Last month we wrote, perhaps belatedly, about quick fixes to make in the boat to help you feel more comfortable and row more efficiently. The same can be done on the erg. (For this article, I'm writing specifically about the Concept2 erg as that's what I know and what the majority of people use.)
The most common misconception is where to place the heel cup. Most adjust to where the strap fits comfortably across the foot. That works fine for people with relatively large feet but if you have small feet, the heel cup ends up being too high, making it difficult to get full compaction with the legs at the catch. We recommend having 0 to 2 holes showing at the top of the foot plate.
Adjusting the fan, or damper, setting is easy; simply use the lever on the right side of the fly wheel. Deciding where you want it to be is simply personal preference. I like it fairly light, around damper setting 4. John, my husband, prefers to row it at 10. There is no "right" drag factor, using the full range can be beneficial for different workouts.
Once you find the resistance you like, you can get more precise and determine the drag factor. The advantage is that if you then switch to a different erg, you can set the resistance more precisely to what you're used to. This is especially useful if you're competing in an erg competition and you want to set your erg as close to what you've been training on as possible. To find the drag factor, select "More Options" on the PM4 monitor and then select "Display Drag Factor." You'll also find an option that will explain drag factor to you and suggest an optimum range.
Concept2 explains drag factor and makes some recommendations in Damper Setting 101.
Most people will spend time training on the erg this winter, but it doesn't have to be simply a training machine. The erg can be the perfect place to make some technical changes in your stroke, ones that don't come so easily on the water. The grip is the perfect example. Many people grip too tightly, especially if they row a single and are a little worried about falling in. On the erg that worry is gone, so lighten up and relax the grip, trying to get a little more out on the fingers and less into the hand (see the top photo on this article.
If you're a sculler, you can also work on the nesting of the hands, where the left hand stays just slightly higher and to the stern of the right hand as opposed to being stacked directly on top. Doing this will keep the left hand lower, making it easier to keep the boat balanced - plus no more bloody knuckles from scratching your right hand with your left.
The author showing nestled hands
To approximate this position on the erg, offset the shoulders by slightly shifting your torso to put your left shoulder slightly to the stern of your right shoulder. Don't lean starboard or port, adjust only stern to bow. With your arms extended equally, the handle will be slightly angled and should stay that way 100% of the time.
Balance can be hard to find in the boat but easy on the erg. Ingrain that muscle memory of keeping the hands level by focusing on keeping the chain level - straight in, straight out. No need to tap down at the finish, there is no blade to clear from the water and we find most people overdo the tap down which, again, makes balance more difficult.
If you can, set up mirrors around the erg, one in front and one to the side. As you watch yourself row, you'll become much more aware of your body movements. Are you setting your body angle by half slide or do you set it late, leading to a dive at the catch? Is your body set at the finish before your arms complete the draw or are you leaning away from the arm pull? Are you getting enough layback? Too much leg compaction? Become more aware of what you're doing on the erg and bring that awareness with you back into the boat.