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Millennium institute of sport & health

Westlake Rowing Taking it to the next level

 Since 1970, Westlake Boys Rowing has established itself as one of the most successful high school rowing programmes in the country, producing numerous New Zealand representative rowers.

In the ever-increasingly competitive world of school sport, Westlake has adopted a new approach to the rowing programme and now engages external expertise to implement and improve the strength and conditioning of their athletes. 

Athlete Development (AD) is a programme run by AUT Millennium, New Zealand’s home of high performance sport, which aims at helping young athletes be the best that they can be.

With injuries amongst high school students on the rise, Athlete Development believes that athletes should be training smarter, not harder. Dr Craig Harrison, Director of Athlete Development, says that the programme is all about making a difference in the lives of athletes and research plays a crucial role in this.

“Research allows us to provide information that is based on evidence to help athletes and coaches reach their training goals faster, reduce the likelihood of getting injured, and increase the enjoyment and satisfaction of participating in sport,” Harrison says.

Athlete Development focuses on improving the strength, conditioning and mental toughness of Westlake’s rowers and Wilson says that they have seen improvements across the entire rowing programme.

Tim Wilson is a Lead Coach at Athlete Development and implements the strength and conditioning programme at Westlake Rowing. He says that the programme is making a big difference to the performances of the rowers.

“Through a combination of mental toughness, conditioning and strength training, we have seen the boys improve their rowing machine time over their racing distance by ten seconds,” he says.

The relationship between the Westlake and Athlete Development is still in its infancy, having only started in June. However, in that time the rowers have gone back to basics in the gym; first learning to master techniques before progressing to the stage of adding weights.

“At Athlete Development we believe in making sure athletes can perform a movement competently before adding heavy resistance,” says Wilson. 

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in the boys’ ability to perform basic movements and then develop their strength. We now have a squad that is not only the strongest we’ve seen, but also the hardest workers.”

In a gruelling sport such as rowing, high levels of conditioning are crucial. The boys’ conditioning consists of many hours spent on a rowing machine with sessions varying in intensity and length. 

Wilson comments that the sessions aren’t just about improving the individual rower’s conditioning, they also act as another opportunity to develop mental toughness.

“We need the boys to train under the same stresses and intensity as they would in a race. Mental toughness is developed and learnt in training sessions and the boys all rally around each other to push one another through.”

Rowing season is almost upon schools, which means the rowers will change to a new phase of training that involves maintaining their current strength and conditioning levels. Athlete Development will continue to review the rowers’ programmes and ensure that they are at their strongest and fittest before Maadi Cup at the end of March. 

Mike Stanley, CEO at AUT Millennium and President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, is the Head Coach of Westlake Rowing and is impressed with the improvements the rowers have made.

“Athlete Development has provided Westlake’s rowers with a very structured strength and endurance programme, focused on developing fundamental skills and movement patterns,” he says.

“The programme offers variety and challenge and provides individual feedback, and, as a result, their levels of motivation have never been higher.”

Westlake will begin competition in the coming weeks with racing occurring most weekends and the school is targeting another successful year of rowing. 

by Channel Magazine