There are some great stories of rowers crossing over to riding. This is less about why some rowers might make good cyclists and more about the benefits for rowers that can be gained from riding.
Over the last two months I have done a heap of reading about cycling to learn more about how cyclist improve, race, train and stay up right in the rain. A least for a rower the greatest danger we face is catching a crab, being belted by your partner(on the water not at home), having your coach throw a megaphone at you, running head on into another crew(danger of going backwards and add to this hitting bridges), and injuring your self while cross training(weights, cycling etc). Cycling does have a risk for the uncoordnated and often unaware rower, but I believe the upside far out weighs those risks.
What I love about cycling is the match between physiology and performance on the road. I understand the various elements relating to racing and the variables, but I love the transfer of power for example and body weight to performance outcomes. Rowing is far less clear which is why I think part of rowing suffers from the art form, the lack of clarity and the mystery of how and why a boat, a crew and performances can be fickle at times.
If an athlete or crew were 10-15% better then their rivals then it would be understandable to expect they could race in and out of form and succeed a high percentage of the time, say 95-100%. Redgrave was one such athlete and when you have a small combination like a pair or four the variables of others can be controlled and contained. From my understanding the Redgrave and co where determined to be physically so far ahead of the game that the art form or mystery was eliminated. That is not to say they didn’t have focus on skill or movement, but rather I feel that their primary focus was on physiology superiority. This was a focus they could control more and one that the pushed to the limits. Reports of physical outputs were always flying around the rumor mill and the physical capacities of VO2 max etc where widely discussed and believed to be true. The connection I make here to cycling is that with everything I have recently reading about the physiology of cyclists. The power, watts per kilo, VO2 max and lactate threshold all points to what some in rowing have done like Redgrave.
Rowing can benefit from cycling from the training application and capacity development to the measurement and correlation of physiology to performance. Reading about Armstrong and lactate Threshold does not surprise me as we have understood and used this LT training with great effect. The difference is quantifying it to our on water performance. Redgrave and Pinsent with their coach were masters at this and their ability to be superior to most in the sport physically meant years of dominance. They neutralised the art and mystery.
Not many in the sport have had that capacity or do they? This is important to ask, because the assumption is based on a notion of, set or pre-determined physiology. Body size, shape and physiology testing indicate potential. What if we are missing something? What I feel has made a significant difference to my improvement over the last 8 years has been cycling. Cycling stimulates something, a capacity that others may have more naturally. The question could be asked then that if it can help one then it could help everyone. This may or may not be accurate. To me it is at least individual and need to be tested. If nothing else a change as they say is as good as a holiday. Riding for a rower is like a holiday, not a picnic, but an experience that can extend and expand what is possible.
Lets compare a few rough/approx results on athletes:
Cycling – Armstrong VO2 Max 85 mil/kg (6liters plus @ 72/74kg)
Rowing – Pinsent VO2 Max 68 mil/kg (7.5liters @ 110kg)
We know body weight play’s a role in rowing, but how much of a role? It is certainly calculated in cycling as a key ingredient to perform, particularly with climbing.
Watts and Watts per kilo seem common place now in cycling through testing and measurement tools on bikes. Rowing has this but is so far behind due to cost and limited size of commercial market for tools.
The thought of rowers riding and the benefits is something I feel is obvious, but I have had experiences that make the connection between training and performance. I am grateful for cycling and am enjoying exploring how far I can take improvements.