View Full Version : Lifting / Endurance conflict

Tom Rawls
11-14-2007, 07:26 AM
Is it possible to succeed at both Oly lifting and endurance training at the same time?

For the past 7 years, my training has focused on the C2 rower, preparing for 2k races. That's an endurance event and requires lots of meters to be rowed during training. The training that makes one successful at a 2k converts certain fast-twitch fibers to perform more like slow-twitch, and elite rowers have an uncommonly high percentage of slow-twitch fibers (not that I am not elite.)

It seems that the muscular requirements of lifting (brief burst of power) are at odds with the muscular requirements of rowing (extended consistent power). If I were to back off the rowing and concentrate on training for Oly lifts, can I convert some of muscle back to fast-twitch?

Is this slow-twitch/fast-twitch conversion truly an issue?

Mark Joseph Limbaga
11-15-2007, 02:33 AM
Yes it is possible. I used a tonnage-based program for several athletes and average Joes. ALL of them incresed their strength from 10-25% and their endurance also went up. However, if you wanna increase your endurance for specific events, you still have to do that specific event so your body can also adapt to the stress it gets n that said event.

Garrett Smith
11-15-2007, 06:19 AM
I don't see why doing a program with an OL focus (CA WOD) while subbing in more rowing and rowing assistance exercises (air squats, weighted body rows, etc.) for the Rx'd metcon would cause any issues at all.

Just make the workouts more specific to your needs/desires.

Balck box it, forget about all that theory.

-Ross Hunt
11-15-2007, 08:22 AM
It's totally possible to make gains on both fronts at once.

I ran distance for about 6 years, from seventh grade through freshman year of college, and then rowed crew for half a year. Then I started lifting weights and put on about twenty pounds. Then I started doing the WOD, and broke my long-distance erg records with hardly any specific rowing training. Then I switched to a combination of CF stuff and oly lifting, and came within ten to twenty seconds of my best high school mile time on just three months of CF-style circuits, sprints, and oly lifts--this while gaining a large amount of strength in both oly lifts and weighing twenty pounds heavier than in high school.

As to excelling... that's a different story. Long years of pounding the ground have made it extremely difficult to gain squatting strength (as opposed to pulling or overhead strength), so I've had to drop all metcon work to move my snatch past bodyweight, and do the split clean rather than the squat clean to cirumvent leg strength limitations. But this may go differently for you; I was definitely slow-twitch dominant even before I started distance running.

Mike ODonnell
11-15-2007, 10:07 AM
Is this slow-twitch/fast-twitch conversion truly an issue?

Fast Twitch muscles can act like slow twitch.....but the reverse is not as efficient. Hence a power athlete can do well at endurance events while an endurance athlete will have a harder time converting to power based movements. Powerlifters dont need to run...but runners can benefit from some powerlifting. I would think power based training with intermittent endurance training (via intervals and some steady state) will get you the optimal balance you are looking for.

You can always be a jack of all trades at 80% output/performance....or you can specialize and get 90%+ output. All depends on your own personal definition of "why" you train. After all....a professional hockey player doesn't need to know how to run a marathon.

Steven Low
11-15-2007, 10:16 AM
The simple answer is yes.

That's because oly lifting primarily works posterior chain and pushing muscles while rowing works your pulling muscles and some posterior chain. Good overall combination. But obviously you're going to have some biasing of your pulling towards type I fibers and pushing and posterior chain towards type II.

That's if you wanted a physiological reason..

Tom Rawls
11-15-2007, 11:40 AM
thanx for the replies.

My training bias for the last half dozen years has been decidedly sport specific, middle distance on the erg. I'll be interested to see what happens as I shift the emphasis.

Doesn't rowing also rely largely on the posterior chain? The drive is done with the legs (quad/glute) with the core held stable (and seems an awful lot like a sitting power clean). The pull at the finish provides a relatively minor contribution to the overall drive.

James Evans
11-15-2007, 12:17 PM
Tom, are you purely an indoor specialist? Rowing is a power endurance sport. The ergo is a tool used alongside (many) others - although there are coaches out there who do not believe in gym based strength work.

Here's a quote from Andy Hodge, 2005 & 2006 World Champion with the British Coxless Four:

"Rowing requires both strength and endurance. We don't look for extremes of long distance or sheer power. We need our muscles to put out a high, sustained power output. We do endurance sessions of one to two hours to increase the oxygen going to the muscles, heavy weights to grow muscle and high-rep, low weight circuits to train muscles to go through the burn."

Snatches, cleans, RDLs, snatch grip deadlifts, squats etc. are all really important. Add in inverted rows and also an exercise I have not seen out of rowing circles, the bench pull. Think of a bench press the wrong way round, you lie face down on bench that is higher than normal to equate to arm length and pull the bar to the chest. Pressing movements like the bench itself are also very important to equalise the imbalances of participating in an exclusively pulling sport (actually, that's not entirely true because the power of each stroke comes from leg drive but this is one sport where pulling is the king over pushing).

Plyometrics also have a place. A big one with the GB boys is med ball snatches where you throw the ball above your head for height.

Have a hunt around on the net or I could dig out some stuff for you.

James Evans
11-15-2007, 12:19 PM
And Tom, sorry hadn't read your reply carefully, yes you are right on the dominant mechanics of the stroke.

Tom Rawls
11-15-2007, 01:45 PM

Yes, I'm purely an indoor rower. I learned to scull (poorly) a couple of years back, but it's not that convenient to do where I am, so I have been content to yo-yo on the I-beam.

I've done some research on strength training and rowing and the results appear conflicting. Stephen Seiler, whose site you may have seen, is undecided.


"If you are a rower, I am not sure what to tell you exactly. Increased upper body strength may allow better work distribution and therefore slightly improved rowing economy but I don't know that for sure. The act of rowing training already improves the rower's ability to generate force with both legs simultaneously compared to untrained people. Much of the rowers strength depends on coordination, not just muscle mass. Rowing has a mixed tradition when it comes to strength training. Some great programs do a lot, others do none. So the jury is still out. More on all this when I can be more definitive."


"My opinion is that the young, or new rower can benefit from a general weightroom based strength training program of the type outline above. However, the already well trained rower probably has little to gain from further increases in "weightroom strength". Movement specificity is critical."

Until now, I've chosen to concentrate on rowing, having concluded that work on the machine will produce the best results given limited time for training. But I've gotten a bit bored with erg-only work, so I'm expanding my routine.

Garrett Smith
11-15-2007, 02:39 PM
I don't see how improving one's maximum posterior chain strength through DL and OLs, without devoting an excessive amount of time to them, would do anything but improve your rowing numbers.

Improve your work capacity and your rowing will get better.

Tom Rawls
11-15-2007, 07:57 PM
To some extent the question has gotten turned around. For me, I am wondering less about how helpful squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc would be in training for rowing, and am wondering more how rowing might affect lifting.

That is, if I have been doing is essentially high-rep, low-weight strength training by hauling on an erg (figure 5 to 10 thousand reps per week) how does that training affect performance in explosive, low-rep lifting?

It's largely an academic question. I'll do the lifting and see where I end up. I'm just curious. Doing the trainng is only part of the fun. Discussing it is also entertaining--and instructive, of course.

Steven Low
11-16-2007, 02:39 PM
Yup. It will detract from it no question. How much depends on what kind of rowing you're doing. 2k is probably going to be more endurance based clearly.

I wonder, actually, if you do mostly interval sprints how that would transfer over to rowing.. because doing intervals for sprinting really brings down 1-2 mile times significantly (if you have a grasp of good pacing).

Tom Rawls
11-16-2007, 03:31 PM

The exercise physiologists say a fast 2k is 80% aerobic energy. My 2k is not fast, so I expect the aerobic contribution is even greater.

A lot of the training on the erg is interval work, although the repetitions are not typically "sprints." One thing that is convient about the erg is that it provides instantaneous reporting of your pace, which allows for highly structured training.

Garrett Smith
11-16-2007, 08:55 PM
My first thought on how a lot of erg-ing might affect your OL is that a "short pull" (as in a row pull, without full extension of the back and an early arm bend, at least for OL) may have been fairly engrained in your posterior chain neuromuscular systems.

Tom Rawls
11-17-2007, 11:17 AM
Interesting observation about the neuromuscular systems. That wouldn't have occurred to me, although I see lifters referring to neuromuscular stuff all the time. By chance, earlier today I saw a picture of an oly lifter in full back extension doing a clean. As you note, that's entirely different from the limited back extension experienced whie rowing.

Garrett Smith
11-17-2007, 12:35 PM
I wanted to throw that out there.

That being said, the OL pull and the KB pull are quite different, yet elite OLers have absolutely utilized KBs to improve their posterior chain strength.

The movements may be different enough in certain ways to not "overlap" neuromuscularly:

Horizontal pull (row) versus vertical pull (OL)
Rear end supported (row) versus unsupported (OL)
"Shortened" back extension (row) versus full back extension (OL)
Wind resistance (row) versus weight (OL)
And on and on...

Like so many misguided SPP approaches, I only think it would be likely to mess up your OL pull with rowing IF you tried to mimic an OL pull on a rower (both in pattern and intention).

Obviously CFers have been combining the two for a while and no negative pattern has been observed to this point, so I think we are pretty okay there.

Personally, I think rowing and OL are very complementary.

Steven Low
11-17-2007, 07:57 PM

The exercise physiologists say a fast 2k is 80% aerobic energy. My 2k is not fast, so I expect the aerobic contribution is even greater.

A lot of the training on the erg is interval work, although the repetitions are not typically "sprints." One thing that is convient about the erg is that it provides instantaneous reporting of your pace, which allows for highly structured training.
I thought about it a bit more and it's much like most of the CF MEBB workout schedules. Max effort lifting with metcon.

So it's definitely a good hybrid of strength / metcon effect except instead of multiple exercises you're just using rowing just like tabata method.

Hope that gives you some better insight like it did to me.

Eric Jones
11-18-2007, 11:23 AM
Our strongest athlete in the O-Lifts was a collegiate rower. He does exhibit some rowing induced problems in his o-lifts such as a narrow squatting stance and a tendency to start the pull-under WAY early. Still, he is very strong.

-Ross Hunt
11-18-2007, 12:03 PM
Like so many misguided SPP approaches, I only think it would be likely to mess up your OL pull with rowing IF you tried to mimic an OL pull on a rower (both in pattern and intention).


Personally, I think rowing and OL are very complementary.

The first is a very good point. People identify the erg stroke as a pulling motion and immediately categorize it as similar to the o-lifts, and I think that's a mistake. Because of the use of the seat and slide, the lift is not extremely similar to a deadlift, nevermind and olympic pull. In particular, leg extension as opposed is emphasized much more in rowing and hip extension much less, and so the hamstrings are much less involved in the stroke than in the pull.

Nevertheless, I agree with their second remark as well; they just provide so great an increase of total strength and power. I wish I'd done the oly lifts seriously as a crewbie.