Mini Study: Running Transfers to Rowing Slightly Better than Rowing Transfers to Running

Ally and Sam fight through the 2,000m Row Re-Assessment.

By Rob Shaul

 

BLUF

We conducted a short, 4-Week Mini-Study to test the cross transferability of two modes of endurance training: Running to Rowing, and Rowing to Running. Results found assessment improvement in both modes, but the transfer of rowing to running was twice as great.

Background

Does swimming make you a better runner? Does running make you a better cyclist? Does cycling make you better at hiking uphill? Can I row instead of run and still see running improvement? These are common questions which come up often by athletes who have equipment and/or space limitations and can’t follow our programming as prescribed.

More generally, does work in one endurance mode transfer to improvement in another endurance mode. If so, how much?

Our goal with this Mini-Study was to examine this question using two modes, Rowing and Running.

 

Study Design/Deployment

This was a 4-week study.

Seven MTI Lat Rats, all veteran, fit, experienced athletes, were split into two groups: Running Group and Rowing Group.

Week 1, both groups of Lab Rats completed a 1-mile run assessment, and a 2,000m Row assessment on a rowing erg.

Why these two assessments?
Anecdotally based on completion times, we find most athletes finish these two efforts in approximately the same completion time.

For the following weeks (2 & 3), the two groups completed separate endurance work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The Running group ran four 800m repeats at a threshold pace, with a 5-minute rest between efforts.

The Rowing group rowed 1000m repeats at a threshold pace, with a 5-minute rest between efforts.

Week 4, both groups re-assessed the 1-mile run for time and the 2,000m row for time.

Mondays and Wednesdays during this mini-study, both groups completed the same multi-modal programming.

 

Below was the weekly schedule:

Tuesday Thursday
Week 1 Both Groups:
1-Mile Run Assessment
Both Groups:
2,000 Row Assessment
Week 2 Run Group:
4 Rounds
Run 800m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between effortsRow Group:
4 Rounds
Row 1,000m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between efforts
Run Group:
4 Rounds
Run 800m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between effortsRow Group:
4 Rounds
Row 1,000m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between efforts
Week 3 Run Group:
4 Rounds
Run 800m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between effortsRow Group:
4 Rounds
Row 1,000m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between efforts
Run Group:
4 Rounds
Run 800m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between effortsRow Group:
4 Rounds
Row 1,000m at Threshold Pace
Rest 5 Min between efforts
Week 4 Both Groups:
1-Mile Run Re-Assessment
Both Groups:
2,000 Row Re-Assessment

 

The study hoped to answer three questions:

(1) Does training in one mode (rowing) improve performance in another mode (running)? If so, how much?

(2) Does training in one mode (running) improve performance in another mode (rowing)? If so, how much?

(3) Which mode (running or rowing) has the best transfer to the other mode.

 

Results/Discussion

Seven MTI Lab Rats completed all 4 weeks of the programming without missing a session or assessment.  Results below:

1-Mile Run #1 1-Mile Run #2 % Change 2,000m Row #1 2,000m Row #2 % Change
Running Group
Sam 6:26 5:55 8.1% Faster 7:41 7:33 1.7% Faster
Bodi 6:32 6:30 0.5% Faster** 7:57 7:38 4.0% Faster
Erin 8:50 8:17 6.2% Faster 9:41 9:24 2.9% Faster
Avg % Change 4.9% Faster 2.86% Faster
Rowing Group
Ally 6:24 6:16 2.0% Faster 9:26 8:51 6.1% Faster
Wyatt 8:37 7:13 16.2% Faster** 7:41 7:31 2.2% Faster
Emmett 7:41 7:13 1.7% Faster 7:30 7:13 3.8% Faster
Emily 7:21 7:07 3.1% Faster 8:47 8:03 8.3% Faster
Avg % Change 5.75% Faster 5.1% Faster

 

** Outliers

All the athletes in the study improved their finish times in both re-assessments, the 1-mile run, and 1-mile row. However, what is surprising is the greater improvement by the rowing group – especially in the transfer to running.

The Rowing Group improved their 1-mile run time by an average of 5.75%, versus just a 4.9 percent improvement by the Running group. This suggests that rowing is better than running at improving running!

However, a closer look at the data identifies two outliers: Bodi and Wyatt. Bodi in the Running Group barely improved his run time despite running all the 800m repeats – just a .5% improvement.

Wyatt, from the Rowing Group, improved his 1-mile run time by a staggering 16.2% despite not running at all between assessments!

When these two data points are removed, the Running Group improved its run time by an average of 7.15% versus the rowing group which improved it’s run time by 2.26%. This makes more sense and indicates that running improves running performance three times better than rowing.

Looking at the 2000m row assessment, the Running Group improved by just 2.86%, versus a 5.1% improvement by the Rowing Group. Again, this makes sense and indicates that rowing improves rowing two times better than running improves rowing.

So, the data indicates that running transfers to rowing slightly better than rowing transfers to running. But clearly, if you want to improve run performance, run. Likewise, if you want to improve row performance, row.

That they also improved in the run to some extent is also not a surprise. Part of this improvement can be attributed to knowing what to expect and doing a better job of pacing for the second assessment. As well, part of the improvement can be attributed to general cardio improvement gains doing the step up intervals and long 1,000x step up efforts on Thursdays.

 

Answers to the initial study questions:

(1) Does training in one mode (rowing) improve performance in another mode (running)? If so, how much?
Yes, but slightly, by 2.26% and three times worse than running alone.

(2) Does training in one mode (running) improve performance in another mode (rowing)? If so, how much?
Yes, slightly, by 2.86%, and two times worse than rowing alone.

(3) Which mode (running or rowing) has the best transfer to the other mode.
Running transfers better to rowing, based on this mini-study, but the because of the few number of athletes, this result is not concrete.

From a training and programming perspective, perhaps the more pertinent question is will training in one endurance mode help me in another mode? The answer, based on this limited mini-study, is yes, but not nearly as much as if you had training in the first mode.

More directly, sport-specificity matters. If you need to get better running, it’s best to run. Need to improve row performance? Row. 

Next Steps

Clearly, the results here were limited by the small sample size of just 7 athletes and relatively short study time.  Moving ahead, we hope to test the transfer of biking to running.

 

Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email coach@mtntactical.com