Now that most of us (in the Northeast at least) are in the early stages of winter training, I wanted to deviate from talking about coxing for a minute to go over some training stuff that’ll hopefully help you guys make it through the next few months injury-free.
Runner’s World posted a great article last summer on the difference between pushing hard and overtraining where they described the goal of pushing hard as “stressing the body just beyond your fitness level to gradually increase the stress loads on your body and ensure recovery”. Their example was that if you’re doing six sets of intervals with three minutes rest, “pushing harder” might mean transitioning to eight intervals or reducing the rest to two minutes. You’re basically putting your body just far enough outside its comfort zone that it gradually begins adapting to the added stress and you, as a result, get stronger/fitter.
The hurdle that a lot of people hit though, particularly younger athletes or walk-ons who might be completely new to sports in general, is not knowing the difference between soreness and pain.
Soreness is there but it’s not in your face. It’s mainly concentrated on the muscles so when you’re working out you might feel some tightness in that area but while just going about your regular activities it shouldn’t be more than a dull ache that only really makes itself known if you’ve been inactive for awhile. Standing up after sitting through a long lecture or when you first get out of bed in the morning are when you might feel it the most.
When you’ll feel it the most is around 24-48 hours later, which is why it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness. As long as you stretch or roll out you should be OK to keep practicing, although it might be worth taking a day off from the erg and hopping on the bike or going for a run instead. If you get back on the erg the following day you might feel some lingering soreness but it shouldn’t be anything that actually detracts from the quality of the workout. If it is, spending a longer amount of time rolling out will usually help.
This is that sharp feeling that hits you all of a sudden in the middle of a piece or when you move a certain way, like bending over to pick something up. Rather than just being focused on the muscles, pain can/will extend to your joints too, which is when you start hearing about a “shooting pain” in the knees, shoulders, hips, and low back.
Unlike soreness which might hang around for a day or two at most, pain can be felt for several days at a time, sometimes consistently and other times off and on, even after taking time off to rest. It’s at this point where you should be making an appointment with the trainers or your doctor, particularly if it’s been a week or more without any improvement.
As your workouts get longer or ramp up in intensity, experiencing some soreness is inevitable but still manageable as long as you’re diligent about going through some sort of recovery sequence after practice. If you don’t have 10-15 minutes to spare because you’ve gotta get to class, make sure you’re holding yourself accountable and finding time to do it later in the day.
Sharp pains or anything that instantly makes you think “this isn’t a normal feeling” isn’t something you should push through because that’s what leads to an injury. Communicating that to your coach is important so that they’re aware of what’s going on and can adapt the workouts as necessary while you recover. Get over yourselves, put your egos aside, and keep your coaches informed if/when you’re not at 100%.
I won’t lie and say they’re not gonna be annoyed or roll their eyes when you leave the office (sometimes we will be and sometimes we do – it’s our coping mechanism) but I can promise you that no coach who is serious about their job and cares about their athletes will make you work through an injury. In the post I linked to at the beginning I said that if it seems like they’re pushing you to keep practicing it’s usually because they’re skeptical about whether you’re actually in pain or if you’re just mistaking soreness for pain. Knowing the difference between the two and being able to clearly articulate how you feel, what you’re feeling, where you’re feeling it, etc. can go a long way in helping you recover faster because the sooner you communicate with them, the sooner they can give you time off, and the sooner you can start doing whatever’s necessary to get back to 100% (even if that literally means doing absolutely nothing at all).
For the coxswains, there’s obviously not a ton you can do here so my suggestion is to put your observation and awareness skills to the test and just keep an eye on your teammates. If I see the guys grimacing on the ergs (beyond the usual amount) or get off mid-piece I always ask them if they’re OK and then follow up with them a little bit later or after practice to see how it’s going. From there I’ll pass on whatever they said to the other coaches since they’re not always aware that something’s up. One of our coxswains is really good about this and being that in tune with how the guys are feeling has done a lot as far as helping her connect and develop that trust with them.
Advocating for the rowers in situations like this can also fall on your shoulders. If the coaches are skeptical about what’s going on and/or the rower hasn’t communicated with them then you might need to be the one who says “hey, just so you know Sam’s been having some back pain over the last few days and I think the 30 minute piece this morning made it worse, which is why he didn’t finish it” or “I know we’re supposed to be seat racing today but Dan was pretty sick all weekend and still isn’t feeling well – any chance we can push it back to tomorrow?”.
Again, not gonna promise that they won’t roll their eyes or be annoyed but it’s not your responsibility to care about that. You’re the messenger and sometimes that means getting poked with an arrow when you’re passing along info that the other person doesn’t want to hear. It’s not that big of a deal. What is a big deal though and can help you earn their respect of the rowers is being aware of this stuff as it’s going on and advocating for them when they need it.
Next: Overtraining and burnout