At national team testing centers like the Olympic training Center in the U.S, and comparable facilities in Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom etc, elite caliber athletes are evaluated using very expensive oxygen consumption measuring devices, lactate analysis instrumentation etc. The main purpose of all of this is to monitor the effectiveness of training in a systematic, repeatable way. Can we do any kind of testing at the local club or private level that is also quantitative and reproducible without $100,000 in lab equipment? The answer is yes. If you have access to 1) a Concept II ergometer and 2) a heart rate monitor, you can perform the same performance evaluation that is used during physiological testing of national team candidates in the United States. The test was instituted in 1989 by Fred Hagerman PhD, who has been testing American oarsmen for 30 years, along with then national team coach Kris Korzeniowski. Of course, if you were at the lab, they would also stick a mouthpiece in your mouth, poke your earlobe with needles, and draw blood, but we will save that for the body piercing parlor. Two days are required.
The first phase of the test is simple. Do a 2000 meter all out trial on the ergometer. Of course you will be interested in your time, but the critical value you need from the test is your average WATTS maintained during the 2000 meters. You will get this from the “Watts Screen”, down on the bottom. If you perform the test, wear your heart rate monitor. This way you can get a peak rowing heart rate. If you have a recent 2k time, but don’t know the associated watts, here is a way to back-calculate them. 1) Convert your time to seconds, then divide 2000 by that value. This will give your your average velocity in meters/sec. 2) Now raise that value to the 3rd power using your sci calc. 3) Then multiply the resulting value times 2.75. Here’s an example.
The formula I used (2.75 V^3) is one I have derived. However, if you use the more complex formula from the Concept II computer (They gave it to me) you will get almost identical results. The physics behind these formulas gets into the relationship between power and velocity in rowing. I will discuss this in depth in another article based on some research we have done at the University of Texas. For now, it is important to understand that power output and physiological intensity are linearly related. Physiological intensity and boat (or ergo) velocity are not! Fortunately, the CII ergometer is an excellent tool for measuring power output that sits in most boathouses around the world.
Now we have a current max value. Next, multiply that value by 60%, 70%, and 80%. Using my example, 60, 70 and 80% of 295 watts is 177, 209, and 236 watts respectively. Now, with your heart rate monitor on, you will row for three consecutive 5 minute stages, beginning at the 60% workload and finishing at 80%. Monitor your workload by using the watts screen, and maintaining the average as close as possible to appropriate value, without a big burst or reduction in the final minute!. At the end of each stage, record your heart rate. Now you have heart rate data at three quantifiable effort levels based on your current maximal performance.
These power outputs comprise the range at which the majority of your steady state training should occur to maximize oxygen utilization capacity. In young athletes at 60% of 2k max workload, HR will generally be in the 120-140 range. Seventy percent efforts will elicit a HR of 140-160. And the 80% load will bring HR up to 160-180. Remember, these values are from athletes that average about 25 years old, with a max HR around 185 to 195. You should use your own peak heart rate and similar pecentages as a guide. Eighty percent of max 2k power will correspond quite closely to your power at lactate threshold, if you are well trained. If this is true, you will be able to sustain that workload for 20 minutes or more. The key to the value of this testing is using it as a baseline for subsequent tests. You don’t have to keep doing new max tests within a given cycle of training. By periodically (perhaps monthly) performing the submaximal portion of this test, you can quantitatively assess the impact of your training. If you are making progress, you will see a reduction in heart rate at these standard submaximal workloads as you progress from off season to competitive season. Hagerman monitored 40 elite oarsmen during an Olympic year and observed an average 25 beat/min reduction in heart rate at each workload between December and August.