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Managing your Training in Masters Rowing

From post-university rowers in their 20s to those in their 90s Masters Rowing encompasses a spectrum of ages, abilities, and events geared to each group. Just as there is no “cookbook” approach to an elite athlete’s program, there is none for a masters athlete either. Each has their own goals and individual needs that have to be considered for their own rowing to be a successful experience. 

This article will help you work out how to create balance in your training as a masters rower.

About the author

Marlene Royle founded Faster Masters Rowing in 2019 - she was among the first coaches specialising in masters rowing. Marlene’s coaching career began in 1982 with the Boston University Summer Recreational Rowing Program, a community sweep program on the Charles River. From 1986 to 2005, Marlene coached at the Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont and was the associate director for three years. Marlene was the head coach at the Florida Rowing Center in Wellington, Florida from 2005 – 2009. She coaches masters on the water at Aviron Knowlton Rowing, Craftsbury Sculling Center, and Lemon Bay Crew Club.

Marlene founded Roylerow Performance Training Programs in 1999 to coach masters with customized rowing training programs.

Athlete Health & Fitness

Many masters live busy lives and so a big part of your potential to enjoy rowing depends on making a “rowing shaped hole” in your diary. Rushed outings are not fun. You will find that you can enjoy your rowing more if your regular training fits into a framework of your choice. Later in this article is a questionnaire to help you work out your preferences and rowing choices.


Balance and flexibility are key

A masters athlete juggles family life, work, commuting, volunteer, and social commitments with training, sleep, travel, and racing. Your plan needs to work for you based on your weekly schedule, and your available time to train and your recovery ability. Your age, fitness level, and commitments away from the boat shed will impact your schedule and energy levels. Your energy comes from one source so keeping the scales on an even keel as much as possible will help you get the most out of your training and contribute to your greater sense of well-being.

As you age through the masters rowing age categories and your life alters, you will find that some of these considerations will change. For example, pre-school children are very different from secondary school kids’ needs. And working from home is different from having to commute to work.


Considerations for your personal programme

1. How would you describe yourself?

a.  A seasoned competitor, performance-oriented but aiming for only one or two events each season.
b.  A novice rower just learning skills and eventually wanting to race.
c.  Purely recreational more geared to fitness and good technique.
d.  A “student of the sport” focused primarily on improving technique because you love drills and exercises.
e.  Or a combination of the above.

2. Write down your regular weekly schedule and available time for training. 

a.  Specify your preferred rest day(s) and any other set training sessions you have planned such as a crew boat outing or working with a trainer, or cross training.
b.  Within the week, be sure you include the priority days, recovery days, and flexible days.
c.  If your schedule needs to be re-arranged during a given week a flexible day can be an additional day off or a day for making up a priority workout that you missed.

3. What are your short-term racing and training goals for the next 6-12 months? Write them down.

4. What can you do physically and mentally to help yourself reach your goals?

5. How can you improve your technique in the boat?

6. How can you improve your race plan?

7. How can you improve your diet?

8. Do you feel you get enough recovery/sleep during the week?

9. What are you willing to do to achieve those goals?

a.  lose weight
b.  train harder
c.  train more
d.  invest in a better boat
e.  recover more
f.  take time off from work
g.  take time away from home
h.  all of the above or something else?

10. What resources are available to you to help you with your training and technique?  

a.  a rowing coach
b.  personal trainer
c.  sports nutritionist
d.  a training programme
e.  massage therapist
f.  experienced rowers at your club

Now you should have both a framework of a regular diary days for training and also a view on how much you are prepared to change in order to facilitate your rowing. This will help you frame up the “essentials” and the “nice to haves” in your rowing. Remember these are personal choices – there are no right or wrong answers.

Do talk through your answers with your rowing friends. If several of you want to try something different like buying a training programme or hiring a coach or clubbing together to buy a boat – that can be easier if you share the costs.


What should you expect from your rowing as you age?

These observations are from my experience and there certainly are variations between different people but these are some trends.

Rowing in your 20s and 30s

If you are a former student athlete and you continue to train as you start your career, work, or family, you can maintain a high level of fitness close to that of your university years and even surpass that fitness. Provided that you are living a reasonable “athletic-lifestyle” your body has a great recovery capacity and you can certainly push your limits. Many single scullers reach their peak in their late 20s/early 30s. In masters rowing, high-energy athletes in this age group often train 6 to 9 sessions per week including land and water workouts. If you are new to the sport 3 to 4 sessions per week will provide a good base for technique, for additional fitness you can include more land-based training.

Rowing in your 40s

You will often have limited time in this decade and have to weave your rowing in between your career and family demands. So the key here is making sure that you get adequate training to support the level of your goals and to put a priority on quality workouts versus quantity. Getting enough sleep and recovery is an important training factor not to be overlooked. Top masters in this age group are likely to train 5 to 7 sessions per week; newcomers should aim for 3 to 4 rowing sessions complemented with cross training until a good base is established.

Rowing in your 50s

This is one of the most competitively-minded groups in masters rowing; especially among women. This is often a time when your career is well-developed, the children are a bit older allowing more personal time for pursuing rowing goals and motivation is very high. It can also be a time when many new masters join the sport because they now have some additional time to follow personal interests or have the opportunity to pursue athletic goals they had earlier in life but put on hold.

With your 50s come metabolic and hormonal changes in both men and women. Sleep patterns may be disrupted, unwanted weight gain can happen easily, so diet and sleep need to be watched carefully. If you are lacking sleep at night it is important to take short power naps before or after training so that your workout has quality. Recovery has to be monitored more closely and if you are feeling run down, boost your protein intake and take additional rest. Always err on the side of caution. The top competitors in this age group train 5 to 7 sessions per week. Newcomers must take care not to over do it, your body needs time to adapt to the training and doing too much too soon can cause over-use injuries or set backs. Your body must adapt on the cellular level and this takes time.

Rowing in your 60s

The body undergoes greater metabolic changes during the 50s decade and so your 60s can be a fairly stable decade provided you have no major or unfortunate health issues to deal with. Retirement offers more training time, at much as one can tolerate safely, and also allows for more recovery time. With each additional year of age, recovery becomes paramount to success. You may not be hitting personal best times compared to when you were 40 but you can certainly maintain a high level of competitiveness and fitness through this decade and keep your erg score pretty steady. Technical improvements become more and more critical as the ability to increase hours of training is limited for recovery reasons. It’s far better to get coaching and gain boat speed technically than trying to pile on extra training hours. Maintaining flexibility, proper recovery, and injury prevention must be closely attended. Top masters in this age group train 5 to 6 sessions per week. Novices may want to aim for 3 sessions and gradually build up as tolerated.

Rowing in your 70s

Seasoned rowers, in their 70s are some of the first humans to have been athletic most of their lives. This age group is no less competitive than any younger age group especially on the international masters level. Athletes have reported to me that when they turn 70 their body goes through another major change as it did in their 50s, primarily that the body’s response to exercise becomes more unpredictable.

Typical workouts now require much more recovery, two to three days compared to one day in years past but it can change from week to week. The main factor here is to continue your training but be flexible to adjust for your recovery needs. Some days you may need to simply go for a walk if it means the next day you can again have a quality workout. You may want to look at varying your weekly schedule to be one day on one day off or two training days followed by a rest day, or include active rest days between harder rows. Again, it is very individual and one has to be prepared to adjust as your body dictates. There is every reason to continue to get coaching to row better, to maintain flexibility and muscle mass, and to maximise your time on the water. It’s also a great way to get out in team boats and row for health, friendship, and well-being.

Rowing in your 80s and 90s

This age class is growing and I suspect it will only continue to grow in years to come. Already 70-year olds tell me that they can’t wait to move into the next age group. I repeat all the same points for the 70-year olds with an even greater emphasis on recovery and injury prevention. Always err on the side of caution. Safety concerns should be paramount in conjunction with health and well-being.

Rowing in your 100s

I am sure this age group will expand…


Marlene Royle is a Specialist Masters Coach at www.FasterMastersRowing.com

Catch Marlene on Rowing Chat’s Podcast Network

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