Anatomy of a Rower: Do they have the strongest legs of any Olympic athlete?


We’ve taken six of the world’s
top athletes to find out what it takes
to make a true Olympian… That’s it, come on! ..as we push
their bodies to the max. (ANATOMY OF A ROWER) Rowing is one of the most
physically demanding sports on the Olympic programme. It requires strength, it requires strength-endurance, it requires power. Add on top of that,
the aerobic capacity that is required within
an elite rower is absolutely enormous. This really is the full package
for an Olympic athlete. Damir Martin is a double
Olympic silver medallist and missed out on Olympic gold
in Rio by just five-thousandths
of a second in the closest finish
in Olympic rowing history. It’s a photo-finish! Damir’s Olympic successes and his title of European
Champion have made him Croatia’s most
popular sports star. He’s taken a break
from pre-season training to take on our most demanding
set of tests yet. The typical body shape
of a rower really is all about stroke rate
times by stroke length. The taller the rower is, the longer the potential
there is for that stroke, the faster they will go. What we’re looking for
is very tall, very muscular, very lean individuals
to be elite rowers. Damir has come
to the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance,
to see just what it is that makes him one of his
sport’s truly elite athletes. The stats show he’s a physical
force to be reckoned with, but what are the secrets
that have made him one of rowing’s
stand-out performers? We’re about to find out. It could sound funny. I don’t like to row too much,
because it really hurts my back, probably 20k,
in a session and then on a bike,
I do 60-100 kilometres and then even
do some weightlifting or some preventional training. Before we really set Damir
to work, we need to see what makes up
the body of a world-class rower and just how much
has changed since the peak condition
of games time in Rio. Compared to an Olympic-class
swimmer with a body fat percentage
of 12.4, Damir’s pre-season form of 18.4% may seem
less impressive, but next to a similar-sized
heavyweight weightlifter at 26.7, Damir clearly has the
lean muscle to match the mass. During winter, there’s a lot
of endurance training, collecting mileage and
collecting weights in the gym. So you have some storage
of strength during the summer. (DYNO) The Dynamometer test is
regularly used for two reasons. One is performance and
one is for injury surveillance and for rehabilitation. Damir is a linear endurance
athlete, in other words he repeats
the same action over and over again
and the load that is placed on the left and right sides
should be equal, so we’re looking
for high strength and we’re looking for symmetry. In a typical rowing stroke, almost 50% of the power
produced comes from the leg muscles. Our Dyno will test the
rotational force, or torque, Damir’s legs can generate and also the relative strength
of his dominant and non-dominant legs in both
hamstrings and quadriceps. – Are you ready?
– I’m ready. Great – three, two, one, go! Good, push, push, push, pull,
pull, pull, well done, Damir. Come on, let’s go again,
more, more, more. Push, push, push!
Last one, let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! Pull! Pull! Pull!
And relax. A single scull rower needs
to be able to generate massive amounts of torque through his legs
in both the flexion and extension phases
to power himself to victory. But this power delivery has
to be balanced across both legs to ensure he propels his boat
as efficiently as possible through the water. Two, one, go! Good, yes, great start, Damir! Go on, then, push hard, pull! Good, and relax there. Excellent, Damir,
so that’s some of the highest peak torques I’ve ever seen, so really well done! You feel OK? I put my eyeballs back! Damir’s results
are truly astonishing. His peak torque on leg
extension is in a class of its own, higher than even
the best elite athlete scores from the NFL, NBA
and football’s Premier League. The critical value we looked at was that peak torque
production, which was almost
400 newton-metres, incredibly strong. Add on top of that
the symmetry. So the torque produced
from both left and right leg was almost the same. So he is beautifully symmetric
and incredibly strong. I think my physical strengths
are really my physical strengths. So, all the trainings
in the gym. I think the most important
thing are the square metres of your body and if you are
not tall, you have to be wide. (ENVIRO) Training at altitude
has been used by elite athletes for almost 50 years now
as a way to force the body to perform
at reduced oxygen levels. So when the athlete returns
to sea level, they can deliver
improved aerobic performance. As we go up in altitude the availability
of oxygen reduces. Essentially what that does is it makes rowing
that much harder. Three, two, one, go! We’ve put Damir in a cutting-edge
environmental chamber… Excellent!
Good change, well done! ..and dialled
in the same conditions that exist at Belmeken,
Bulgaria, where Croatia’s
top Olympic performers head for altitude training,
2,000m above sea level. 96, that’s excellent! Like all Olympic rowing events,
the single sculls is contested over 2,000m. Rowers pace themselves
over 500m splits, with the first and the last
being flat-out sprints, and the middle two,
at a constant race pace. Inside the chamber, Damir
has to produce 90 seconds of steady-state rowing… Connect and go, well done! ..followed by 30 seconds
of all-out effort over eight intervals and with 22% less oxygen
available than at sea level. Yeah, well ahead of pace,
well done, well done! That’s it, keep pushing, Damir! Three, two, one. Fantastic. Excellent, Damir, well done. – Feeling OK?
– Real good, well done. For Damir, what we see is that
performing the same exercise, at the same intensity, we get
this progressively increasing heart rate across the test. In other words,
it’s getting harder and harder. As it gets harder,
the adaptation to that gets greater and greater. So by training at altitude, what we are seeing
is an increase in training stimulus,
which hopefully translates to an improved performance
at sea level. (UP CLOSE) It could sound funny
who my inspiration was, it was Mahe Drysdale
and Olaf Tufte. I’m racing now against them. Tufte is now the oldest
in the field, he is not happy
with this title, but he is a great athlete and he has to show us younger guys how to row and how to exist that long
in rowing. In those two weeks of Rio,
it was really satisfying and the last 300m came and I said,
“It’s the Olympic final, “I have nothing to lose, “I can just make my medal
shinier.” It’s Damir Martin
from Drysdale, but Drysdale has the finish. Oh! It was really perfect from
the first to the last stroke and I have nothing
to be sorry for. Yeah, maybe for this less than
one-thousandth of a second. But it will come. (SPIRO) The lung function test
is really important, because it’s the first piece in
the jigsaw of aerobic capacity. Now, what we see
in elite rowing is very big athletes and
big athletes have big lungs. So, what we are expecting is Damir to demonstrate that
in this test. The cardio-respiratory system
of any athlete is vital in achieving
peak performance. Rowers must shift between
intense aerobic and anaerobic activity
throughout a race and efficient and powerful
lungs are the foundation of everything they do. So can I get you to put
your nose clip on and so I want you to put
the tube in your mouth and have a good seal
if that’s all right. Take a deep breath in –
when you’re ready… And keep on going,
keep on going, keep on going, keep on going. That’s good, well done, Damir. The effort that is required
to drive a 14-kilo, eight-metre-long single scull
through the water at race pace for 2km is huge, and there are few Olympic
sports that can match the intensity of
physical exertion that elite rowers experience. Fill your lungs up and out! Keep on going,
keep on going, keep on going. That’s good, well done. So, Damir these results
are phenomenal, even compared to some of the elite athletes
that we look after. When we look at Damir’s
Forced Vital Capacity or the amount of air he can
exhale in one full breath, it’s easy to see why rowers
have the reputation for having the strongest lungs
in sport. He has a huge lung volume and that is critical
to underpin this enormous
aerobic capacity which is required
for elite rowing. (VO2 MAX) The VO2 Max,
or the aerobic capacity, often what we call
the endurance capacity, is absolutely crucial for
rowing performance. So, for Damir, were expecting
a very high VO2 Max, because it underpins
everything he does in the boat. As well as testing Damir’s
ability to deliver oxygen to his muscles
during a maximal effort, we are also measuring when he
hits his anaerobic threshold, the point at which his body
can no longer remove the lactic acid which
causes the muscles to burn and exhaustion to set in. Rowers have produced some
of the highest-ever recorded VO2 Max readings
among elite athletes and there’s no single test
that pushes the body to its physical limits
more than this one. It demands nothing short
of total, maximum effort. Three, two, one, off you go! Every minute the test goes on, Damir will have to up
his power output. 350 watts, well done! As the stroke rate increases,
his heart rate rises and the lactate levels
in his muscles begin to build. Brilliant, Damir, brilliant! Rowing takes the body into
areas of physical exhaustion that few other sports
can match, demanding supreme endurance
and strength in equal measure. Nice and controlled,
but push! – Dig deep!
– Good job! That’s it, come on! As the lactate threshold
is reached and Damir’s muscles begin
to burn with the effort, he must push through the pain
if he’s to achieve the VO2 Max he is truly capable of. – Yes, here we go!
– Come on, push it! Yes, Damir!
That’s it, push it, big watts! – Well done.
– Keep it going, keep it going. Don’t fail, don’t fail! – Come on, push.
– 30 seconds and we’re done! Come on, 30 seconds,
that’s it! Excellent! Well done. Fantastic work,
absolutely fantastic. Damir’s Maximal VO2 score
is literally breathtaking, higher than the world’s
best marathon runners and greater than most
of the elite rowers he competes against. He consumes 6.25 litres
of oxygen every minute – that’s absolutely massive. Lactate threshold,
Damir can sustain one minute 40 seconds
for every 500m, that’s absolutely incredible. The race is seven minutes, there is a lot of fighting
in your head when the pain hits you. You can always stop
and then it’s easier. But then, you are not in front,
so you have to bite through it and go till to the end. Even in a sport renowned for producing some of the most
impressive physical specimens on the planet, Damir is truly
a force of nature. That’s it, keep it going,
keep it going! Don’t fail! Stamina, strength
and a mental conditioning that enable him to push
his body beyond the limits of even the most elite
of his fellow athletes. He is an imposing figure
when he comes into the lab. He is incredibly strong, his lung size,
absolutely astronomical. All of these facets
of performance demonstrate why Damir is a double Olympic
silver medallist and one of the best rowers
in the world. I thought that maybe
this is for a reason, that I didn’t win
the gold medal in Rio because I think great things
are coming, so I am looking forward
to Tokyo and maybe even further.

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