Does on-water resisted rowing increase or maintain lower-body strength?

Trent W Lawton, John B Cronin, Michael R McGuigan
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2013, 27 (7): 1958-63
Over the past 30 years, endurance volumes have increased by >20% among the rowing elite; therefore, informed decisions about the value of weight training over other possible activities in periodized training plans for rowing need to be made. The purpose of this study was to quantify the changes in lower-body strength development after two 14-week phases of intensive resisted on-water rowing, either incorporating weight training or rowing alone. Ten elite women performed 2 resisted rowing ("towing ropes," e.g., 8 × 3 minutes) plus 6 endurance (e.g., 16-28 km at 70-80% maximum heart rate) and 2 rate-regulated races (e.g., 8,000 m at 24 strokes per minute) on-water each week. After a 4-week washout phase, the 14-week phase was repeated with the addition of 2 weight-training sessions (e.g., 3-4 sets × 6-15 reps). Percent (±SD) and standardized differences in effects (effect size [ES] ± 90% confidence limit) for 5-repetition leg pressing and isometric pulling strength were calculated from data ratio scaled for body mass, log transformed and adjusted for pretest scores. Resisted rowing alone did not increase leg pressing (-1.0 ± 5.3%, p = 0.51) or isometric pulling (5.3 ± 13.4%, p = 0.28) strength. In contrast, after weight training, a moderately greater increase in leg pressing strength was observed (ES = 0.72 ± 0.49, p = 0.03), although differences in isometric pulling strength were unclear (ES = 0.56 ± 1.69, p = 0.52). In conclusion, intensive on-water training including resisted rowing maintained but did not increase lower-body strength. Elite rowers or coaches might consider the incorporation of high-intensity nonfatiguing weight training concurrent to endurance exercise if increases in lower-body strength without changes in body mass are desired.

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