row2k Features
Erg Drills: Mirror Coaching
May 7, 2020
John FX Flynn

As the erg meters start to add up, here is another simple way to keep the erg meters at that high-quality level that will make you a better boat-mover when the time comes: coach yourself with a mirror.

This trick is older than the erg, of course. Way before video tapes, cell phones, smart phone coaching apps, and even the vaunted C2 erg itself, coaches would place mirrors around the rowing tanks and various erg-forerunner contraptions that passed for training on dry land back in the day. Any dedicated erg room worth its salt in modern boathouses comes equipped with mirrors, and we recommend scoring one for your erg cave if you want to be getting better as you get fitter.

Even in our high-tech times, propping a mirror up next to you on the erg is the simplest way to get easy, direct, and instant feedback on your form and how you are approaching each part of the stroke. Sure, you can do some of this kind of coaching via your iPhone camera ­ and we'll delve into all that in a future column - but for now let's keep it simple, and focus on how you can get your feedback right off the wall, as it were, without having to set up your phone and do any recording at all.

Here are some things to think about as you set up your mirror, issues to look for, and other general tips for making the most of your new, shiny erg buddy.

First of all, make sure you can see yourself once you sit down and start to row. A long "closet mirror" will give you the best coverage, but if you have an even bigger mirror you can lug down to the erg, bigger is definitely better.

The best placement would be alongside you, so you can see yourself through the whole stroke cycle, from your catch position to your finish layback. This allows you to check your posture at the catch (back tall? shins vertical? arms straight?), to watch yourself through the drive (chain staying level? arms breaking early? back opening too soon?), and then to see if you have a good strong finish position when you get to the back end. The finish may be the place most folks can immediately spot things in the mirror, chiefly by seeing how much layback you have, and whether you are staying connected through the feet and with the legs as you finish.

With the mirror alongside, you can use tape to put straight lines on the mirror, and this is a simple way to focus the feedback you are getting from the reflection. This may take a little experimenting, but having a horizontal tape line at "chain height" can help you see if you are keeping your drive level, and one at shoulder height can show if you tend to open the back too early on the drive.

You can use a tape line to set an optimal layback angle for your finish, and then see if you tend to swing open too far ­ and setting that angle where it would be if you were rowing in a boat can help keep away that extra "erger's layback" that folks can fall into over a long winter.

You can even use a vertical tape line at the catch end of the mirror to check your shins and compression, while a simple piece of tape at the proper catch height can be a cue to keep the handle coming up onto the catch, just like you would on the water.

If your mirror isn't quite big enough to capture the whole stroke, you can still get great feedback by being a bit more creative about where you place it:

  • at the finish: set the mirror up to capture what you look like when you layback, so that you can check your posture at the finish of each stroke
  • at the catch: put the mirror up near your hands, so you can see what the handle looks like from the side, and as well as your shin angle and what your heels are doing at the catch
  • at mid-drive: maybe most useful for more novice rowers, but setting the mirror up mid-drive, near the knees, can help you see how well you are prepping your body on the recovery, before the knees come up to let you start the slide. A mirror in this spot can also help folks who open the back too early: try to see the shoulders staying low and locked-on as you drive primarily with the legs through mid-drive
  • The other way to see the full stroke with a smaller mirror is to set it up directly in front of you. Sure, you will miss some of the "side-view" that lets you watch your rowing from a coach's perspective, but there is still a lot to see from head-on. You can keep an eye on whether your head and chin stay up into the catch, whether you break the arms early on the drive, and even get a reasonable sense of when your back starts to swing open and how much layback you are using. On the recovery, you can see if you are letting the arms and then the body prepare fully, or whether the knees pop up too soon.

    Lastly, with a smaller mirror, you can get some of the benefit of both the side look and the head-on placement by putting the mirror on an angle at the head of the machine. The angled approach can help you see more of the stroke and incorporates a bit of that ideal side-perspective, even if you don't have a monster mirror to erg next to.

    Maybe the best tip would be to try putting the mirror in a few different places from workout to workout, so you can focus on different things and see new angles. If nothing else, you will get some novel perspectives as you erg along, and hopefully find some things you can fix, so you come through your erg-cation with some new boat-moving skills.

    Have a great "erg better" trick that you are using while you crank on the chain? Let us know in the comments below.

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