Jimmy Sopko on Strength & Conditioning

This blog post is reposted from LinkedIn and was written by National Team athlete Jimmy Sopko. We’re excited to share Jimmy’s story because we think his message is spot on and one that many rowers can learn from. Start exploring strength and conditioning today – whether you’re a junior, a collegiate athlete, a masters, or an aspiring National Teamer, this can be an invaluable tool to have in your back pocket, and one we are excited about spreading through Rowfficient. Check out our rowing training plans, all of which place a large focus on strength training.


I’ve been involved in sports most my life. Involved in rowing for more than 1/2 my life. Was fortunate enough to do it in high school, college and on the national team. At each level I learned something new:

  1. High school – Mathews High School and Mobjack Rowing Association. I learned how to race. How to win.
  2. College – Naval Academy. I was lucky enough to be part of an amazing team with an awesome culture. I learned how to be a teammate.
  3. National Team – Three national teams and Olympic selection. I learned how to train and race at a new level.

I thought I knew almost everything about how to maximize boat speed. Now that I’ve been out of the sport for 5 years, it’s been quite fun to reflect on each stage of my rowing career. Being removed from the day to day grind of training and competing has given me the chance to reflect. The next chapter in my life, business and supporting rowing, has also brought great insight. Some of which I wish I had when I was rowing.

Currently, I work at Athos. Our mission is to build better athletes. I’ve been there 6 months and my job is to help sports teams understand how the Athos Training Solution can solve their problems and help win more games/races by acquiring Athos. Most of the coaches I speak with are elite strength & conditioning (S&C) coaches and athletic trainers. My conversations with them, and the amazing team at Athos, have taught me so much about S&C. It’s also taught me that I knew very little about S&C as an athlete.

I’m not big on regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason and your current abilities are built on the sum of your experiences. I believe my time at Mathews helped me win at Navy. My rowing career at Navy and my service onboard USS FORD (FFG-54) helped me succeed on the National Team. I do wonder, however, how much more effective I would have been on the National Team if I had knowledge about movement, training periodization, muscle adaptations and much more regarding strength. Even small things like, which muscles are most important.

While training, I had a conversation with a teammate about hamstrings. He was focused on strengthening his. I didn’t think about mine, other than 5 min of stretching a day. It was rowing… quads, abs and lats. That’s what I knew. At the time, I kind of dismissed the conversation. Looking back and knowing what I know now, after working with some amazing colleagues at Athos and speaking with some of the best S&C coaches and athletic trainers in the world, I realize what I didn’t know. Simple things, like knowing the importance of training the anterior and posterior side of the body… duh.

Part of me wants to blame US Rowing, the organization responsible for the United States’ success at World Championships and the Olympics. We did not have a S&C coach and there’s a bit I would have changed about my training if we had one. But I blame myself. I should have been more thoughtful and taken the opportunity to learn more about the systems that were empowering me to go down a 2000 meter course as fast as I could.

The amazing part is now I get to help influence athletes all around the world through two endeavors: Athos and USLRA (United States Lightweight Rowing Association). I’m confident in the future of both and look forward to the journey. My ask, whether you’re a coach or an athlete, is to do your homework. Learn about the basics of S&C and do the simple things (not easy) to help you win.


Read Jimmy’s original blog post on LinkedIn here.