Measures of rowing performance

T Brett Smith, Will G Hopkins
Sports Medicine 2012 April 1, 42 (4): 343-58
Accurate measures of performance are important for assessing competitive athletes in practi~al and research settings. We present here a review of rowing performance measures, focusing on the errors in these measures and the implications for testing rowers. The yardstick for assessing error in a performance measure is the random variation (typical or standard error of measurement) in an elite athlete's competitive performance from race to race: ∼1.0% for time in 2000 m rowing events. There has been little research interest in on-water time trials for assessing rowing performance, owing to logistic difficulties and environmental perturbations in performance time with such tests. Mobile ergometry via instrumented oars or rowlocks should reduce these problems, but the associated errors have not yet been reported. Measurement of boat speed to monitor on-water training performance is common; one device based on global positioning system (GPS) technology contributes negligible extra random error (0.2%) in speed measured over 2000 m, but extra error is substantial (1-10%) with other GPS devices or with an impeller, especially over shorter distances. The problems with on-water testing have led to widespread use of the Concept II rowing ergometer. The standard error of the estimate of on-water 2000 m time predicted by 2000 m ergometer performance was 2.6% and 7.2% in two studies, reflecting different effects of skill, body mass and environment in on-water versus ergometer performance. However, well trained rowers have a typical error in performance time of only ∼0.5% between repeated 2000 m time trials on this ergometer, so such trials are suitable for tracking changes in physiological performance and factors affecting it. Many researchers have used the 2000 m ergometer performance time as a criterion to identify other predictors of rowing performance. Standard errors of the estimate vary widely between studies even for the same predictor, but the lowest errors (~1-2%) have been observed for peak power output in an incremental test, some measures of lactate threshold and measures of 30-second all-out power. Some of these measures also have typical error between repeated tests suitably low for tracking changes. Combining measures via multiple linear regression needs further investigation. In summary, measurement of boat speed, especially with a good GPS device, has adequate precision for monitoring training performance, but adjustment for environmental effects needs to be investigated. Time trials on the Concept II ergometer provide accurate estimates of a rower's physiological ability to output power, and some submaximal and brief maximal ergometer performance measures can be used frequently to monitor changes in this ability. On-water performance measured via instrumented skiffs that determine individual power output may eventually surpass measures derived from the Concept II.

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