John Graves and Cross Training to Peak Rowing Performance

Tim Reynolds is an elite cross country ski racer and native Vermonter. He contributes to The Buzz on all things related to our home stateimage

John Graves is a world-class rower.

In his second year with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s Olympic Development Program, Graves recently won the National Selection Regatta in Princeton, NJ. He’ll be punching his ticket to London and Lucerne, Switzerland this June to represent the stars and stripes at the World Rowing Cup, men’s single division.

And, it won’t be Graves’ first time on the big stage. Two years ago he competed in the same London and Lucerne World Cup events as the American lightweight single. He fell just short of earning a London 2012 Olympic berth in the lightweight double (rowing with his cousin).

With a few more pounds and a couple more years of training under his belt, Graves has his sights set on the World Championships in Korea. Before achieving world domination, he took a few minutes off the water this week to give us rowing-neophytes some early season tips.

Tim Reynolds for Ibex (TRI): John, give us a rundown of the races in Princeton.

John Graves (JG): Well, our Craftsbury team had a solid training camp in Clemson, South Carolina leading up to the National Selection. We cross-country skied all winter at the Outdoor Center, but since the lake here was frozen until late April, we headed south for some water time. I guess it worked – I went into the week just wanting to race as hard as I could and enjoy the competition, I didn’t have any expectations really. I think that mindset allowed me to be pretty loose and let me perform at a really high level.

TRI:  How tight was the racing down there?

JG: The selection takes place over three days and four races. I won the initial time trial and moved on in my heat and semifinal moving pretty well. The final was really close though. My teammate, Steve Whelpley, and I separated ourselves from the pack and had a close sprint finish. It was pretty cool to be duking it out with him at the final push and really showing people that Craftsbury is a legit training center for rowing.

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TRI:  What’s on the docket for you now?

JG: I am training here in Craftsbury for the next six weeks, now that the ice is gone! Then I head across the pond. I’ll race on the Olympic course in London and then (stay there to) train before heading to Switzerland. Lucerne is kind of a Mecca for rowing: it’s by this beautiful lake in the Alps and is quite picturesque. It’s a dream come true for me to be able to go there and race for the US as the single sculler.

TRI:  Now that we’ve covered your accolades, how about helping the rest of us get up to speed on the water?

JG: Haha, sure. For me, early in the season it’s important to have an easy transition to rowing after skiing all winter. We did a lot of easy miles and made sure not to push it too much. It’s very easy in rowing to get those overuse injuries in the first couple weeks on the water. The muscle groups are pretty specific and if you aren’t rowing, you aren’t using a lot of them.

TRI: Was skiing helpful for you? A lot of us rowers do a bunch of other outdoor recreating, too. What’s the crossover?

JG: Keeping the body balanced was something I focused on a lot early in the spring, and I think cross training is huge for that. Lots of core work has helped, too. Believe it or not, all of the easy distance and base work – [achieved from] skiing and biking, or running – has a huge impact on getting up to race speed quickly in rowing. Drilling the fundamentals and taking your time perfecting your stroke, especially early on, makes it much easier to move fast. It’s much more difficult if you rush it too soon. My main advice would be to have patience. Not everyone is in to racing, but everyone likes to move fast on the water! That’s why sculling is so addictive.

Thanks, John. We’re sure you’ll find some extra speed in Europe from drilling those basics!  Follow his progress @CraftsburyGreen and Craftsbury’s Facebook.