For most of us, the end of fall means it's time to put away the boats and oars and hop back on the erg. What it shouldn't be is the end of technique work. The erg is a great training tool, but as it is a simplified version of rowing, it can also be a great tool for improving rowing technique. With no need to worry about balance or fear of falling in, you can relax and work on drills you might not feel comfortable doing in the boat, and more specifically, doing in your single.
Let's start with the grip. If you over grip or death grip, you can easily lighten up on the erg. Try to hold the handle so that just the fingers are in contact with the handle, not the palm of the hand. The wrist should be flat. Think of it more as a hook than a grip. The handle is attached to the chain and your fingers are simply another link in the chain (see the photo at the top of this article for an example).
In sculling, we teach nesting of the hands. Instead of holding the left hand immediately on top of the right hand (and getting bloody knuckles as you scrape your knuckles with your fingernails), place the left hand slightly ahead of the right hand.
Nesting when hands overlap, left to the stern of the right hand
To do this, we slightly offset our shoulders - left to the stern, right to the bow. While there is no overlap on the erg, you can still practice nesting by sitting slightly offset on the erg. I discovered a few years ago that I was doing this subconsciously, noticing that the chain would often brush against the right side of the box as I came into the catch. The handle was not quite square to the machine.
The erg is also great for working on body preparation. One of the most common mistakes we see, especially at the beginning of the season, is diving at the catch. Most often this is caused by not getting the body set early enough and then lunging at the catch to get the reach you should have established earlier. Set up mirrors both in front of and next to the erg and you can literally see whether your body continues to reach after half slide.
To help correct this, work on half slide rowing and getting full body by half slide and/or add in a pause at half slide, again setting full body by the time of the pause and then holding the body steady from the pause up into the catch.
Body angle set by half slide
Don't think arms away at the release, think body away. Using the abdominal muscles to roll out of bow is much more important than getting the hands away - I guarantee you the arms will get there but often the body doesn't.
Another good drill that's easier on the erg than in the boat is feet out of the foot stretchers. This is for working on holding on to the finish and not relying on your feet to hold you in. If your feet come up off the foot stretchers and you start falling backwards off the erg, you're not keeping tension in the chain and weight against the flywheel.
Initially you might not be able to lean back much when you do this drill but keep practicing and focus on holding on to the finish with body weight in on the handle.
Lay back and holding on to the finish
To accomplish this you will need to finish the body motion to bow before you finish the arm pull. Weight needs to stay on the soles of the feet and then go to the abdominals to roll out of bow at the start of the recovery.
And while you're at it, pay attention to finishing off the leg drive before you start the arm pull.
Legs down before arms start
If you can work on technique as well as power on the erg, you'll return to the water in the spring a stronger AND more efficient rower.