Bell, G. J., Petersen, S. R., Quinney, A. H., & Wenger, H. A. (1989). The effect of velocity-specific strength training on peak torque and anaerobic rowing power. Journal of Sports Sciences, 7, 205-214.

Eighteen varsity oarsmen from the University of Victoria were divided into three training groups:

Rowing-specific exercises were performed on Hydra-Fitness machines in a repeated circuit format with the HVR group performing 18 to 22 repetitions and the LVR group performing six to eight repetitions of each exercise.

Training effects were measured on a rowing ergometer. A 90-seconds maximum performance was measured every 15 seconds with the 15 to 30 seconds interval being used as the measure of peak power output. The high lactic acid levels recorded in the subjects validated the test as being a measure of anaerobic capacity and power output.

It has been estimated that the contribution of anaerobic energy to rowing ranges from 14 to 23 percent. Usually, those contributions are greatest in the starting and finishing efforts of a race. The point behind this study's resistance training program was that it should increase power and rowing ergometer performance should improve since the exercises used the muscles that are involved in the sport. The investigation assessed how much of the specific-resistance training effects transferred to ergometer work and thus, reflected the benefit of such training for rowing performance.

The results showed that there were specific changes in the performance of the specific resistance exercises, that is, the athletes became better resistance exercisers. Those changes were specific to the velocities of training. The HVR group performed better in the high velocity range of movements while the LVR group was better at low velocity actions. Contrary to what has been reported by Moffroid and Whipple (1970), each of the training groups changed specifically, that is, the high-velocity group did not show any improvement in low-velocity movements.

[Moffroid, M. T., & Whipple, R. H. (1970). Specificity of speed of exercise. Physical Therapy, 50, 1692-1700.]

The control group worsened in performance. There was no change in either training group in peak power output or lactic acid levels. This finding was surprising because the strength program was specifically designed to enhance the strength of the muscle groups involved in rowing. Since power is dependent on both force and velocity, the observed improvements in torque with resistance training should, theoretically, have contributed to an increase in rowing power. That theoretical position was not supported by the results of this study in these high-caliber athletes. The lack of improvement contradicts the recommendations of many coaches and the content emphases of many rowing training programs. This negative finding might be explained by the fact that the movement patterns involved in rowing are very complex and require a high degree of skill. The training effects that were observed in this study were specific to the resistance-training mode and did not transfer to the more complex action involved in the sport. This restriction supports the training principle that training effects achieved on simple activities (such as specific resistance exercises) do not transfer to complex activities.

This study failed to show performance benefits that are supposed to result from resistance training programs. It supports the absolute specificity of training principle and suggests that an emphasis on resistance training in high-level athletes is not useful for improving performance. Such programs may even restrict the volume of beneficial specific training that can be achieved because of the level of fatigue that results from their execution. Neither modern training theory nor the mounting evidence of the ineffectiveness of specific resistance training programs supports the continued emphasis on this type of training as a means of generating performance improvements in high-caliber athletes.

Implications for Programming

Traditional use of resistance training programs that are "meant" to improve performance should be questioned. The only time that resistance training may be of value would seem to be in the transition (off-season) for basic preparatory training phases. There is the possibility that fatigue generated by strenuous resistance activities will:

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