A World Class Warmup

How Technogym is helping the world’s best rowers achieve peak performance at World Rowing events

3 minute read
Words & Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 03.03.20

If you’re going to become a rowing world champion, the race starts long before you touch the water. No matter how good the preparation is in the months that precede an event, get the warm-up wrong and it will cost you the race. A correctly executed warm-up can provide a performance gain of up to 30% versus starting from cold, especially in a relatively explosive and short event like a 2km rowing race. A mixture of low and high intensity exercise undertaken during a warm-up increases adenosine triphosphate turnover, which reinforces muscular functions, muscle cross-bridge cycling rates, and oxygen uptake kinetics, which can significantly improve physical performance.

Photo Athletes warm up on the Technogym Skillbike at the 2019 World Rowing Championships
Credit Benedict Tufnell

A correctly administered warm-up primes the cardiovascular system and muscles to work harder and more efficiently, essential in a sport that requires athletes to push their bodies to the limits of physical ability. It is for this reason that the ability to use indoor rowing machines such as the Skillrow to warm-up at the 2019 World Rowing Cup III in Rotterdam and 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz – away from the water in a quiet and controlled environment – is essential for elite athletes as they prepare for peak performance. 

Until the early 1980s, rowing machines were not generally available to athletes at world championships and teams instead used to run or jog to warm-up. According to research published by Frank G Shellock PhD, running to warm up for rowing activity, despite also being a cardiovascular process, would have been far less effective than exercising on a machine such as the Skillrow.

“Three basic types of warm-up may be used to prepare for strenuous activity,” says Shellock. “These are passive, general, and specific. By far the best of these is a specific warm-up, which not only increases the temperature of the body parts involved in the activity but also provides a rehearsal of the event that is to take place.”

Skillrow is the ideal tool for achieving a suitably specific warm-up without having to go out on the water. Technogym say it is the first indoor rowing machine designed to target a combination ofanaerobic power, aerobic capacity and neuromuscular abilities in one solution, created on the basis of the company’s longstanding expertise in world-class competitive sports and collaboration with some of the best athletes in the world. The Technogym Skillbike was another device that was available in the pararowing warm-up area of the World Rowing Championships in Linz in 2019. This is equipped with exclusive features to prepare for athletic activity and boost performance. It is the first indoor bike with a real gearbox, with selected ratios always visible in real time on the console. 

Athletes can use the Skillrow and Skillbike machines to take their bodies from a point of rest to one of complete physical readiness to perform. Every athlete will have their own unique approach to this, but generally it begins with a gentle, low intensity row for several minutes to raise the heart rate and loosen the muscles. Once the athlete feels adequately “loose” and able to achieve a full length of stroke, they will advance to a series of short, higher intensity efforts, intended to awaken the anaerobic system. Typically this means intervals of 10-20 hard strokes between periods of lighter rowing. By this point the athlete will be breathing hard and sweating.

Next they perform a series of rehearsals of the first 10-20 seconds of the start of the race, repeating again and again the action of exploding from the starting blocks. This is to ensure that they get away cleanly and hopefully ahead of the opposition when it comes to the real thing. They will conclude with a few minutes of steady rowing which serves to flush away any lactate accumulated during these practice starts and higher intensity efforts.

It may appear relatively straightforward – a mixture of steady rowing and shorter more intense efforts – but behind the deceptive simplicity lies a raft of complex physiology and carefully applied sports science. Efforts are precisely administered and controlled thanks to the reliable accuracy of the Skillrow monitor. 

Many factors have contributed to the lowering of world best times in the last three decades, but the addition of machines like the Skillrow and Skillbike to the warm-up area, allowing for more effective physical preparation, will have in some way contributed to the lowering of records in recent championships. A world class performance depends on a world class warm-up.