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Embracing the Erg

BY VOLKER NOLTE
PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY

It’s the time of the year when ergometer training reaches new heights because on-water rowing is not possible, either because students are home and away from their boathouses or the weather makes it more appealing, or even necessary, to stay inside. There are, too, the serious rowers who use the rowing machine deliberately to improve their physical fitness all year round. 

Ergometer rowing is easy: all you have to do is hop on the machine and off you go. But stop! We should not make it so easy for ourselves. There are some bad habits that we should avoid to keep us healthy and happy so that we get the most benefit and fun from this training method.

It is too easy to forget that an ergometer also needs maintenance. Like a rowing shell, we need to ensure the equipment is in best working order. Although most of the ergometers are manufactured so that they need very little maintenance, an equipment failure could lead to poor training effects and, in the worst case, injuries. Cleaning the rail or slides after a workout and removing all sweat from the ergometer will keep the seat movement smooth and the equipment free from germs.

Cleaning the braking system, which in most cases consists of vacuuming the flywheel housing, keeps the full range of resistance available for all kinds of training. Maintaining the drive chain or belt keeps the movement smooth and avoids any catastrophic failure. A poorly oiled chain causes inconsistent force transmission that leads to jerky vibrations and force spikes that can inflict back problems. A breakage of the chain or belt could cause major injury. Therefore, cleaning and oiling the ergometer according to the manufacturer’s instructions are vital to the equipment’s operating optimally. Also, don’t let the handle slam the cage!

Ergometer training is often viewed as “boring,” “mindless,” or “monotonous.” This occurs when one and the same kind of training is repeated endlessly, and training sessions are reeled off without focus and mindfulness. In fact, ergometers can be used for a wide range of different types of training—light and easy endurance training, heavy strength training, high-intensity interval training, high and low stroke rates, short and long durations, testing and fun games, and limitless combinations of all of the above. Most monitors can be pre-programmed so athletes can stay on target without the bother of resetting. 

If properly set and used, ergometers are particularly suited to providing athletes with very specific training stimuli so that training can be guided perfectly. For this, athletes need to determine the explicit goal of their training and then choose the proper training method. In addition, it is important to pay attention to major movement patterns that can be practiced on the machine and are important for staying injury-free. For example, muscle memory can be built while putting the body in the best position to take the resistance of the drive through proper loading of the foot stretcher and awareness of the correct sequence of joint movements.

While it is undoubtedly more enjoyable to move a boat on the water through a stimulating landscape, ergometer training also can be enjoyable. It comes down to having the proper mindset, choosing challenging training targets, and concentrating on the many benefits of this kind of athletic development. If athletes begin their ergometer training with a negative attitude such as “I hate sitting on this machine” or “This will be another of these boring training sessions,” they are setting themselves up for a negative experience. By contrast,  if the erg session is undertaken with the attitude that “today, I will make long-distance training feel light,” and a training mode is chosen that will make the session more variable, such as intervals of 30, 20, and 10 minutes, with two minutes of rest in between, and a clear focus on technique such as “today, I will nail my sequencing,” it is much more likely that the session will go by quickly and the experience will be satisfying. 

In the end, all this will lead to faster rowing on the water.


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