Work Out Like: A Harvard Rower

The Head of the Charles is this weekend, and we caught up with a Harvard varsity rower to see how she prepares for the big race.


Flint (in the first seat) and her teammates. Photo by Michael Okoniewski, provided

The world-famous Head of the Charles Regatta is once again taking over the Charles this weekend, and the city will soon be overcome with rowers in all their spandex-clad glory—which means that, at least for a few days, the hundreds of Esplanade runners won’t be the fittest people working out by the river.

Eliza Flint, a Harvard University junior studying sociology and economics, is one of those rowers. The native Australian is in her third year with the Harvard varsity team, and she will be competing this weekend with her teammates. “I love the sense of camaraderie, the teamwork aspect, and the idea that you are all working so hard together to attain one goal together,” Flint says of crew. “From grade one, I aspired to be a rower.”

Now that she’s made it, we caught up with Flint for all the details of her training regimen.

The Workout:

In short, it’s grueling. “In a seven-day week, we have six on-the-water practices, which will be a maximum of three hours each; two one-hour lifting sessions with strength and conditioning professionals; two sport-specific workouts performed on your own; and one day for complete rest and recovery,” Flint explains, while adding that land workouts like running stadiums and using rowing machines are also a common part of the workout routine.

Flint says that the water workouts will vary depending on the time of year and the specific event that the team is training for. “The racing in the fall is predominately long, endurance races of around 3- to 4-mile distances. Our training is structured to best prepare us for those types of races in terms of fitness, skill level, endurance, and working together in the boat,” she says. “Whereas racing in the spring are shorter races, generally 2 kilometers, so the training is specific to that type of racing.”

Off the water, Flint says she relies on running and long walks since “carrying excess weight can pull you down.” During the off-season, Flint says she likes to cycle. “Mainly I do road-racing cycling, which uses the same core muscle groups as rowing, but it allows you get out of the boat for a period of time,” she says. “I believe this is very important for the psychological aspect of rowing as you spend such a long period of time during the year in the boat and training for one specific thing.”

As for the Head of the Charles, Flint says the importance and chaos of the event—not to mention her midterms—make concentration key. “A strategy one of my coaches uses that I strongly believe in is the idea of ‘parking it,'” she says, “whereby you are able to park and lock away a distraction or stress that is impacting your performance and when the appropriate time comes, you are able to go back and deal with the issue.”

The Diet:

When it comes to food, Flint says that having a structured diet is important. Unlike her college peers, who are gorging on pizza and hamburgers most days, Flint sticks to nearly the same healthy meal plan every day. She starts with oatmeal for breakfast, and then incorporates plenty of produce, healthy carbohydrates, and protein the rest of the day. “I eat the exact same thing every morning and very similar for lunch and dinner, purely because I know what food works well,” she says. “And especially on race day, I know exactly what I can and can’t eat.”