Feb. 6, 2014
The erg room inside the G. Garvin Brown III Rowing Center on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The span of time between the Louisville rowing team's final fall event in mid-November and the first spring event in mid-March covers nearly four months. And though most of that time is typically spent away from the water, it remains a vitally important training period for the Cardinals as they prepare for the 2014 racing season.
With an emphasis on physical and mental growth, training in the winter months pushes the Louisville rowers with the goal of being as ready as possible to succeed on race day.
"Winter training is the time of year where we make the most fitness gains," said second year Louisville assistant coach Sarah McIlduff. "We are generally indoors between late November and early March with a few good days here and there that we are able to get on the water. During this time indoors, we're able to get a lot of good training on the ergometer."
The indoor winter training routine for the Cardinals includes physically demanding days with varying practice lengths to increase stamina and strength. An average day could feature longer hours with a moderate pace or shorter, very intense pieces. In any scenario, the erg tests the Louisville rowers both physically and mentally.
"If you ask almost any rower, they will tell you there are really no easy days of winter training," explained McIlduff. "The erg is not a very pleasant form of exercise, but it mimics the rowing stroke well and it never lies."
With the Cardinals' current winter training schedule in its final phase, the coaches have already seen significant improvement over last year's results. Louisville's top speed on the erg has increased while the overall depth of the program has also improved.
"The great part about training indoors is that you really get to see who comes out of the wood work. The indoor training environment gives individual athletes a chance to stand out that may not otherwise have the opportunity in the large team boats," McIlduff said. "We've had a lot of athletes take risks in their training, turning potential into action."
Along with the obvious physical challenges that come with indoor training, there is a mental demand that can push the limits of a team - individually and as a group. This tends to build team unity as they fight for a team goal. There is also strong dose of healthy competition, which translates well when the team returns to the water against outside competition.
"The work done in the erg room is certainly beneficial and important in getting back on the water as prepared as possible for the racing season," said McIlduff. "You develop so much fitness and strength when training indoors on the erg and it can really translate to boat speed on the water. You also tend to see a new love and rejuvenation for the boat after spending so much time on the erg and you'd almost rather row in a blizzard or a tsunami than do another workout on the erg."
Winter training is a time for getting faster and developing mental toughness while also creating confidence in the athletes with the ultimate goal being to get them as prepared as possible for race season. And with racing scheduled to begin in just five weeks, now is the time for Louisville to make the final strides in its winter training.
"Once spring break hits, there's not a whole lot of time to just focus on fitness and develop strength because every other weekend we are racing and it's crucial to prepare for the races," McIlduff explained. "This is the time to zero in on our goals as a team and commit to working as hard as we can to achieve them."
The Cardinals' first chance to test the results of their winter training work will come on March 15-16 with the Oak Ridge Cardinal Invitational at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn. That event will kick off Louisville's spring racing season, which culminates with the NCAA Championship on May 30-June 1 in Indianapolis, Ind.