Strength Training for Masters

summarized by David DeWinter
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Will RuthCreator at Rowing Stronger

Supplementary Content

Presentation Slides and Links

The 3-Sentence Summary

Strength training is a crucial part of a year-round training plan to get healthy, avoid injuries, build strength and power, and fill in the gaps of training that rowing does not address. Rowers should incorporate strength training in each of these movement patterns: hinge, squat, push/press, pull, shoulder coordination, rotational and lateral hip training, and core. Modifications to training tempo, set/rep counts, and rest time between sets can shift training benefits, so be intentional about your training goals for each session.


1:58 Will Ruth introduction

3:30 Other foundational USRowing webinars on strength training.

6:00 Strength training is for everyone who wants to stay healthy and avoid injuries, not just medal-chasers.

What’s different as we age?

8:15 Respect changes to the sport and to yourself. There were big shifts in the 1990s for rowing performance and kinematics that a lot of us lived through: the erg and hatchet blades.

10:24 Rowing is different when you’re older. Change your training accordingly. Examples:

  • Menopause in women around age 50
  • Hormonal changes in men around age 60

14:01 General strength training guidance for masters:

  • 4 – 10 challenging reps (not maximal, no technique breakdown)
  • More compound/full-body exercises (not machine-based isolation exercises)
  • More HIT cardio (> race pace), 1x/week of 15 – 30 minutes in the off-season for maintenance
  • Plyometric exercises
  • Deload weeks every 4 – 10 weeks (the body needs time to rest – get away from streak-based mindsets)

What’s different during different parts of the season?

17:57 You can’t train everything (strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, technique) at the same time, so break training into blocks/cycles (periodization). Start with the end goal (races) and work backward.

20:29 The amount of time you have to train year-round has a major impact on your trajectory. Establish consistency in your training year-round before spending too much time optimizing each cycle.

21:16 Strength training goals in the off-season:

  • Get healthy (shed off old injuries), optimize body composition (increase muscle mass or decrease body fat)
  • Build aerobic fitness
  • Maintain power and anaerobic fitness (not the focus, but we don’t want to start over)

Training: 2 – 3 strength sessions/week with higher volume

23:31 Strength training goals in season:

  • Race performance
  • Maintain health, muscle, strength
  • Gains are a bonus (not the goal)

Training: 2 shorter, high-intensity strength training sessions (don’t stop completely, or you’ll lose your gains)

Exercise Categories

24:59 Exercises can be grouped into the movement pattern they promote: hinge, squat, push/press, pull, shoulder coordination, rotational and lateral hip training, and core. Will has examples here.

26:00 The hinge is a major component of the rowing stroke. Examples: Romanian Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Hex Bar Deadlift.


28:25 Are seated good mornings helpful for rowers?

It’s not a go-to exercise; Will tries to rely as little as possible on benches, padding, etc., unless he needs to adapt to an injury.

29:08 Is it good to make time for this even if you can row year-round?

Generally, yes. It’s a great time to create variety in your training since rowing goals/race prep are generally far away in the off-season.

30:52 Where should the head and eye level be during hip hinge exercises (like good mornings)?

The neck should stay stacked on the shoulders, and the eyes should look forward in a way that maintains a neutral neck position.

Exercise Categories (continued)

31:46 Squats: having adequate power in the legs saves load on the spine. If an athlete tends to open up too early and can be coached out of it at low pressure but not high pressure, then it could be a strength deficit.

33:06 Bilateral squat progression from least to most challenging: bodyweight, goblet, double dumbbell, front. (Back squat gets you into a different position from rowing.)

34:00 Unilateral squat progression: lunge, lateral step-up, rear-foot elevated split squat (RFESS)

35:28 Shoulder movements: elevation vs. depression, protraction vs. retraction. Training the shoulder is critical because what happens to the shoulder happens to the handle. YWT raises and band pull-aparts teach these patterns. This is REQUIRED before moving to push and press work.

39:19 Push and press movements take basic shoulder movement patterns from the YWT raises and apply them in many different planes, thus increasing shoulder stability for better handle control. Examples: push-ups (elevated), shoulder presses.

40:26 Pulling movements exercise the full range of motion but still support movements on the water: body-weight row, x-band row, assisted chin-up.

41:53 Lateral/rotation hip movement demo – many rowers tend to be weak in this area.

43:10 Core demo – rolling plank, seated rockback. These exercises focus on muscles typically neglected by rowers, but can greatly impact your balance and hip health.

47:14 More core training resources: Core Training for Rowers and Core Strength Training Riverside Chat

47:36 What pieces of at-home equipment would you suggest for masters?

  • Challenging weights (dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell)
  • TRX
  • Hex Bar
  • Power Rack

Eccentric Tempo Training

49:26 There is no eccentric motion in rowing. Strength training fills that gap.

51:06 Consider tempo modifications during training: eccentric (lower)-pause-concentric (lift)-pause

  • 2-0-1-0: 2-second lower, 0-second pause, 1-second lift, 0-second pause (similar to rowing, recovery vs. drive)
  • Assistance exercises (create more muscular tension with lower load and less wear-and-tear on the joints)
    • 3-0-1-0
    • 2-1-1-0
    • 3-1-1-0
    • 4-0-1-0

Training for Power

53:28 Train power by lowering weight, reps, and rest and increasing the number sets. The lighter weight allows you to explode to lift the weight as quickly as possible. (More impactful during the racing season than off-season)

55:04 Explosive training demo. You can alternate the focus of weekly sessions between power (explosiveness) and strength.

55:39 Plyometrics are like power exercises: low reps, high rest-to-work ratios (4+:1), explosive intent. Do them on soft flooring (not concrete/boathouse flooring). These are better for masters to avoid wear and tear on the joints.

58:02 Plyometric training demo. Train for power and coordination!

58:54 Sample training template for multiple days.


59:48 How do you minimize risk during plyometrics?

Soft landing surface, step down (don’t jump down). Train for power, not endurance (lower reps).

1:00:45 If a master had $100 to spend either on equipment or a trainer, what would you recommend?

Getting access to knowledge is more important than equipment. Check out Will’s content on his website RowingStronger.com.

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