Warm-up of a champion at the World Rowing Championships 2019

The  crucial moment  of a race it’s always at the finish line, whether it's a victory or a defeat. But the  crucial moment for an athlete, the one that can affect the entire performance, is far from the applause of the crowd and  from the finishing line flag. We're talking about  the warm up  before the race.

The timeline of the rowing warm-up

While a world championship rowing race takes around only six minutes to complete, for a world class athlete, the entire performance will have began about four hours earlier, starting with the pre-race paddle. Typically rowers like to row on the morning of race day, at least four hours before the race itself. Only ever a short, light outing, it serves to benefit the mind as much as the body, helping to calm the nerves and ease tensions ahead of the race.
This row, lasting between forty and six minutes, wakes up the body from its night’s rest and reminds the muscles what will be expected of them later. With this exercise completed, the athlete will return to rest, doing little more than sipping on water, trying to stay calm for the remaining few hours before racing begins.

With about one hour to go, the athlete will head to the warm-up area. A feature of every modern rowing championships, the warm up area will take the form of either a temporary tent, or in the case of the most recent championships, a large room in the back of the water-sports complex. This designated area is one of the most exciting and fascinating places to observe international rowers in competition, unfortunately it is also one of the few places that the general public never gets to see. It is the rowers sanctuary, away from the crowds and the noise, where they can achieve complete focus.

The room itself will generally be equipped with stretching mats, usually a handful of indoor bikes and most importantly lines of world class, highly accurate indoor rowing machines. The warm-up room in Plovdiv was the first world championships to feature the new Technogym SKILLROW, designed to perfectly mimic the effect of rowing on the water thanks to AQUAFEEL technology.
Present in the warm-up area of the World Rowing Championship, SKILLBIKE is equipped with some exclusive features designed for athletic preparation and improvement of your performance: it is the first indoor bike with a real gearbox. The Real Gear Shift patent allows users to simulate the dynamics of the climb, for a true feeling of road racing. By changing the gears it is possible to tackle the different slopes with the desired effort, while maintaining the chosen power and cadence parameters.  The selected ratio is always visible in real time on the console.
SKILLBIKE is also a fully interactive digital product: the integrated 7" LCD colour console shows all the relevant performance data, providing real-time feedback on cadence, watt, speed, distance, slope, heart rate, selected ratio and transmission ratio. Skillbike also offers a wide range of training programs, targeted routines and routes to meet your goals, as well as performance tests to assess your power value and choose the best level of training.
SKILLROW is the first indoor rowing equipment designed to improve anaerobic power, aerobic capacity and neuromuscular abilities in one solution, created thanks to the company’s longstanding expertise in world-class competitive sports and the best athletes in the world.
With less than an hour to the start, the athletes use the SKILLROW machines to bring their bodies from a point of rest to one of complete physical readiness to perform on a world stage. 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 ‘loosened’ 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 in the warm-up they will do a series of rehearsals of the first 10-20 seconds of the start of the race, repeating several times the action of exploding out of the starting blocks, ensuring 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 steady rowing which serves to flush away any lactate accumulated during these practice starts and higher intensity efforts. Besides any further stretching they may require, the warm-up is complete. All that is left now is the short row to the start.

The science behind a rowing warm-up

The warm-up described may appear relatively straightforward - basically a mixture of steady rowing and shorter more intense efforts - but behind its deceptive simplicity lies a raft of complex physiology and carefully applied sports science.

A correctly carried out warm-up can provide a performance gain of up to 30% versus starting from cold, especially in a relatively explosive and short event such as a 2km rowing race, which is the standard international distance. Specifically the mixture of low and high intensity exercise undertaken during the warm-up increases adenosine triphosphate turnover, which reinforces muscular functions, muscle cross-bridge cycling rate, and oxygen uptake kinetics, which significantly affects exercise performance.

No matter how good the preparation in the months and years that precede an event, get the warm-up wrong and it will cost you the race. To become a rowing world champion, the race starts long before you touch the water.

In other words 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. The ability to use the SKILLROW to warm-up, away from the water in a quiet and controlled environment is also highly beneficial aspect of the process.
Until the early 1980’s, rowing machines were not generally available to athletes at a 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, while a similarly 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."

Many factors contribute to the lowering of world best times in the last three decades, but the addition of machines like the Skillrow 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.

The Mindgame, a mental and physical warm-up

For a rower, or any world class athlete, the warm-up at a World Championships marks the end of a year or more preparation and the start of their ultimately defining performance. Almost as important as being specific in the warm-up, the athlete must be able to achieve and maintain complete focus on the race ahead. They must be fully committed in mind and body.

In this heightened state, the slightest disturbance or issue can throw an athlete off their game. They will have executed millions of repetitions of the rowing stroke over the course of an international career, the slightest inaccuracy of feel on the rowing machine could prove fatally distracting. Everything must be perfect.

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