row2k Features
Technique Feature: Tips for the Approaching Erg Season
November 18, 2019
Charlotte Hollings, Calm Waters Rowing

Photo of the Day from March 4 2011, by Will Melnick

If you're fortunate enough to live in a place when you can row year-round, try not to make the rest of us jealous. For those of us who are less fortunate, here are a few tips to help you get through the winter and make the most of being on the erg.

If you dislike the erg but know you'll have to erg anyway, you'll want to find a way to make it more enjoyable. If you usually erg alone, try to find a partner, if not in the flesh and blood than a cyber partner. Concept2 can set you up with a training partner or a team to help motivate you, and Hydrow is based around erging 'with' other people. It's easier to suffer when you have someone suffering alongside you. Or create a distraction - watch TV or a movie or put together a good mix of fast, upbeat music.

Often people dislike the erg because they only use it for testing or they spend too much energy worrying about every split. On steady state rows, try switching focus to stroke rating or heart rate rather than splits. Some people go so far as to tape over the 500m split times or move the monitor out of sight. Instead of staring at the numbers, focus inward to find a pace and rhythm that works for you.

I do feel you need to spend time on the erg to get over any dislike or fear of it. But keep in mind that while the erg is a great training tool, it's not the only option. I'm a big believer in cross training, especially as we get older. And, face it; if you really dislike erging, you're not going to do it, so better to do something else rather than nothing on the erg.

Keep in mind that the erg isn't only a training tool. It's possible to fit in a lot of technique work, better preparing you to get back on the water come spring. Setting up a couple of mirrors around the erg will help you see what you're doing.

Start with the grip. There's no excuse to overgrip on the erg; you're not going to fall into the water so relax and loosen up, stay out on the fingers and hang off the handle. Hold on to the erg handle the same way you would hold onto a suitcase, a grocery bag, the same way you would hang from a pull up bar.

Loose grip
Loose grip

Keep the handle horizontal throughout the stroke. This is simple to do on the erg as you can follow the chain - level in, level out. Notice that the Concept2 chain is set at elbow height, not shoulder height. I prefer not to lift up for the catch or push down at the finish; it's artificial on the erg as there is no blade at the end of the handle. Also, when they're on the water, most people overdo the up/down motion.

Chain level and at elbow height
Chain level and at elbow height

On the drive, focus on the sequencing of the stroke. If your legs are moving and the oar handle isn't, you're shooting your slide. Your knees and the oar handle should start to move together. Feel the connection to the flywheel as you would feel connected to the water. It should feel smooth and solid, not jarring. Use your glutes and core to push your body to bow while the arms simply connect your body to the erg handle. Relax the elbows - don't lock them - in order to engage the lat muscles and not the traps.

Practice rowing long but no more than shins vertical at the catch - further and you can hurt the knees. At the finish, lean back at least 30 degrees, as we recommend in the boat - and some athletes go back even further on the erg, although if you do this be careful about injury prevention and be careful not to acquire habits you need to shake off when you are back in the boat. But trying to stay long is important, as length of the stroke is one of the components of power after all.

Lay back
Lay back

On the recovery, make it smooth, not robotic. Arms and body roll out of bow together, not arms then body. Keep the posture loose and relaxed, don't try to sit up or arch the back in any way, stay rounded. Allow the knees to come up as soon as the hands reach the knees. All the parts of the stroke should flow together. Establish full body angle by half slide, then compact up to the catch on the slide, get hold of the flywheel and do it all over again.

No need to hold the knees down
No need to hold the knees down

Happy erging!

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Log in to comment
11/23/2019  1:06:30 PM
Spend time on dynamic machines for any long sessions to save the body and build good habits. You cannot push effectively if the machine is static.

11/19/2019  9:20:35 AM
Hi Charlotte,

Great article! I have started doing all my erging ( as much as possible anyway ) on the Coffey SimulatOar. I find that I really like the crossover from the water and it makes erging tolerable on those days when the water is not available!


11/19/2019  6:13:57 AM
Another way to avoid looking at splits is to simply set the display to "watts" instead of split. This is actually useful: it helps you vary your output (and therefore control heart rate) without stressing over boat speed.

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