6 Questions with Steve Whelpley

Apr 29, 2020

Steve Whelpley started coaching in 2016 after 19 continuous competitive years in the sport of rowing. He is now the Head Coach of Craftsbury's Green Racing Project, an elite training group based in Craftsbury, Vermont. We last checked in with Steve in our 10 Questions blog series in 2018. We've reached out again to see how he is navigating these unpredictable and unsettling days, and to see he's continuing to train, both himself and his rowing athletes.

Have you changed your personal training routine during this time of "Stay Home, Stay Safe?"
I'm still new enough to being a coach that coaching itself has way larger ramifications on my training than the coronavirus does. In some ways, the pandemic has actually allowed me a little bit more time to build things in for myself, so if anything, my personal training as a coach has slightly improved. With the restrictions that come with quarantining and sheltering in place, I've brushed the dust off some old athletic habits and added some new ones. Last week, I completed a virtual challenge with some co-workers and community members of completing 1000 pull-ups, 1000 push-ups, 1000 sit-ups, 1000 Supermans, and 1000 air squats in the course of a week. Done. Outside of that, I started a morning regimen of doing 30 minutes of yoga followed by three sets of Wim Hof breathing exercises and finish with some bodyweight exercises.

Are you still able to train your athletes/clients during this time? How? What types of technology are you using?
We are still able to do some training at this time, thanks to our remote location. That being said, I have to coach from a very generous social distance, and we work in very limited shifts. In house, nothing too new has happened as we always used apps like GroupMe and Instagram to share knowledge and organize things. USRowing and some private parties have done an amazing job of organizing webinars and online gatherings through Zoom to both create platforms of discussion and bring up topics on our sport. It honestly makes me feel more academic than I've been able to be in years.

Knowing that some of your athletes/clients may not have ergs at home, what kinds of workouts are you providing? If they do have ergs or access to Concept2 equipment, what types of workouts are you finding motivating?
Most of my athletes near and far have access to ergs. A couple lucky ones can row a single by themselves out of private residences. As a sport, we may have lost our seasons, but we're lucky that our training can continue in some form or another. That being said, with the season being wiped clean, it is hard to find the right balance of training. While it’s an opportune time to return to aerobic base training, the monotony of it during a chaotic and challenging time is not gratifying to all. As a result, our workouts push towards incorporating base work for the most part (2.0mmol of lactate and below), while also having some productive benchmark workouts that feel more prescribed, challenging, and rewarding.

Can you offer a favorite workout?
Right now, our best thing that we're doing is a long view at doing a 2k. Often, 2ks are done with a bunch of acute prep. People tend to exaggerate the anaerobic focus in their preparation for it. Since we're trying to build base, but also have a target, we've been doing a very simple but rewarding build towards an open 2k. It's a 6-week progression that allows athletes to keep doing volume and regular training during the week. Basically, it goes like this:

  • Weeks 1 & 2: 3 x 2k @ 26 spm w/5' rest
  • Weeks 3 & 4: 2 x 2k @ 28 spm w/ 8' rest
  • Week 5: 1 x 2k @ 30 spm
  • Week 6: 2k "Jungle Rules" (ie. no restrictions)

The simpler the workout, the more powerful right now. Doing the 1000 challenge I mentioned earlier brought a bunch of us together remotely, and it made my day feel easily organized and yet rewarding. I worked towards a big, simple, knowable goal.

Do you have any motivational, inspirational, humorous or learning moments to share from working out at home or in your current situation?
The other humorous and yet inspiring revelation was the crossover of two breathing practices in close vicinity. Many things have circulated during the coronavirus with varying degrees of authenticity and validity. One thing that emerged was an alleged [ed: the test claims are proven to be fake] Taiwanese screening test for COVID that had you hold a breath for 10 seconds. If you could do that, you were said to be ok. No harm, no foul, I tried that and found it disturbing how challenging it was for me to pass that simple test. I had no cough or any symptoms, but I was just like, "Wow, I'm really out of shape." Then, unrelated to that, I tried Wim Hof's guided breathing exercises. I was floored by my ability to not breath for 1:30 after struggling to hold my breath for 0:10. There's plenty of history behind hyperventilation, but this was a very notable personal anecdote.

What’s the one thing you most look forward to when we get to the other side of this crisis?
Shaking an athlete's hand. I had plenty of germaphobe tendencies going into the pandemic. As a result, many current and former athletes joke of my preparedness. That being said, the heightened awareness of touch and social distancing has me greatly appreciating the support, validation, understanding, and bond that can be forged with a simple handshake of which we are now deprived.

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