“Physiologically, it’s brutal,” says Jimmy Clark, an exercise physiologist with the Institute for Sport Research at the University of Pretoria and part of the coaching team preparing the South African Rowing Squad for the next Olympics. “We’re talking about near maximal sustained ventilation – heart-rate and oxygen uptake to support the high power outputs over the six-odd minutes it takes to row 2 000m, while attempting to maintain the most effective and efficient technical form at stroke rates of 30 to 40 per minute,” he says.

It’s amazing then to learn that South Africa’s top oarsman (bronze medallist at the 2004 Olympic Games) Ramon Di Clemente, will be 37 when London 2012 rolls around. Way too old to be a medal contender, you might say. Well, you’d be wrong. Especially when it comes to rowing… The Brit Sir Steve Redgrave, who many consider the greatest Olympian ever, was 38 when he won his fifth consecutive gold (in Sydney 2000). Di Clemente, along with his coxless pair (a boat with no coxswain and only two rowers, each with an oar) partner Shaun Keeling, are on a stringent four-year plan aimed at getting on the podium in London. According to Clark their training is focused on leg strength, Vo2 max improvement as well as technique. “Around 80 percent of the power is generated from the coordinated work of knees, hips and lower back,” he says.

Rowing is primarily a strength-endurance type of sport. Use the one-legged squat to develop strength for optimal leg drive through the rowing stroke.

WINNING TACTICS: ROW RIGHT
Rowing technique requires a large amount of skill and finesse to keep the boat going forwards at a gold medal-winning speed. Avoid the following faults in technique to ensure optimal performance. Best of all, you don’t need to be on the water, this also works with indoor rowers.

1 ROWING WITH BENT ARMS
The Fault The rower starts the drive by pulling with the arms, rather than pushing with the legs. The Correction The drive starts by pushing the legs and bracing the back with the arms fully extended and relaxed.

2 PULLING UP TOO FAR AND LEANING BACK TOO MUCH
The Fault At the finish of the stroke, the rower pulls the handle up too high and leans back too far. The Correction Draw the handle into the body. The wrists should be flat and the elbows drawn past the body, with his forearms as horizontal as possible.