Inside The Numbers: Julie Foucher’s Rowing

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We examined Julie Foucher’s journey from “average Joe” CrossFitter to Games superstar in a previous article entitled How Julie Foucher Became Julie Foucher.  Her progress and consistency have been astounding.  Now let’s take a more in-depth look at specific parts of Julie’s training.  We’ll start with rowing.

How important, really, is rowing to one’s fitness? It certainly is an interesting question given the costly nature of a rowing machine; it’s one of the most expensive pieces of CrossFitting equipment.  Should you invest in one for your home gym?  Should a gym invest in a high volume of rowers for the sake of their membership’s fitness development?  Or is running an adequate replacement? We’ll be exploring these questions, and more, below by examining the rowing and running habits of Julie Foucher.

Rowing Frequency

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The frequency of Julie’s rowing has changed lots over the years.  To date, she’s logged over one million meters on the rower. A good portion of those meters have occurred recently as her workouts have morphed from a total of 12 workout sessions containing rowing in 2009 to 122 workouts with rowing in 2014.  Total number of rowing sessions has gone up each and every year during her CrossFitting career.  Clearly, rowing is becoming more and more important in Julie’s training.

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Let’s put her rowing into some perspective by comparing it to running, the other big monostructural cardio movement. As much as Julie’s rowing sessions were growing in the early years, during that same time, running sessions progressed at an even faster rate. Aside from 2013, when running sessions dipped from 102 to 63 (she took a break from competition that year), Julie added bigger chunks of running to her yearly schedule than she did with rowing.  All that changed this year. For the first time ever (excluding her 2013 off-year), more rows were added to Julie’s schedule (+70) than runs on a per year basis. Perhaps more importantly, rowing sessions officially surpassed running sessions in a single year. But why the sudden, massive uptick in rowing in 2014?

“We just did more volume in general leading up to this Games season. In 2013 I hardly rowed at all during my “year off” -Julie Foucher

What Kind Of Rowing?

Part of the answer can also be found in Doug Chapman’s (Julie’s coach) new programming philosophy. Beginning in 2013 Doug began incorporating long distance rowing and running, active-recovery efforts into Julie’s training. He noticed a big hole in long-distance, aerobic capacity training in CrossFit athletes. His answer is a steady dose of weekly, long, recovery efforts (5km or more) that also serve to improve the often avoided aerobic energy pathway. He’s particularly fond of using the rower because of its ability to train aerobic capacity without the monotonous joint pounding that comes with running.

[The big difference in training] the last couple of years [is that] we have been using rowing more for active recovery, so at least 1-2 days per week I’m rowing for active recovery while I rarely do active recovery runs – Julie Foucher

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If we dive in a little deeper, we find that when Julie rows it’s usually a solo row. That is, the workout only has rowing in it. These include time trials, intervals, and recovery efforts.  All-time, when compared to her workout sessions containing rowing and additional movements (combo workouts), she’s performed solo efforts 1.4x more often.  On a per year basis, that number has stayed fairly consistent, peaking at a 1.7:1 ratio in 2014, again, largely in part to the new recovery emphasis.

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However, when adjusting for the new recovery emphasis in 2013 and 2014 (we subtracted all long distance recovery rows from the data), we actually find that solo rowing and combo rowing are fairly even from year to year.

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The opposite can be said of running.  All-time, combo workouts have gotten the nod nearly 3x as often, though the gap between solo runs and combo runs is steadily decreasing. Combo efforts outnumber solo efforts by their smallest number to date at nearly 1.2x, thanks, again, mostly to the new approach to recovery. That’s a far-cry from the 6x differential in 2012.

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Even when adjusting for the new recovery emphasis, Julie prefers to run within WODs, rather than as a solo effort, at a fairly significant margin.

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What about rowing for calories? Virtually non-existent. In fact, of 307 recorded rowing sessions, only 15 of them have been for calories. It is important to note that 12 of those were during 2014.

Is Rowing Seasonal?

Julie goes to Doug Chapman’s HyperFit USA in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The numbers suggest that she performs a majority of her rowing during the cold, Michigan, winter months.  During that time, average high temperatures range from 31 to 48 degrees ferenheit, making it (I can only imagine) incredibly difficult to run.  During those months, her row:run ratio takes a sharp turn in favor of rowing every year since 2010.

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In fact, during the months of January, February, March, November, and December (the Michigan cold months), she rows, on average, about 2.5 more times than she runs. It’s worth noting that a large number of those months over the years even had 0 run sessions. As for the rest of the year?  During the “warm” months she rows less than half as often as she runs.

“I do more rowing in the winter traditionally because the running volume goes down when it is snowing outside” -Julie Foucher

Which Rower?



Julie Foucher uses and recommends Rogue Fitness’ Black Concept 2 rower.

Is It Working?

Whatever she’s doing for rowing seems to be working.  Some of her rowing personal records, and their associated BTWB levels, are as follows:

  • 500 m Row: 1:44 (rank: 94)
  • 1 km Row: 3:46 (rank: 95)
  • 2 km Row: 7:50.3 (rank: 96)
  • 5 km Row: 21:26 (rank: 90)

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Interestingly, when comparing other athletes with Dragon status (90+ Fitness Levels), Julie is rowing way more often.  In 2009, other female Dragon users only rowed, on average, just under 9 times.  Like Julie’s rowing habits, that number has grown year after year, albeit not by much, to 19.5 sessions per year in 2014.  Still, a far cry from Julie’s numbers. In 2009, male users with Dragon status averaged about 7 rowing sessions. That number has risen to just under 18 sessions in 2014. Even if we account for the increase in recovery rows in Julie’s training in 2013 and 2014, we find that the number of rowing sessions still surpasses other Dragons, both male and female, by quite a bit for both years.

Julie’s running numbers fared the same when put up against the same group of athletes.

Games/Regional History

Does the presence of rowing in regional and Games events impact the inclusion of rowing in Julie’s yearly programming? In the entire history of the CrossFit Games (8 years), rowing has appeared in exactly 9 of 73 scored events (12%).  In 3 of those competitions rowing didn’t make a single appearance. In another 3 rowing could only be found in 1 of the scored events.  Is it important to train rowing then?  Doug’s programming suggests so. If we adjust the total number of rowing sessions and running sessions in 2013 and 2014 to exclude the weekly active recovery efforts, we still see an 83% jump in rowing sessions from 2012 (the year with next most rowing sessions) to 2014.

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Like a true competitor, Julie is taking the whole thing in stride. When asked if the presence of rowing in CrossFit Regional and Games events changed her approach to the movement, she humbly replied, “[It’s the] same as everything else. It is [just] something I know I need to work on.”

Conclusions

A couple of things have been made clear when looking at Julie’s numbers. There is a perceived benefit in increasing the amount of rowing in her training program. So much so that it’s now on par with her running sessions, which used to dominate rowing in her early days as an athlete. The other interesting point is that it doesn’t take a whole lot of rowing to obtain Dragon status with out Fitness Level feature. However, it could be the difference between being a 90+ level athlete and a perennial Games athlete. Our research in How Long Does It Take To Improve In CrossFit? has led us to believe that even the smallest of differences in Fitness Levels in the 90+ range indicate big differences in ability.

So which is more important, running or rowing? Both. Let’s not forget that Julie’s running sessions continue to progress year to year. Having said that, it also depends on your goals. If you are content with being a regional athlete then 10-20 rowing sessions per year might be enough. However, if you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level, it may bode well for you to look at how often you’re spending time on a concept 2.

These same ideas should govern your decisions about whether or not to purchase a rower(s) for yourself or your gym. Remember, as proven by our many Dragons (Level 90+ users), there are plenty of fitness gains to be had with minimal rowing.

For more insight into the dynamic duo that is Doug Chapman and Julie Foucher, pick up a copy of Training For The CrossFit Games: A Year of Programming used to train Julie Foucher, The 2nd Fittest Woman on Earth, CrossFit Games 2012.


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“We’re all busy – we have jobs, significant others, children, friends, homes, projects, and pets to attend to, and there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to best meet all of life’s demands, we must first care for ourselves. You don’t have the luxury of spending hours in the gym each day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get and stay fit! Although I am working to complete my medical training and become a physician I still want to maintain a high level of fitness. Thus, ‪#‎TRAINwithJF‬ was born: 1 hour in the gym per day, 5 days per week, fully scheduled out for you and jam-packed to build a solid foundation of GPP and proficiency in the full gamut of weightlifting, gymnastics, and monostructural skills. This is the actual programming that I am doing each day, so you can rest assured that based upon my 6 years of experience training for the CrossFit Games, this is what I believe to be the most efficient programming to maintain a high level of fitness in just a few hours per week. Come workout with me! You just get to the gym, and let me worry about the rest. Each training day you will receive a task list which includes a warm-up, workout, strength and/or skill work, and a cool down. The tasks will be scheduled to fit a strict 60-minute timeline. I recommend you write this timeline up on the whiteboard when you enter the gym, set the clock, and go all out. When the clock hits 60, you can leave the gym confident that you put in the work to increase your fitness in a time-efficient way. I am working with btwb so we’ll be able to see and comment each other’s results. I’ll share nutrition and time-efficiency as well as host Q&As with you guys so we can get to know each other.” -Julie Foucher (Learn More)

Learn More: http://btwb.com/juliefoucher