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Surviving Rowing Camps

10 January 2017  |  By Fiona Milne

Surviving Rowing Camps

It’s that time of year that young rowers are anxiously anticipating the upcoming school rowing camps. These are usually 3-10 day camps in remote locations around Victoria with some schools venturing as far as Tasmania or Canberra.

Throughout my years of competing on the Canadian rowing team, I have had the incredibly arduous, but tremendously enjoyable experiences of rowing training camps in beautiful locations all around the world including Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Amsterdam, California, Florida as well as the classic Victorian locations of Bairnsdale, Falls Creek, Geelong and Nagambie.

Rowing Camps provide a fantastic opportunity to prepare crews technically and physically for the upcoming racing season in a focused and intense manner while enjoying the team building and comaraderie of your crew mates.

Here are a few hints to get you through your camps in the best shape for the season ahead.

Preparation Before Camp

Make sure you have been keeping up with your prescribed fitness routine that coaches may have recommended prior to departing for Christmas. Usually this would entail 45-60 minutes of aerobic activity per day as well as 2 or 3 20-30 minute strength circuits per week. Hopefully you have used the holidays for some good cross training and alternative fitness activities.

Throughout Januray Spring Physio Gym is running our READY TO ROW strengthening program to get you in optimum shape for camp.

Rehydrate and Fuel Up

Camps will usually involve 2-3 training sessions per day. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water before and during your session.

After sessions it is good to have a protein shake and or electrolyte drink to replenish lost fluids and calories. You should aim to eat a carbohydrate and protein snack or meal within 30 minutes of each training session, ie. fruit and yoghurt, ham and cheese sandwich, eggs and toast, etc. This will keep your energy reserves up for completing multiple training sessions in a day.

Rest and Recovery

Make sure you use your down time for resting and recovery. This is not the time to play a game of footy or run around the caravan park. As the week goes on, you will need your reserves of energy to complete the prescribed sessions.

Take board games, ipads, books, etc for some quiet time between sessions. After high intensity training sessions taking a cold swim/shower or ice bath is great for recovery.

Stretching and Rollers

It would be great for the whole squad to do some group stretching or yoga as well as using some foam rollers to work out the stiffness and muscle tightness between training sessions. Areas of particular concern for rowers, are hamstrings, quads, gluteals, hip flexors, back, ankles and calves, chest and lats.


After having a prolonged time out of the boat over summer, rower’s hands get soft again. Going back into a camp scenario will make you prone to getting blisters on your hands. Try to maintain a loose grip on the handle and ensure you keep your hands and handles clean to avoid the risk of infection. Take lots of athletic tape and have someone tape up your hands to cover blisters if they do occur.

Training Volume

This one is largely out of the athlete’s control but dictated by the coaches.

On one of my training camps, 8 weeks prior to the Olympic trials in 2004, a squad of 4 lightweight rowers went to California all trying out for 2 spots in the lightweight women’s double to go to Athens 2004 Olympics. The aim of the camp was putting in big volume training in quads and doubles. Three of us returned home with rib stress fractures that kept us out of the boat for the next 6 weeks. The only reason it wasn’t’ all of us, was that one of the girls was injured going into camp so she did not do full volume!! Obviously not the outcome we were hoping for from our pre-Olympic trials camp!

Sudden increases in training volume and intensity are the most prevalent cause of injury. Doing a 2nd or 3rd session on the water may be better spent just doing some technical blade skill drills and exercises, or a group stretch session.

Recognizing Pain

Athletes need to recognize the difference between training pain and injury pain.

TRAINING pain will present as a gradual onset of tired and sore muscles that generally stops when you stop rowing or shortly after. If it is higher intensity work or strength work you may experience DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) which is just your body’s natural repairing of the muscle damage caused by high intensity or strength workouts. This can be managed with the rest and recovery techniques described above and is OK to continue to train with.

INJURY pain – may be a sudden onset of spasm or shooting pain. It often lasts long after the training stimulus has ended and can continue into the night and affect your sleeping. This pain SHOULD NOT be ignored or trained through. You may take some panadol or anti- inflammatories to manage the pain, but you should not train through it until seen by a doctor or physiotherapist. Athletes should alert your coach of this and take a session out of the boat until seen by a health professional.

It is very important to get the injury seen to promptly as continuing to train through it on camp may result in the athlete having to miss the whole rowing season to rehabilitate it properly, whereas if it is rested and seen to quickly, athletes can often return to the boat in 1-2 weeks.

Our team of physiotherapists at Spring Physio Gym are all well equipped to advise on how to manage and prevent rowing injuries.

If you are carrying any niggles or concerns please get assessed prior to heading off on camp. Another great recovery upon your return from camp would be a massage from Matt to help work out all those tight muscles.


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