In rowing, sometimes the little things are the big things

by James Richmond on March 08, 2017
Every athlete knows that sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference to your sporting performance: a tiny tweak to your technique that shaves seconds off your time or a new hair tie in your kitbag that makes your hair feel extra secure while you race.
There are big changes that can take place in sport: switching your club or your coach, replacing a member of your team or getting a new boat. These changes take a lot of getting used to, but you usually put a lot of thought into them before you take the leap. When it comes to the smaller things, though, it’s easy to fall into one of two traps. Either:
  1. You get into a rut and never play with anything different. You have found what works for you, so why change? The idea of changing things up makes you uneasy and you can be a tad superstitious about getting your routine perfect.
  2. You don’t give careful thought to the little things. They’re only small, after all. You’d rather keep your eye on the big picture than get bogged down in the tiny details of every day.
Others fall somewhere in between, perhaps focusing on one area or detail at the expense of the others, or just forgetting how refreshing it can be to change up a thing or two once in awhile.

Rowing wear

Your rowing wear is a small thing in some ways, but not others. Functionally, it’s a big deal. Compression tights, compression shorts, compression long sleeves and other compression wear can make a huge difference to the way your body performs: your circulation, endurance and recovery. A good merino base layer or moisture wicking fabric can help your body regulate its temperature more effectively. A well stocked kit bag will help protect your body from injury and offer thorough UV protection. These things aren’t small! When it comes to things like colour, pattern and other finishing details, it’s another story. This is where you really have the freedom to choose things that make you feel great and confident, whether it’s professional men’s rowing suits and women’s suits or gym shorts men and women can wear. You can commit as much or as little as you like to experimenting with different looks, from chasing down the very best race suits Australia has to offer or just hitting up a local sportswear sale for some pieces to add to your wardrobe. As long as your rowing wear is performing all the necessary functions as well as possible, the rest is up to your taste and what makes you feel like a winner.

Training routine

Your actual training techniques and exercises certainly aren’t a small thing, but the surrounding details are. Look for opportunities to mix up the peripheral details, such as:
  • When you train- Switching up your routine and training at different times of day can help keep you interested as well as pushing your body in fresh ways. Think of the difference between rowing at dawn, rowing around lunchtime, and rowing at dusk. There’s a different feel on the water, different sights to enjoy, and different challenges in your own body. Seize these differences and make the most of it.
  • Where you train - A change of scenery can really help you regain focus and motivation. Consider rowing Melbourne wide instead of sticking to your closest river or favourite location, or rowing Sydney or Brisbane’s more obscure waters. There’s nothing like a sense of adventure and discovery to motivate you to get to training and push hard once you’re there, and a new location always brings its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
  • Who you train with - Finding a friend to hit the gym with or train alongside can make the world of difference to your motivation. If you’re falling into a rut, a new training partner can be just what you need. Good rowing partners will challenge one another and push one another to another level, as well as keeping each other accountable.
  • Your training playlist - Music has a huge amount of power to affect our state of mind and our mood. Whether it’s a track to help you keep rhythm on a run or something to pump you up before a race, music is a big part of many athletes’ performances. If that’s you, consider making the effort to search up new songs, different artists or even branch out into different genres to add something new to your game.
Switching up any of these things will help you keep interest and motivation high, which in turn keeps you at your best.


Your competition schedule is one of the most important things in your sporting life. It can be the goal, the dream in and of itself, but it can also provide what you need to push yourself harder as you train. One way of adding some spice to your rowing life is to sign up for competitions outside of your existing goals. If you choose carefully and space them out well, they won’t be detrimental to your big regattas or other milestones. Insead, they can give you the push you need to do better when it really counts. Adding smaller goals before your end goal can help you achieve by giving you measurable deadlines for progress and keeping your focus on more immediate ‘end-points’. Smaller, less important competitions can work in this way to help pave the way to the big ones. Of course, as you start approaching your existing goals you can go the other way and shift your goals: add newer, bigger goals to help you blow through your smaller ones. Whether it’s the Sydney International Rowing Regatta, the Australian Boat Race or the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, a stretch goal will push you harder and set your sights higher. Another way of approaching this is to add competitions outside of your normal sport. Instead of another regatta, consider registering for the Portsea Twilight Run, the Sandy Point Half Marathon or another running race, or branch out into a new sport entirely. Alice McNamara is our ultimate inspiration for this approach. A world champion rower, she ran the Eureka tower stair climb for charity in 2010 and has ended up on the vertical world circuit climbing buildings everywhere from New York to Taipei. While Alice has found huge success on this front, winning the women’s elite category in Melbourne’s Eureka Climb six years in a row, she has also continued to go from strength to strength in rowing. The two sports feed into one another: she credits her success in stair-climbing to the toughness built up in her rowing career, and explains that looking up at the Eureka tower and knowing she’s done that helps give her the strength and motivation for tough training sessions when she’s having an off day. The lesson is this: whether it’s the Portsea Twilight, the Eureka Climb, or something else entirely, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and add another competition to your year.

Sleep and Nutrition

Every athlete knows restorative sleep is important, but sleep isn’t usually considered part of your routine in the same way as other things. After all, you’re not conscious for it. Despite this, changing up small things about your sleep life can make a huge difference. Super comfortable new bedding or pyjamas can make you eager to hop in bed, help you relax in luxury and contribute to more satisfying sleep. You could also consider changing the way you wake up. Instead of shrieking alarm, try waking up to a motivating song, some nature sounds, or a lightbox that replicates the light of dawn. Similarly, nutrition is usually considered one of the building blocks of your performance as an athlete in a way that can cause you to forget about the fun changeable parts of eating well. The diet of a rower is, of course, key to the power and strength required to do well, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for changing things up. This is as simple as throwing in a few new recipes or trying food combinations you hadn’t previously considered. Whether you experiment with food yourself or consult a chef for help, finding creative ways to enjoy food can keep it from being solely about the macro- and micro-nutrients, and make it about flavour and fun.

Make the most of change

They say ‘change can be as good as a holiday’, and change can also be just what you need to keep you interested in a gruelling training regime. You don’t have to bounce from new thing to new thing just for the sake of something different, but trying new things can lead to you finding something that works even better than what you’re doing. As an athlete, that extra edge counts, so if you find a way of working that is even better than before, you’ve hit the jackpot. In rowing, as in life, sometimes the little things are the big things. It pays to make the most of them.
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