the squats, there was nothing left in my legs.  I was having trouble holding a Cat VI pace.  I lasted for 20 minutes and decided that it was no fun at all.

Workout Summary - media/20180206-1640290o.csv
Workout Details

So, I was tired of rowing, but I felt like doing more.  I decided to go do a couple of HIIT bursts on the treadmill.  I cranked the incline to 15% and fast walked for 4:20.  Then I cranked the speed up to 7mph and sprinted until 5:00.  With the lag of the machine, I was basically at speed for 30 full seconds.  At the 5 minute mark, I hopped off the belt and then turned the speed back down.  I did that 4 times total.  Like before, I seemed to get better at the mechanics of sprinting, essentially running more on my toes and increasing my cadence.  I guess that is the running equivalent of “rating up”.

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Wednesday:  Ah bliss!  I slept 7 hours last night without any insomnia.  I got up at 5:15 and headed off to work.  I was almost paralyzed by DOMS from my tiny strength session yesterday.  I guess that’s a good sign that I should keep a session or two of strength work in my rotation all the time.  My thighs were the sorest, but my butt, my lats and forearms all let me know that they were quite upset with me.  I kinda liked it.

Today, I was short on time and wanted a light session anyway.  So, after doing minimal PT exercises,  I decided to just do a 10k  at Cat VI (r18/2:05).  That’s what I did.  HR was still higher than it should have been, but that might have been because of the muscle soreness.

Pretty unremarkable, huh?

        Workout Summary - media/20180207-1345260o.csv
Workout Details

That brings us up to the present.


  • Full PT Suite
  • Strength (KB Swings, Front Squats, Pull ups, Add push ups)
  • erg – 8 x 5′ (4:30 cat VI, 0:30 Cat II) / 30″






Great Video & Presentation: Optimizing endurance training adaptation – Stephen Seiler

Link to the video on the Oxford Brooks Video Portal

One of the articles that has had the biggest effect on how I train is a survey article by Stephen Seiler.  Published in 2009, I found it in 2012 and it was the first peer reviewed article that I had seen which laid out the case for polarized training, and even included some findings for recreational athletes.

I had seen research that showed that polarized training, with split of 80% low intensity (LIT) and 20% high intensity (HIT) was optimal for elite athletes who train >10 hours a week.  But what about schmucks like me, who train for fun and have jobs and lives.  The key question for me was whether the ratio between LIT and HIT should change if the amount of training is lower?  The article directly addresses that question…

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This was hugely influential for me and I took the advice to heart.  I tried to keep the intensity of my endurance workouts low, and the duration as long as I had time for.

The next bit of Seiler wisdom that I found helpful was a study about individualization of training.  I have previously written about it here.  The great thing about this study was reinforcing just how big the differences in response was between different athletes for the same training stimulus.  He cited a study that was comparing different approaches to block periodization.  There was a slight, statistical advantage to one approach, but the variation of response between athletes in each training group was much larger.  His conclusion was that the same approach will not work for everyone.  This is a pretty important lesson to learn since there are a lot of people who will cite their own results (or a national team’s results) as “proof” that a certain approach works.

So much of what works and doesn’t work has to do with how well a training approach matches your basic physiology and current training state.  If you have tons of slow twitch muscles and do better at long distances, then you are likely to have different training needs than if you a fast twitch sprinter.  In my own training, it has become apparent over time that I need a LOT of low intensity rowing to make improvements in my endurance.  Others can by with a lot less.

So, it is with that background that I watched the video linked at the beginning of this post.  I am inclined to pay attention to stuff that he presents because it seems to be well researched, and because it has resulted in good results for me.

This video reviews a fair amount of stuff that he has done before, but introduces a couple of useful conceptual frameworks to understand training.

The first is Seiler’s Hierarchy.  Here is a link to an article explaining it.  This set’s up a pyramid to illustrate the priority of different elements of training on race day performance.

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At the base of the pyramid is training volume.  As he puts it, there is a lot of peer reviewed research that shows a strong correlation between training volume and race performance.  Miles do make champions.

The next level of the pyramid is High Intensity Training.  The point here is that you need more than just the long slow stuff to actually improve.  In addition, you need training that is hard enough to push your heart rate to 90% of your max, or higher to deliver adaptation.   So, within that framework, I guess it is safe to safe that “No Pain / No Gain”.  He discusses potential ways to do High Intensity Training and cites a study comparing 4 minute, 8 minute, and 16 minute intervals.  He didn’t show this in the video, but it summarizes the finding of that study.

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He made the point that there might be a sweet spot around the 90% HR level and that workouts that maximized the time at or around the 90% level might be more effective than shorter workouts that achieve higher heart rates, but for shorter durations.

The third level of the Pyramid is Training intensity distribution.  This is where polarization comes in.  He presented findings from rowing, skiing and running that showed that elite athletes generally spend their time training at much slower or faster paces than the actual race pace.  This is where 80/20 comes from.

These three tiers represent the solid base of a training plan.  Beyond that, you get into areas that are likely to have an impact, but the effect is less and the research is less solid.  In the linked presentation, but not the video, he goes into detail about the study on block periodization studies.  This research compared three block periodization strategies.


Then they looked at the results for the athletes that participated.

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So, basically, all three worked great for some athletes and didn’t work at all for some athletes.  This is the basis of his talk about individualization.  You need to track what you’re doing and if you aren’t making progress, you should try something different with regard to periodization.  There is good evidence that doing the same thing for longer than 8-10 weeks will result in diminished improvement, but it doesn’t matter as much what change you make.

The remaining levels of the pyramid are essentially the icing on the cake.  They have been shown to have some benefit on race performance, but can’t be used to substitute for having a good base.

The other useful concept in the video was a discussion of dose/response curves.  He described the similarity between training and medication.  Basically, you have two effects as you increase the dosage of something on the subject.  There is a desired effect, and there are side effects. The desired effects of training are increases in maximum power, VO2Max, Lactate Threshold, and aerobic endurance.  The side effects of too much training are injury, illness and in my case an angry spouse.


Each curve is basically s-shaped.  You need to get to some minimum dose before you start to see the desired effect, then that effect increases with increasing dose.  At some level, the desired effect levels off, even with higher doses.  The key to finding the right dose is figure out a level where the desired effect is maximized, but the side effect is still low.  This is a good concept to keep in mind to ward off the “more is better” mindset.  It is also useful to keep in mind around polarized training.  The intent of long slow training is different than that of intense HIT.  Each has it’s own dose / response curve, but they can effect each other.  A way to think of this is that the desired effect curve is specific to the exercise intensity, but the side effect curve is driven by sum of all the training.

The challenge is that it’s pretty tough to know where the knees of the desired response and side effect curves are in practice.  That’s where we end up relying on rules of thumb.  Examples of these rules:

  • You need to accumulate time above 90% HRMax to get a good response to HIT
  • That the side effects of LIT volume are driven mostly by the specific type of sport being trained.  They are lower for running and higher for non-impact sports like rowing
  • That decreased Heart Rate Variability is a sign of over training

These are all pretty squishy and that’s where training planning gets tougher.






Look back over the last 3 months

This season has been tough.  Lot’s of work travel, family vacations, high stakes business meetings, and most recently a back injury.  I’ve been doing my best to use Stravasix to examine training load.  Here’s the past 4 months


I reached my peak fitness close to the end of june, by the Stravastix scale my fitness was a 105.  After that, there was a couple of back to back trips and meetings at work that squeezed my time.  I also spent more than a week on a family vacation where my training opportunities were limited.  By July 29th, my fitness had declined to 79.

As I got into August, I was able to be a lot more consistent and my fitness started to recover, getting back to about 90 by the 22nd of August.  Then I went into another heavy week at work and my training suffered.  I came out of that week and got a few good sessions in, but then my back gave out.

Over then next few weeks, I did some walking, running and cross training, but nothing with the necessary intensity to maintain my sharpness, and nothing with enough duration to maintain my endurance.  My fitness suffered.  By the 17th of September, my fitness was down to 65.8.

The good news was that the rest, core exercise and back hygiene had worked and my back had recovered to the point where I could start rowing again.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have gotten in a lot of very solid sessions and my fitness has recovered to 81.

At this point, I have to start to be careful about over training.  My fatigue level is quite high.  The sort of good news is that I have a trip this week and will need to take at least one rest day because of that.

The thing I want to do is maximize the training stimulus during this week and next week and ramp back the following week, right before the HOCR.

After that, it will be time to take stock and figure out where I go from here.


Fall 2017 Training Plan – Back to Basics

Here I sit in the ANA lounge in Narita Airport.  I’ll be taking off for Los Angeles in about an hour.  During this two week trip to Asia, I’ve been lucky enough to have access to an erg for 7 training sessions.  Tomorrow, I’ll be in San Diego and hopefully, I can sneak over to Cross Fit Del Mar for another session then.

During this trip, I’ve had plenty of time to think about training routines and rowing in general.  I was very disappointed about cancelling out of the Blackburn Challenge.  I was, and still am, looking forward to the adventure of such a long race under such unpredictable conditions.  I’ll have to try again next year.  But I won’t plan my training around it.  In fact, I’m going to violate the first rule of training planning.  I am not going to plan around my events at all.

I am hoping to do some head races this fall.  I want to do the Head of the Charles if I get an entry.  And I’m hoping I can do at least one or two other races.  But I don’t want to disappoint myself or other people because of my unpredictable schedule.

What I think I need to do is come up with a “chaos tolerant” training plan.  So, what does that mean?

Here are the principles

  • It needs to be simple.  I should never be at a loss for what to do in a session
  • It should be progressive, so I can hold my self accountable for making progress and see how much missed training impacts my fitness
  • It should be balanced, so that my performance across all distances improves

I’ve decided that using the Wolverine Plan is the best option for me right now.  Here are the salient points

  • 6 sessions per week
  • 3 L4 endurance sessions
  • 1 each L1, L2 and L3 session

I have set up a schedule for the core L1, L2 and L3 workouts that I will go through.

  • L1: 8 x 500 / 2’30”, 4 x 1000 / 5′, Pyramid (250/500/750/1000/750/500/250)
  • L2: 5 x 1500 / 5′, 4 x 2000 / 5′, Waterfall (3000/2500/2000)
  • L3: 10K, 30′, 15 x 3′ / 1′
  • L4:  The duration of the L4s will be dictated by the amount of time that I have.  When I have time, I will aim for 80′ sessions.  I will leave the format open and decide on the day.  In general, I will be trying to increase the stroke counts over the next 4 months.

As I have done before, I will substitute workouts in for L1/L2/L3 to keep myself from getting bored.  This will include ranking pieces, CTCs, and interesting OTW workouts.  I will sub them in in accordance with what type the pace and duration is closest to.

I will follow the same plan on the erg and on the water.  The only difference is that i will generally do the intervals in time based format instead of distance.  I will follow the plan whether I am on the erg, in my fluid or in my Maas Aero.

As an example, the August workout is a 200m sprint.  I think I would probably do that as the first piece of a pyramid in place of the 250 and take a bit of extra rest.

I’ve laid out a rough session plan to get me through the fall.

This link will take you to a google sheet.

As always, comments and feedback are very welcome.

Training for the Blackburn Challenge

There is a 20+ mile open water race in Massachusetts called  the Blackburn Challenge.  I would like to enter it and do reasonably well.

The time to complete the race is between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 hours, and so it is roughly similar  to 50k on the erg.  I thought that the best way to prep for that was to use an existing Marathon training plan.

There are two that I know of.

I analyzed both of the plans and they both seemed reasonable.  There were some cool things in the indoor sports services plan, but the Eddie Fletcher plan came with some impressive personal endorsements, and it was considerably simpler.

It is basically a 12 week plan, but I will run through it twice in a row, hopefully resetting my targets between sets.

I did a detailed day by day spreadsheet to track progress.  I figure the easiest way to let people look at it is to make it public on Google Sheets.

Blackburn Training Plan

So far, so good.  But I’m about to lose a week, so who knows how much damage that will do.



The Resident Plan : An erg training plan for people with very little time

My daughter is in med school at a major urban hospital.  This means long and irregular hours and lots of stress.  I wanted to figure a reasonably well balanced plan to improve fitness for the 2k distance within a tight time constraint.

The plan is mainly based on the Pete Plan.  This is a cyclical plan with 3 “hard” sessions a week, and 3 “steady” sessions a week.  In the 3 hard sessions are a short interval session, a long interval session and a hard distance session.  The steady sessions are basically 8K done at a moderate pace.  The creator of the plan, Pete Marston, is an accomplished indoor rower.  He wanted a plan that would fit into his lunch hour.  It has some similarity to the Wolverine Plan, but dispenses with the parts of that plan that Pete found annoying.

So this, then, is a grandson of the Wolverine Plan.  The constraints of the plan are this.

  • Employ sound training principles
  • Actual rowing time is limited to 30 minutes per session
  • 3 to 7 sessions per week
  • Cyclical, progressive format (like the Pete Plan)

So, here, without further ado, is the Resident Plan.

The Resident Plan:

The plan is based on a three week cycle. There are no rest days, because life will provide those for you in the form of on-call hours and other interruptions.  In each week there are 4 hard days and 3 easy days.

The hard days are intended to provide a weekly balance of power, threshold work, and enough lighter work to facilitate recovery and maintain aerobic endurance.

Start off with a 2K test just to get yourself calibrated. (record your average split)

Since life is all about choices, the workout types are provided in priority order.  Try to get the three highest priority workouts done each week.  If possible try to get a recovery day between these workouts, but that is not mandatory.

Note about  how to row the intervals:  One of the key pieces of advice from the Pete Plan is to set your pace conservatively and stick to it for the all but the last interval, and then make the last one the fast one.  Then you can take the average pace of all your intervals and use that as the target for all but the last interval of the same session, the next time around.

Important Safety Tip:  In order to fit a useful amount of hard rowing into a brief workout window, I have reduced the amount of warmup and cool down in the sessions way more than I would normally like.  If you have extra time for a session, especially the short and long intervals, taking a few extra minutes in warmup is a very good idea.  If you don’t have time for more warmup, starting with a bit slower pace target in the first rep is a good idea. I also think that cooldowns are a good idea, although the research is not as conclusive as it is about the value of a warmup.  But a bit of stretching after a hard session is probably a good idea.

Session Types

Priority #1 – Short Intervals
The objective of these workouts is to improve your 2K performance.  They should be rowed at roughly the same rate (SPM) as your 2K.  The pacing should be about the same as your 2K for the 2′ intervals, and a little slower for the 3′ and 4′ intervals.  If you are not shaking after you do these sessions, you need to try harder.

  • Week #1: 7 x 2′ / 2′ rest ( 2′ warmup / 14′ work / 12′ rest / 2′ cooldown = 30′)
  • Week #2: 5 x 3′ / 3′ rest ( 2′ warmup / 15′ work / 12′ rest / 1′ cooldown = 30′)
  • Week #3: 4 x 4′ / 4′ rest ( 2′ warmup / 16′ work / 12′ rest / no cooldown = 30′)

The two minute warmup up:  Row nice and slow for 30 seconds.  Then do 5 hard strokes. Then 30 seconds easy. Then hard strokes for the rest of the 2 minutes.  For the hard strokes, aim for the target pace and rate that you will be rowing in the intervals.

Priority #2 – Long Intervals
The objective of these workouts is to improve your efficiency and economy and they can really help to improve your middle distance rowing.  They also teach you about dealing with discomfort.  The pacing should be about 6 second slower than your 2K split to start, but it’s going to vary from person to person.  Stroke rate should be a couple beats lower than the short interval sessions.

  • Week #1: 4 x 6′ / 2′ rest ( no warmup / 24′ work / 6′ rest / no cool down)
  • Week #2: 3 x 8′ / 3′ rest ( no warmup / 24′ work / 6′ rest / no cool down)
  • Week #3: The water fall 9′ + 8′ + 7′ / 3′ rest ( no warmup / 24′ work / 6′ rest / no cool down)

Priority #3 – Hard Distance Day
The objective of this workout is to work on lactate tolerance and efficiency.  Pace is going to be about 10 second slower than your 2K test to start (for the free rate piece).  Stroke rate will probably be about 4 beats lower than your 2k.

  • Week #1 : 30r20.  This is a classic power workout.  You row as hard as you can for 30 minutes but the catch is that you row at exactly 20 spm for the whole piece.
  • Week #2: The 30 minute push.  This one is tricky to explain.  The 30 minutes is divided into 5 chunks, each 6′ long.  Row the first chunk at a reasonably easy pace.  Maybe 20 splits slower than your 2k time.  Then, at the end of the first 6 minutes, speed up by 2 splits.  So, for example, if you start rowing at a 2:10 pace, then you would accelerate to a 2:08 pace after 6 minutes.  Then after 12 minutes, accelerate again (now to 2:06).  Then after 18 minutes, do it again (to 2:04).  After 24 minutes again.  Do this one slow the first time, and then start a second or two faster the next time it comes up in the sequence.
  • Week #3:  Free Rate Day.  Choose one of the Concept2 middle distance ranking distances, and go for it.  Your primary choices are 30′, 6K, 5K.  No rate restrictions.  If you are doing the 5K or 6K, do a short warmup before hand.

Priority #4 – Power Day
The objective is to increase your anaerobic power and neuromuscular coordination to row at high rates.  The workout is loosely based on Peak Power Training from Ed McNeely.  This is the same session in all 3 weeks of the cycle.  Here are a few tips from the that article about how to do this session.

On a CII set the drag factor to 200. The high drag factor is necessary to provide adequate resistance so that you can hit a true peak power. Lower drag factors do not provide enough resistance and you will get lower peak power numbers. Warm up by paddling easy for 5-10 minutes. At the end of your warm up come to a full stop and let the fly wheel stop. Set your monitor so that you can see the watts for each stroke. From a stop row as hard and as fast as possible for 10 seconds, recording the highest power you see on any stroke. There is no rate cap but you must row as close to full slide as possible right from the first stroke, do not use a racing start.

  • 8′ warmup
  • 3 x ( 5 x 10″ hard / 50″ paddle) / 2′ rest (2:30 of really hard work, 12:30 of paddling, 4′ rest)
  • 3′ cooldown

Priority #5 – Easy Days
Although these are the lowest priority, they are the key to long term improvement.  These sessions are also the most boring.  You get on the rowing machine and you row for 30 minutes.  Your pace target should be about 2K plus 20 or so.  If you use a heart rate monitor, you should aim at having your heart rate below 80% of your max at the end of the session.  The purpose of these sessions is provide active recovery from the hard sessions, to build aerobic endurance and to improve the ability to use fat as an energy source for exercise.  These sessions can be replaced by a bike ride, run, or other aerobic activity.

The cycle

The whole point of the structure of this plan is so that you go through all the workout over a 3 week cycle, and then you come back and do them again.  You can measure improvement from cycle to cycle and you get better at the workouts.

Example 3 Week Cycle

Week Day Workout Type Session Target Pace
1 Sunday 2K Time Trial 2K
Monday 30′ Easy 2K +20
Tuesday Short Intervals 7 x 2′ / 2′ rest 2K
Wednesday 30′ Easy
Thursday Long Intervals 4 x 6′ / 2′ rest 2K + 5
Friday 30′ Easy 2K + 20
Saturday Power 3 x ( 5 x 10″ / 50″ ) / 2′ rest 2K – ?
2 Sunday Hard Distance 30 R 20 2K + 14
Monday 30′ Easy
Tuesday Short Intervals 5 x 3′ / 3′ 2K + 1
Wednesday 30′ Easy
Thursday Long Intervals 3 x 8′ / 4′ 2K + 6
Friday 30′ Easy
Saturday Power 3 x ( 5 x 10″ / 50″ ) / 2′ rest
3 Sunday Hard Distance 30′ Push 2K + 20 to start
Monday 30′ Easy
Tuesday Short Intervals 4 x 4′ / 4′ 2K + 2
Wednesday 30′ Easy
Thursday Long Intervals 9′ / 8′ / 7′ (3′ rest) 2K + 6
Friday 30′ Easy
Saturday Power 3 x ( 5 x 10″ / 50″ ) / 2′ rest
4 Sunday Hard Distance 30′ Time Trial (Free Rate) 2K + 10

What if you are on call and can’t do a session?  If you have a couple minutes, here and there, I suggest that you try to do some very quick body weight exercises.  Do 50 body weight squats.  Do a set of 20 push ups.

There are two options about what to do with the planned sessions when you need to miss multiple days in a row.  One option is to try to cram all the high intensity stuff into the days that you have.  The other is to just pick up with the normally scheduled session for the day when you return.  I have found that the second way is a lot easier to manage when my routine is disrupted by travel or other business commitments.  But you might be different.  In any case, after a lay off of 3 days or so, your splits will suffer a little, so don’t get all stressed about your times.


Why a week?

A very talented rower, who goes by the handle boston_sculler on twitter posts some interesting stuff. Today he posted a link to an article in Runners world.

Why Masters Runners Should Try Longer Training Cycles

I read through the article and it made a lot of sense to me.  Right now I work on a 7 day cycle.  Generally with 3 hard sessions and 3 endurance sessions.  I often feel like I am inadequately recovered by the time I need to do another hard session.  The article talks about an old marathoner who adopted a 9 day cycle.

There are pros and cons.  The pro is pretty easy to define, you can fine tune the training cycle to match up with what works best for you.  The con side is a bit more subtle.  So much of how we plan our lives and communicate about our training is based on the one week unit.  Breaking out of that paradigm has the potential to be very isolating, unless others will be following a similar pattern.

I’ve spent a couple of seasons creating custom fine tuned training plans and I think that they have the potential to get me in better shape than using an existing plan unmodified.  The problem that I am having is that I am giving up an important source of motivation and support.  It is easier to get motivated to do a specific workout if you are part of a group following the same plan.  Every one gets to congratulate and cajole each other as you go along.

I know that I should be internally and intrinsically motivated by my objectives, but I think friends would help.

So, I think that’s where I am at right now.  Once my leg is fixed, I think I will look for a few training partners and we can come up with a common training plan and agree on things like cycle length, numbers and types of sessions, mesocycle purposes and the lot.  The way I’ve been working this is making me feel lonely.