Converting From Rowing To Triathlon

by Mason

I am a rower interested in converting to triathlon. I have been looking through your website and I find a lot of the information very informative to me. I am currently an undergrad student doing sport and exercise science so a lot of the information is helpful for my course.

I was just curious as to whether there are certain markers for predicting potential for triathlon in people. I am an ex rower, 6'2", 80kg around 13% body fat. In various VO2max text my results have been around 59ml/kg/min. I was just wondering if I was to lose some bulk from rowing and dropped 5-6 kg, would my then better VO2max mean I could be a potentially good triathlete?

Thanks in advance.

Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:

Glad you like our site and find it useful!

Rowers in general tend to have a very high absolute VO2max, i.e. before body weight is factored in. This is because they are usually larger individuals than most endurance athletes, and body weight when in the boat is not that relevant (compared with a runner where you are carrying your weight and so it a significant factor). The duration of the events also means that VO2max is a significant factor in success. Races are usually only a few minutes long but at very high work rates.

59ml/kg/min is a good score for an age group triathlete and losing 5-6kg of muscle mass will help to improve that further.

However there are many more physiological factors involved in determining triathlon performance, such as running economy, cycling efficiency and swimming efficiency. You can read more about how these impact on performance in our triathlon physiology page.

All the males I (Mark) coach have a VO2max of over 85ml/kg/min, however compared with elite runners with similar figures they are very uneconomical, otherwise they would be running sub 27 minute 10kms!

The most economical runners tend to be those who have accumulated many miles in training, and therefore if you haven’t been doing any running this may be an area that is weaker for you.

Your economy is largely set for you by your parents (ie genetic), although with the appropriate training you can change it a small amount (we are experimenting with methods of increasing the elasticity of the lower limb structure).

The biggest changeable physiology factor is your endurance conditioning. In other words, how high can you get your lactate threshold speeds and how much of your VO2max can you sustain for the duration of the event (fractional utilisation).

There are athletes out there who are the opposite way round, those who have low VO2max and a fantastic economy. Derek Clayton broke the world marathon record with a VO2max of 67ml/kg, but a very good economy. This however is pretty rare!

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