Developing a Strength and Conditioning Program: Benchmarking

Developing a Strength and Conditioning Program: Benchmarking

Isn’t it amazing the difference a few weeks can make? Two weekends ago I had my first paddle on the Yarra River in several years intending to rapidly increase my time in the boat and at the club. Enter the now-infamous virus and all of a sudden it is back to the drawing board.

In all seriousness, however, my training is the least of concerns in a public health event such as this, moreover, I am in the unique position of having access to a large amount of gym equipment at home and at the clinic, but it is a nice example of why it is some important to be adaptable as even the best-laid plans can fail in the face of real life.

So onto the real point of this weeks’ post - Benchmarking. Benchmarking is simply to process of working out how fit is fit enough, how strong is strong enough, how fast is fast enough. There are two main resources I would use to get this sort of data, the first is simple race results – how fast have people had to go to win in the last few years.

One obvious consideration here is the impact of weather and wind which can strongly affect performance, but we work with what we have. Below are the times for the first and last place getters, in the final of the Men’s Masters 1x for my age range between 2017 and 2019.

Australian Masters Rowing Championships

2019 3:34 – 3:52 (MB1x)

2018 4:27 – 5:59 (MB1x)

2017 3:45 – 4:19 (MB1x)

2016 3:43 – 4:29 (MB1x)

It suggests that the 2018 times appear to be wind or weather-affected. If 2019, 2017 and 2016 times are “true”, then a time of between 3 minutes 30 to 3 minutes 40 for 2021 should place me at the pointy end of the field come nationals.

The other source of data is testing and clinical research data. A great deal of research has been completed looking at “determinants of performance”, which is a fancy way of saying, what makes good athletes good, and these often also include a summary of athlete performance against which we can compare ourselves or our athletes.

So a quick search reveals that there is a myriad of resources available, with varying quality (how this search was completed and the quality assessed is a topic for another, very boring, day). When we complete this for rowing, we several articles including the aptly titled article “Determinants of 2,000 m rowing ergometer performance in elite rowers”

The classic theory in rowing has been that rowing is a predominantly aerobic sport, like running and cycling, and the logical follow-on being that training should focus on developing large aerobic capacity, makes sense doesn’t it. This has been supported by many studies showing that VO2 max is a major determinant of performance.

What we get from this study is that VO2 max (the maximum amount of gas that an athlete can consume) is definitely important, but more important is the power output achieved at VO2 max, listed as WVO2 Max and shown in the blue box. Sounds fancy doesn’t it, so here’s a simple example to make it clearer – if we have two cars (athletes) one a 1980’s muscle car and the other a modern supercar, both consume the same amount of gas (see what I did there, gas as in petrol, and gas as in oxygen), but when it comes to performance the more modern engine will produce more power both when flat put (VO2 max) when highway cruising (2 mmol-1) and when somewhere in between (4 mmol-1). Simply put better engines and athletes are more efficient.

What is significant about this paper is that maximal power and force as tested are both also very strongly associated with performance as shown in the yellow box. How strongly, well the “r” value is .95, meaning that or each unit change in force and power, we would anticipate a .95unit change in our variable, in this case, 2000-meter rowing performance. To put this another way, about 90% (r2) of the difference in the performance of athletes 2000m rowing performance can be explained by differences in their power output. Put another way again – get strong, go fast.

So the questions this is how strong is strong enough, and unfortunately, this paper does not provide us with raw data to be able to answer this question – however, some other great resources exist, which provide us with a significant volume of data about from Great Britain and Canadian teams as follows:

Team GB senior and development squads 2000m ergo times:

Team GB senior and development squats testing data:

Canadian strength recommendations by competition level and age:

So there we have the bulk of the data we need to benchmark against national and international athletes. Again it is important to remember that as an age group athlete the expectation is not to meet these standards, as nice as it would be, but to help ensure that we understand what level of performance is needed, what training variables matter and thus should be focused on, and finally provide a basis for comparative analysis.

Until next week, happy training.

Michael Hedger