The Menstrual Cycle: Do Olympic Athletes Believe It Impacts Performance? – By Joe DeLeo 

Increased Stroke Rates Increases Load on Female Rowers’ Lower Back – By Alex Wolf

Complex Systems: Why Aren’t The Strongest Athletes Always The Best Rowers – Nicole Elkins

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Article Summaries

McNamara, A., Harris, R., & Minahan, C. (2022). ‘That time of the month’… for the biggest event of your career! Perception of menstrual cycle on performance of Australian athletes training for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 8(2), e001300.

Researchers recruited elite female Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the National Sport Organizations in Australia to complete the Menstrual Cycle Questionnaire (MCq) perceptions to gain a better understanding of female athletes’ experience into how the menstrual cycle affects sport performance. A total of 195 athletes from 24 sports participated in the online questionnaire. The researchers found that 42% of all athletes ‘optimal window of training was ‘just after their period’ and that athletes who experienced 3 or more menstrual cycle symptoms were twice as likely to identify that their performance was affected. The results of this study better inform athletes and coaches of the impact the menstrual cycle has on performance. This information can be used to enhance communication around the menstrual cycle, periods, and contraception so female athletes are positioned to have their best performance.

Buckeridge, E. M., Bull, A. M. J., & McGregor, A. H. (2015). Incremental training intensities increases loads on the lower back of elite female rowers. Journal of Sports Sciences. 34(4), 369–378.

This article aimed to investigate the effects of incremental stroke rates on lower limb and lumbar-pelvic (low back and pelvis) joint kinetics (force) and kinematics (movement) during ergometer rowing. The study developed an inverse dynamics model (a method used to calculate the forces and moments acting on joints during rowing movement) to examine these effects. The results showed that high intensity rowing requires different joint loading strategies during both the drive and recovery phases of a rowing stroke. Large L5/S1 extension moments and compressive forces were present during the rowing stroke, and these increased with increasing stroke rates. However, corresponding increases in foot-stretcher forces were not observed. The study concluded that greater L5/S1 loading at higher stroke rates is unlikely to be a measure of greater performance, as it may be an indicator of technique declining at higher stroke rates. The study suggests that even within a highly skilled elite population, high intensity rowing is achieved through relative increases in work done by the lower back, and this seems to be implicated with less pelvic forward rotation at the catch.

Balagué, N., Hristovski, R., Torrents, C., & Davids, K. (2013). Overview of Complex Systems in Sport. Journal of Systems Science and Complexity, 26, 4-13.

The mechanistic view of sports performance has been at the front and centre of sports science, whereby performance is broken down into its constituent parts, with each part being trained independently of each other.  Instead, a complex systems approach is offered as an opportunity to consider the environment-system relationship and treat sports movement as a whole.  Principles of complexity, and modelling sports performance as a non-linear dynamic system are emphasised within the complex systems approach.  The article discusses coordination dynamics (how movement coordination forms and changes), ecological dynamics (movement isn’t linear and responds to the environment around it) and a network approach (all aspects of movement are deeply connected), by way of further understanding sport-related movements that emerge in specific contexts.  The creation of new learning and training strategies is one practical outcome with future research needed to further understand the non-linear behaviour of sports performance across different settings.

About Science of Rowing

“Science of Rowing” is a monthly publication created by three dual rowing-and-strength coaches: Will Ruth, Blake Gourley, and Joe DeLeo. Our goal is to move research into practice for coaches and rowers of all ages, types, and levels. We are entirely member-funded and do not promote products or sell advertisements. Members receive one issue each month containing three reviews of recent and applicable research in rowing training, strength training for rowing, and other relevant performance areas like psychology, injury analysis, technology, and more.

Each issue includes video and graphic content to help move the knowledge into practice, as well as a podcast episode of the three of us discussing the takeaways and our experiences. Membership includes access to all prior issues, so join us for one month and get access to every issue. We also offer discounted annual and team memberships, as well as gift memberships for a special rower or coach in your life.