Take a look at the photo below. Notice anything? No? Try scanning the faces of the rowers and spot the odd one out.
See it now? I love this photograph, it tells a great story. But first about about the history of the picture. It was taken at the Rowing World Cup in Banyoles in Spain, I believe held in 2009. It's at the start of the race as the Canadian team are powering out of the blocks. It's the most explosive part of the race as each team looks to get momentum and build up speed to get off to a good start.
So why does the rower on the right look so relaxed? Is it because he's pulling less than the other crew members? Of course not! They wouldn't let him any where near the boat with that attitude. He's pulling his weight the same as the rest, it's just that he doesn't feel the need to pull a face when rowing hard and he's most likely rowing more efficiently then the others at this point in the race.
As the great Bruce Lee once said..
"The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be."
And that's coming from a man who knew!
Looking back at the rowers above, you'll see the effort they're putting in, is pulling their heads back and stiffening their necks.Your balance and neck reflexes are vitally important for coordinating your muscles. Unnecessary tension in this area will slow your movements, lead to extra effort, and even cause injury.
If you train by pulling faces and tightening your neck, back and shoulder muscles, you will eventually effect your posture, which in turn will degrade the quality of your movement. (If you've not tried it yet, try my movement test to get an idea of what I'm talking about)
Once your posture and coordination are below par, you could find yourself more at risk of a sports-related injury that may stop you training altogether!
Less Really Does Mean More!
But enough of the bad news. The good news is that fitness training can be more enjoyable, challenging and lead to better results, if you take your foot off the gas.
The next time you've got your foot full on the gas on your rowing machine as you look to set a personal best on a time trial, check to see if you're pulling a face. Then ask yourself - "Do I need to be doing this?" Relax your jaw and let it run down to your neck and shoulders. See what a difference that can make.
Take out the effort you think you need to be doing, and see what happens. You'll find you can train for longer, get more benefit AND not injure yourself in the process.
I first wrote about the effect inappropriate effort could have on reflexes and therefore how it can undermine performance in my book The Peak Performance Zone (first publish as Zone Mind, Zone Body in 2005). You can read more about my theories here.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.