Cam Birtwell is a strength and conditioning coach at the Canadian Sports Centre Pacific (CSCP), as well as the owner of CrossFit Zone in Victoria, B.C. He works with specialists including Olympic gold medalists and generalists, and he talks about the strategies he uses for both groups.
In CrossFit, we often state that we are training for the unknown and unknowable. Most frequently, we accomplish this goal by utilizing an intensive stimulus that is varied in time and mode. What about when we encounter a group of athletes who are preparing for a known entity, such as a 2000-meter row at the international level? Instead of constant variance, we need planned and progressive training that is sequenced in such a way as to minimize interference with sport-specific training while building toward maximum performance at the right time of year.
Within the Rowing Canada team program, all the technique, anaerobic-lactic, aerobic-power, muscular-endurance and power-endurance work are taken care of by the head rowing coach. As a professional strength and conditioning coach with CSCP, I don't feel the need to develop those qualities in the weight room as they are best developed in the most specific manner possible: either on the water or on the rowing ergometer. Instead, the weight-room focus is on the development of maximal strength and alactic power.
As a CrossFit affiliate owner and planner of our member’s training, the need is different. I lay out both the training of varied work capacity and strength/power to create the most efficient and well-rounded stimulus.
Programming for the Canadian rowing team relies on consistency in exercise parameters through four-to-six-week blocks. This allows the athletes to have maximum exposure to the exercise selection, intensity and volume of that phase of training. Too much variety in these parameters generally leads to an inaccurate training effect and variable levels of soreness and fatigue. These adversely affect our athletes’ ability to perform in and adapt to their on-water programming. This is in contrast to the non-specialist CrossFitter, for whom a certain variety in mode, volume and intensity may be the best path to becoming an athlete competent in several domains.
Even though I am an affiliate owner and CrossFit athlete myself, I recognize the need for differences in programming for elite athletic performance and for the unknown and unknowable of everyday life or work. In this video interview shot at CrossFit East Sacramento, we discuss some of the details of the Rowing Canada team’s training during a recent training camp in Sacramento. The video highlights the nature of being a specialist athlete at the elite level in Canada and how these athletes train toward Olympic performance. We also touch on some of my own feelings about the benefits and power of CrossFit for individuals outside of such a narrow sporting domain.
Additional reading: Rowing a Sub-7 2K—Without Rowing? by EvaClaire (E.C.) Synkowski, published March 30, 2009.