Race preparation – the importance of marginal gains

Not all rowers train to race, but if they do, it is any coach’s duty to see that they maximise their chances of winning.  My personal view is that most of a crew’s important races will be won or lost by inches, hence the importance of marginal gains.  The exploitation of marginal gains has been executed very effectively by the GB Cycling team (Video here: http://bit.ly/19hk1pG) .  While club rowers may not be aiming at Olympic levels of performance, the marginal gains available to them are still significant.  I’ll give just three examples:

  1. Hygiene.  This sounds very basic and indeed it is, but regattas are often effectively a weekend’s camping interspersed with some rowing.  These conditions can cause stomach upsets, and stomach upsets will affect performance.  One of the simplest measures a team can take is to have strict hygiene rules.  Teach crews how to wash their hands effectively (not as simple as you might think.  Video here: http://bit.ly/16j8I1C ), and to take care what they eat and drink.  Unrefrigerated food brought from home should only be treated as safe for 24 hours.  Discourage crews from sharing drinking bottles.
  2. Alcohol and diet.  Most club rowers see eating and drinking as an integral part of regatta competition. They differ mainly in what and when they eat and drink.  To be fair, most rowers avoid alcohol before rowing, but rowing with a hangover on the second day of a weekend regatta is still an accepted hazard in many clubs.  Suffice it to say that a crew starting with a hangover is at a disadvantage to one which is not.  As for food, the benefits of a careful training diet can be ruined by an unlucky choice of takeaway meal.  If your aim is to win then take care what you eat.
  3. Boat weight.  By all means train with extra weight in the boat.  Keep as much drinking water and clothing in the boat as you need.  In competition, however, the reverse applies.  If every rower in an eight boats with a 500ml bottle of water, they have added 4kg to the weight of their boat.  Add eight pairs of shoes and eight items of extra kit and you could easily double that to 8kg.  I doubt that any crew wanting to win a race would volunteer to carry an extra 8kg weight if you offered it to them. So leave shoes and extra kit behind when you get into the boat to race.  Take only as much drinking water with you as you need in the conditions and empty the bottle over the side before you get to the start (please don’t throw plastic bottles overboard).
  4. Aligning on the start.  Getting a boat properly aligned before a race is important to getting a good start.  The cox or steersperson needs to work quickly to achieve and maintain the correct alignment – possibly in windy or rough conditions.  The official or umpire starting the race has a schedule to keep to and may not have to time or inclination to wait until everyone on the start line is happy.  Practise aligning your boat quickly (using bow and two in sweep-oar boats) – as you would practise any other part of the race, with particular emphasis on being ready for the start whenever the ‘GO!’ is given.

None of these will offer more than a marginal gain in performance, but if your boat can exploit as many as possible of the marginal gains available to you, they may just make the difference between winning and losing a close race.

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