Continued – The Erg: A essential tool for tracking intensity and consistency for rowing development

May 9, 2012

By Coach Kaehler

Do you track intensity levels when you’re training on the ergometer?  Coaches use rowing ergometers (ergs) to teach athletes how to properly pace themselves, and to how to monitor their changes in intensity (or power — measured in watts) over time with different types of training.  Erging is also a great way for athletes of all skill levels — especially novice and intermediate — to understand their rowing intensity, and how consistently they apply it.  Developing consistent and powerful strokes over longer periods of time and during repeated intervals, is one of the most effective ways to speed up your athletic development.

Achieving consistent results is essential to successful training and competing.  Mastering this skill leads to consistent power application and peak results.  The benefits of interval training are maximized when athletes achieve similar or exact results for all the intervals in a given session.  One common mistake many athletes make is the ‘fly and die method’ — where the first piece is real fast, then next is so-so, and the last tanks.  While there is some training benefit to this method, it is not nearly as effective as sustaining the same speed and intensity for all three pieces.

For athletes who only train in big boats, consistency is harder to develop because it’s difficult to measure your actual intensity during each piece.  As an athlete becomes more skilled, they begin to get a better sense and ‘feel’ of their power application in the boat.  Therefore, for athletes who train exclusively in big boats, training on the erg (at least some of the time) is essential as it allows them to accurately gage their consistency in order to advance their athletic skills and development.  One way to ensure you’re being consistent with your training on the erg, is to record all your results including your strokes per minute, spilt average, distance, and watts.

Monitoring intensity levels is another important metric used to develop your rowing potential.  When training, coaches like to know how intense you are for each stroke.  For example, if you take two athletes and have both of them row on an erg for thirty minutes at 300w, and one rower is at 25 SPM for the entire piece while the other is at 20 SPM, the rower at 20 SPM is applying more power per stroke.  I convert this into a score by dividing 300 by 25 = 12.0 w/s, while the other rower went 300/20SPM = 15.0 w/s.

By using watts, we can examine an athlete’s intensity at varying stroke rates.  As rowers improve, their fluctuations from steady state, to threshold, to maximum effort, decrease when we look at this measure.   Training and controlled rating testing is a good way to learn how to be more consistent with intensity of the rowing stroke at varying rates.   This data can also help identify specific areas to target for improvement — such as muscular strength and / or endurance — to help an athlete’s overall progression.

Being on the water is what rowing is all about.  However, we all want to know for certain that our hard work and training is paying off.  Bottom line: one of the best and most honest ways to confirm our training is on-track with our goals is rowing on the erg.   It’s designed to give us quick and easy-to-read, as well as accurate and essential feedback about our rowing stoke – our intensity and consistency.

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