There is no getting away from it. Whether you grind out 50k or more a week or just jump on it every now and again for a 20-minute blast, the indoor rower is a cruel mistress.
Many will understand the agony of still having hundreds of metres to row when your body is
screaming for you to stop. But many will also know the ecstasy of finishing a timed piece with a PB, which somehow makes all that pain worth it.
I am fortunate enough to have an erg at home and I try to spend at least some time on it most days.
As variation is one of the keys to motivation, I try to differ my workouts with a mixture of interval training, long low-intensity rows and timed pieces.
Personally, I love the Concept 2 Workout of the Day which arrives as an email early each morning with a choice of either a short, medium or long session, all of which are more than enough to get the blood pumping.
British Rowing also has a good selection of training plans on its site and YouTube is full of row-along workouts with which to join in.
We all know about the benefits of training on a rowing machine. It delivers a full-body workout, activating the legs, arms, back and core all within a single stroke. It is low impact exercise and as a tool for improving fitness, strength and endurance it is hard to beat. (Also, unlike water-based training you don’t get wet when you fall off!)
However, for me, the honesty of the erg is key. Although many hours of staring at numbers on a small, monochrome screen is probably a sure-fire route to madness, it is this very data that allow us to track the consistency of our workouts. On the water, variables such as wind, tide and river traffic all have an impact on how quick we are on any given day. Sometimes, our feelings about an outing may differ from the reality. The erg, however, will always tell us the truth.
As we blink away the tears during a workout, it displays in real time the 500m split pace, the number of metres left to cover, stroke count and the expected finish time. Over a timed piece, such as a 2k or 5k, just a small change in the average 500m split can have a huge impact, knocking seconds or even minutes off the final time.
There are a whole host of other measures displayed, including power output in watts, calories
burned or heart rate (with an ANT+ or Bluetooth chest strap). If the machine’s Performance Monitor is paired with the Ergdata smartphone app, other data points such as stroke length and drag factor are also available to see during the row.
All of this information is collated on the Concept 2 Online Logbook where you can see how your workout compares to your own previous efforts and to others of a similar age across the world. We can also link with friends as ‘training partners’ to compare workouts. Powerfully, it allows us to evaluate our progress over a long period of time.
To keep us motivated, Concept 2 has a calendar of challenges throughout each season (May-April) with downloadable certificates and pin-badge prizes for those who take part. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to receive my free T-shirt for completing my first ‘one million metres’ on the machine.
I do not think the indoor rower can replace the joy of being in a real boat either in a single or with friends. Time on the water is good for learning technique and filling our souls. But land training on the erg over the past few years has had a very positive impact on my own fitness and real-life boat speed. I do not think I would have been able to make these gains through water-sessions alone.
At Yare Boat Club, we are lucky enough to have a number of ergs for members to use. So if you have a few minutes to spare, why not strap those feet in, grit your teeth and give it a go. You never know, you might fall under the erg’s spell too!