Born to Win? World class rowing is a tough and arduous sport

World class rowing is a tough and arduous sport; it places a massive strain on the upper and lower body, utilising power, stamina and endurance. Due to the nature of the sport it is of great interest to sports scientists as the athletes involved often share similar characteristics, characteristics which we know are born from DNA and brought out through harsh training and strict nutrition.

Allar Raja is one such athlete, winning 10 medals across the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships! There is no doubt that Allar has had a strict diet and training regime to get him to this level, but is it all down to environment or has he got hidden genetic gifts?

Allar wanted to find out what lies within his genes, and had a DNA analysis completed which was interpreted by sports performance expert Chris Collins. The genes analysed stretched from well known ones like ACTN3 and ACE to NOS3 and AMPD1 (if you want to know the whole list feel free to get in touch with Chris on the email at the end). Allar wanted to know how to maximise his genetic gifts to further his career.

This article contains small snippets or extracts from Allar’s report, however it is only a small amount, the full report looked deeply into his training programming, diet, supplementation and rest.

From the interpretation Chris found the following:

  1. Slow twitch muscle fibre acquisition potential: Allar had gifted genetic predispositions for slow twitch muscle fibre acquisition, which means with the correct training Allar will gain a greater amount of slow twitch muscle fibres, more so than those without his gene variants. This is an integral key to a successful athlete in rowing, most associate slow twitch muscle fibres with pure endurance; however the gene variants show that Allar has the potential to output a greater force for a prolonged period, more strength stamina rather than what would be considered aerobic endurance.
  2. Usage of O2: Allar had the benefit of not only having the gene variants for slow twitch muscle fibre acquisition but also had the VO2 max gifts associated with a better usage of oxygen, better vasodilation and greater capillarization.

The following is an extract from Allar’s report on VO2 max:

AGEMALEFEMALE
Baseball18-3248-5652-57
Basketball18-3040-6043-60
Cycling18-2662-7447-57
Canoeing22-2855-6748-52
Football (USA)20-3642-60
Gymnastics18-2252-5835-50
Ice Hockey10-3050-63
Orienteering20-6047-5346-60
Rowing20-3560-7258-65
Skiing alpine18-3057-6850-55
Skiing nordic20-2865-9460-75
Soccer22-2854-6450-60
Speed skating18-2456-7344-55
Swimming10-2550-7040-60
Track & Field – Discus22-3042-55
Track & Field – Running18-3960-8550-75
Track & Field – Running40-7540-6035-60
Track & Field – Shot22-3040-46
Volleyball18-2240-56
Weight Lifting20-3038-52
Wrestling20-3052-65

 

As you can see on the table, rowing at an elite level requires a very high level of VO2 max. Therefore having genetic gifts in the area will give you an advantage over your opposition, if they do not share the same variants, the combination of gifts in VO2 max and endurance give you a very good profile for endurance based sports, or sports that utilise some form of endurance within them.

Any exercise or activity that starts to make you out of breath will cause adaptations in VO2 max; however the following drill will help you improve VO2 max to your maximum level.

We will use the concept 2 rower:

500m @ 50%MHR
100m @ 100% MHR
100m @ 90% MHR
100m @ 100% MHR
100m @ 90% MHR
100m @100m MHR
1000m @65%
Repeat X2

Your VO2 max genetics give you gifts in causing more blood vessels to grow within your muscles which provide blood to the muscles. They also improve your vasodilation ability, due to your vasodilation you should consider ARGININE supplementation at around 8-10g of pure powder every day with a meal, arginine will help cause greater adaptations in your blood vessel dilation.

  1. Strength: As mentioned before Allar had genes that affected his ability to output force over a long period of time, “strength stamina”. However strength was looked at in terms of genes that were related to muscle mass potential, collagen strength and muscle power.

The following is an extract from Allar’s report on Strength:

When we consider strength we must look at the optimum method of building muscle and strengthening the muscles for extra power and resiliency. Most people will talk about rep ranges. However what we really need to know is how long we need our muscles to be under tension, by knowing this we not only work out “reps” but also load.

For example if we did a standard 10 reps at a rate of 2s per rep it would take 20s to complete, I.E 20s of muscle tension before ceasing. If however we did 10 reps at a rate of 3s per rep it would take 30s. That is why it is more important to know the time under tension for our muscle.

Strength is important in rowing I would recommend you utilise the following in your training plan.

The results show that the optimum level of tension for you is 30-45s. This is the optimum amount of time your muscles need to be under tension for strengthening with some muscle growth. If we put that in terms of reps we would be looking at 12 reps at 3s per rep. You could play around with those times: I.E doing 6 reps at 6s per rep, with eccentric load being more important. The set would look like:

6 reps with 3s eccentric stage, 1s pause, 2s concentric.

  1. Recovery and inflammation: Another key aspect that genetics plays a large role in is inflammation and recovery. These key parts of sports performance were interpreted to help Allar understand the best ways to maximise his performance by not training BUT resting.

The following is an extract from Allar’s report on Recovery and Lactate Threshold:

Recovery works on two levels: the first is the ability to heal from damage caused by physical activity and injury, and the second is the speed with which you recover energy after an intense bout of exercise. Those with higher affinity will be able to recover faster from injury and have more energy post-rest period than those with lower affinity.

The Anaerobic threshold (AT) is commonly known as the lactate threshold or LT, and is the level at which lactate begins to accumulate within the blood stream during exercise. With increased exercise intensity, lactate in the blood reaches the LT. The LT is a useful measurement for determining exercise intensity during training for a wide variety of sports such as running, rowing, cycling, swimming etc.

You Have: Lactate Threshold Genetic Predisposition: Low, Normal, High, Gifted, Highly Gifted Recovery: Slow, Normal, Fast

Due to this we need to consider that you will recuperate energy (ATP) quite slowly between bouts of energy lost, when we look back at the drills I would recommend 90-120s of rest before you repeat the drills. Whilst having a slow recovery may appear to be a negative thing it does offer some benefit, it has been shown that those with a slower recovery may have larger muscle mass. The reason for this is that after very intense bouts of activity you will have a higher level of inflammation, whilst inflammation is often looked upon as a negative, when it comes to muscle mass it means that the body will attempt to adapt more so than others, therefore rest is key to success. You can use the slow recovery to your advantage by pushing yourself during each training sessions but utilising smart nutrition and longer rest periods to get the most muscle hypertrophy adaptation.

  1. Supplements: Thanks to the multitude of genetic markers tested Chris gave Allar a list of supplements to aid in his performance.

The following is an extract from Allar’s report on Supplements:

As mentioned earlier these are only minor aspects to Allar’s test, but we can see that Allar had some highly gifted genetics especially in relation to O2 usage and general slow twitch muscle acquisition.  More obvious genetic traits such as being near 6ft 3inches also help the cause of being a world class rower, however genetics are only the FOUNDATIONS.

Allar needed to train and experiment to find out what he was good at and work hard to unlock his gifts, through training in specific ways Allar has expressed his gifted variants in ways which has got him to this high level.

Allar did learn from the test the importance of longer rest periods and recovery days to fully maximise his potential especially from a muscle strength perspective.

But can someone be born to win?

Well yes and no.

The real answer to the question is: You are born with the potential to win…..

Want to learn more?

Chris is able to go through all the genes analysed for Allar’s test, and answer any questions you may have on sports performance or nutrition/supplementation based on genetic variants.

Send him an email on chris@muhdo.com or drop him a text on 07876592310.

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