Ergometer (Rowing Machine)
The Ergometer is a machine that allows us to get a workout with a somewhat reasonable facsimile of the rowing stroke. There is no need to balance, no interaction with the surface of the water, no requirement to interact with others in a crew, and the hands travel straight back and forth rather than following the arc of pivoting oars. While the basic motion of the stroke is quite similar, the nuances of the boat are missing so while rowing an ergometer one can make many mistakes of stroke efficiency that would show up in a boat. While these mistakes are vital to boat speed they are trivial on the erg. Ergometer technique is to keep you from hurting yourself on the rowing machine.
- A very important thing to keep in mind is to keep your back straight. DO NOT SLOUCH. Rowing is analogous to a weight lifting motion so keep your back straight as you would when lifting. You lean forward as you reach to the wheel cage, and you lean back as you pull the handle to your stomach, but make sure this leaning motion is done at your hips and not by flexing your spine. Just as in lifting a barbell, lift with your legs not the back. If you slouch you will feel it in your lower back. Keep your back straight and firm and that pain will disappear.
- Lift with your legs. A common technique fault is something called "shooting the slide". This is like squatting over a barbell, gripping the bar and then standing up, straightening your legs while keeping your grip and leaving the bar on the ground. Your legs are then finished but you haven't yet lifted the bar and when the bar finally rises all the work of lifting will be done with your back. Keep your back firm, straight, and strong. Make sure the motion of the seat moves the oar handle. The fault on the other end is lifting with your back and not using your legs effectively. Think about accelerating the wheel with your legs first, keeping a firm strong back position. Once the legs are nearly done, use your back by leaning back until you feel a slight abdomen crunch... then follow thru with the arms.
- The hands should travel over the knees when the legs are nearly straight. Many unschooled machine rowers lift the hands over bent knees: Your hands should travel horizontally to and away from the wheel cage. You should have no discernable rise or fall of the chain as it enters the wheel cage.
- If you are new to the machine, take it easy. Rowing uses many more muscles through a much greater range of motion and you can bring your heart rate up much more quickly than you are used to on a stationary bike or a treadmill. A long easy row is better for you than a short burst of speed. Think smooth, long, and easy, and if you have access to a heart rate monitor, row to your target heart rate. Until you have some experience on the erg the speed the display shows you is trivia. Once you know the relationship between speed as shown on the display and your heart rate, you can use the speed display and race yourself.
- The display will show you something immediately important; that is the stroke rate. Competitive crews will row sprint races at stroke rates of 35 to 45 strokes / minute but unless you have some experience in competitive crew you do not need to go anywhere near that fast of a stroke rate. Keep your stroke long and smooth and row at the lowest rate that seems reasonable and comfortable. College crews will row in the high 20's and low 30's for long rows, working on getting the stroke rate up only the last few weeks before competitions. A stroke rate in the low 20's is a good place to start.
- Legs -- then body -- then shoulders -- then arms Pull on the handle by pushing with your feet and sliding the seat. (like lifting a barbell with your legs) Let your arms hang loosely between your shoulders and your hands. After the legs do their work, pivot on your pelvis (don't bend your spine) and lay back. Lay back just far enough to feel a slight crunch in your abdominal muscles. No need to lay back so that you need to do a full sit up each stroke. As you finish laying back pull your shoulder blades together and finally pull with your arms. To recover, allow the hands to come out quickly, straightening the arms. Reach out with your shoulders as you lean forward with your torso and then finally creep up slowly on the rolling seat. You should spend three times the time rolling up on the seat than you spend with the arms-shoulder-torso recovery.