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Winter Training Advice for Rowing Teams

Snow on the Willamette River

Winter Training Blues

Growing up rowing in New Zealand I never truly picked up an oar in the winter months. The rowing season ran from October to April while it was warm and sunny. It truly is a privilege that went unappreciated until experiencing a northern hemisphere rowing season. As both an athlete and a coach I have explored different ways in which this period can best be navigated to help individuals maintain motivation, improve fitness and well-being, and continue to promote and foster a healthy team environment. It is hard to provide a one-size fits all answer to the winter training blues. While as coaches and club directors our goal is often to see some base fitness improvement over the break, the main hope is that athletes will not lose the progress they have made over the previous semester. But how can we foster an environment that promotes this, when we have minimal control over the actions of our athletes? 


Participating in a sport such as rowing is a large time commitment for our athletes. Of importance is the structure that this time commitment provides. Specifically, our athletes understand that to be successful in school and athletics they need to develop their time management skills. When holidays come about, these same athletes no longer have the same pressures of productivity and can allow their habits to slip. As coaches, it is important for us to work within their needs. Here, it is to provide flexible structure. An example of this is creating a training schedule that offers many different workout types. By only suggesting an erg or row, athletes may feel restricted to the point that they just decide not to do anything. Present these same athletes with 30 min body weight circuits, fartlek runs, and promote alternative activities such as swimming and hiking to allow these athletes to diversify their routines and feel as if they have control in their holidays over their schedules.

Team Culture

As we lose control over the winter period it is critical to reflect on our leadership styles and trust the process. If we, as coaches, have taught our athletes the necessary skills to be successful over the fall then the winter period should be fine. Specifically, as coaches if we show our athletes our lack of trust or share the expectation that they will not do the work over break, it is likely they will live up to those expectations. Rather, use it as a time to establish a positive association with winter training. A commonly used option here is to break the squad down into smaller teams and assign points to workouts. This is a feature available for use through the CrewLAB app. During this period, present leadership opportunities to those who are working hard and may not typically be selected as a captain and present the athletes with extrinsic motivation too. When encouraging athletes to work out it is important to reward the positive achievements more than punishing the negatives as athletes need to positively associate their behaviors with enjoyment and hard work of the sport.


The overall theme for the winter training period is to create an environment where athletes can have fun. Being alone during this time can be difficult and finding ways to encourage athlete participation without making it feel like a burden is important. The winter training period is the highest point in the season that kids drop out of the sport. While it is easy to say that they weren’t cut out for the sport, it is also likely that they stopped having fun and forgot about the team comradery. Take this time to promote healthy habits with the kids and have them set goals for the break as well as the upcoming season so they too can monitor their progress. The reward of achieving goals is encouraging for all athletes.

While this isn’t a fool proof guide to winter training, ensuring these three factors exist allows us to be confident that athletes are continuing to develop holistically by being encouraged to make their own informed decisions surrounding training and their involvement with their teammates. Additionally, the flexibility allows for athletes to focus on other factors important over the holiday season – such as family time. As coaches, showing this respect to our athletes, but also providing some structural support allows us to gain confidence in our athletes and took take time to mentally decompress ahead of the spring season.

Article by Jessica Brougham

Jessica Brougham

Currently studying at University of Florida as a Doctoral Student towards a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Health and Performance. Rowed at High School in New Zealand and in College for Washington State University.

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