The ergometer, or 'erg' as it is more commonly known, is the cornerstone piece of land training equipment used by all rowing clubs. There’s no getting around it, part of what makes a strong rower is time spent on the erg. As a novice rower erg sessions will be a key feature in your early training schedule and you will soon see significant gains in your overall strength and cardio vascular fitness.
Try keeping an erg log, record your meters and splits after your sessions and then set goals to improve upon these the next time you try that workout. Even a 0.1 improvement is significant and will give you the mindset of making yourself better every time you are at practice. Ergs are one of several ways in which a rowers fitness and efficiency is assessed for crew or squad selection purposes
Top tip: Download the Concept 2 erg log app, this allows you to connect your phone via bluetooth to the erg monitor and record all your workouts.
How to Read the Monitor
Monitoring intensity is a key job of the Performance Monitor (PM). The PM displays intensity in pace, Calories and watts. Pace is expressed as time per 500 meters. When monitoring pace, the numbers will decrease the faster you go: a pace of 2:00 means that it takes you two minutes to complete 500 meters, slower than someone completing 500 meters in one minute 48 seconds (a 1:48 pace), and faster than someone rowing a 2:08 pace. If you watch watts or Calories, the opposite is true: the numbers will increase—you’ll produce more watts, burn more Calories—as you increase your intensity.
Stroke rate is the number of strokes you take per minute, or spm. The PM displays this number in the upper right corner. Rowing harder does not necessarily mean your stroke rate is faster. As you increase your intensity, try to keep your spm between 24 and 30 for most workouts, and 36 or below when racing. Read on to learn how.
Applying Power and Relaxing the Recovery
The key to keeping your stroke rate reasonable while increasing intensity is applying good power at the beginning of the stroke (the drive) and keeping your recovery under control. During the drive, be efficient with your power by engaging your legs at the start, then swinging the back, and then following through with your arms. On the recovery, don’t rush as you slide toward the handle for your next stroke. It’s called “recovery” for a reason! Overall, your drive-recovery ratio should be 1:2. In other words, your recovery should take twice as long as your drive.
Force Curve or Power Signature
The Force Curve graphically represents how you apply force (or power) during the rowing stroke, indicating how your total force varies as you use your legs, back and arms during the drive:
The smoother the curve, the smoother the application of force.
The larger the area under the curve, the greater the amount of force applied.
PM3s, PM4s and PM5s all include the Force Curve function (during your row, press Change Display or Display until you see it, or press the second button down on the right). Watching the force curve during your workouts can help reinforce good rowing technique.
The Ideal Curve
Applying solid effort through the stroke results in this curve.
Peaks and Valleys
If your force curve resembles a distant mountain range, you need to work on making your transition from legs to back to arms smoother. Multiple peaks are good for hiking…but not for a force curve.
Exploding at the catch—applying great force at the beginning of the drive—results in a sharp curve and steep drop; the whole curve is actually shifted to the left of the PM screen. This illustrates how varying the timing and emphasis of your legs, back and arms during the drive changes how and when force is applied.
The damper is the lever on the side of the flywheel housing, or fan cage, that controls how much air flows into the cage. The fan cage is numbered so you can set the damper lever to a particular value from 1–10, indicating how much air is drawn into the cage on each stroke:
Higher damper settings allow more air into the flywheel housing. The more air, the more work it takes to spin the flywheel against the air. More air also slows the flywheel down faster on the recovery, requiring more work to accelerate it on the next stroke.
Lower damper settings allow less air into the flywheel housing, making it easier to spin the flywheel.
Damper setting is similar to bicycle gearing: it affects how rowing feels but does not directly affect the resistance. A lower damper setting on the indoor rower is comparable to easier gears on a bike.
Damper Setting is Not…
Many people confuse damper setting with intensity level or resistance. Instead, the intensity of your workout is controlled by how much you use your legs, back and arms to move the handle—in other words, how hard you pull. This is true regardless of where the damper lever is set: the harder you pull, the more resistance you will feel. Because our indoor rowers use wind resistance (which is generated by the spinning flywheel), the faster you get the wheel spinning, the more resistance there will be.
Think about rowing on the water. Regardless of whether you are rowing in a sleek racing shell, or in a big, slow row boat, you will need to increase your intensity and apply more force to make either boat go faster. The difference is in how it feels to make the different boats go fast. Making a sleek boat go fast requires you to apply your force more quickly. Making the slow boat go fast also requires more force, but the speed at which you apply the force will be slower over the course of the rowing stroke.
At a damper setting of 1–4, the indoor rower feels like a sleek racing shell; at the higher numbers, the indoor rower feels like a slow row boat. Regardless of the setting, you will need to increase your effort to increase your intensity.
Drag Factor: How True Effort is Calculated
You might be tempted to think that rowing on the highest setting will result in your best score. This is where the Performance Monitor comes in.
Between each stroke, the PM measures how much your flywheel is slowing down to determine how sleek or slow your “boat” is. This rate of deceleration is called the drag factor. On your next stroke, the PM uses the drag factor to determine from the speed of the flywheel how much work you are doing. In this way, your true effort is calculated regardless of damper setting. This self-calibration is what allows us to compare scores from different indoor rowers, making things like indoor racing and the online world rankings possible.
Different indoor rowers can have different drag factor ranges. A damper setting of 3 on your home machine may feel like 4 on the machine at the gym. Differences in air temperature, elevation—even how much lint is caught in the flywheel housing—can all affect the drag factor from machine to machine. When using different machines, you may need to adjust the damper setting to achieve the drag factor and feel you prefer. See How to View Drag Factor for information on checking the drag factor on your machine.
What Damper Setting to Use
With a little experimentation, you will find the damper setting and drag factor that work best for you. We recommend starting out on a damper setting of 3–5. Really focus on technique, and as you improve, you may find that a lower damper setting gives you the best workout and results. Resist setting the damper lever too high; this can exhaust your muscles before you reap the full cardiovascular benefit rowing provides. The Performance Monitor will give you immediate feedback on each stroke so that you can monitor your performance and determine where you get your best results.
You can also vary your damper setting to achieve different types of workouts. In general, lower damper settings are best for aerobic workouts, while higher damper settings make rowing more of a strength workout.
Erg etiquette – do’s and do nots
Do not interrupt someone in the middle of a piece unless there is an exceptionally good reason (building is on fire etc).
Do thoroughly clean your erg after use, there are disinfectant sprays and cloths available in the erg room, use them.
Do not spray disinfectant directly onto the screen.
Do not let go of the handle in an uncontrolled fashion at any time, this can damage the equipment, after a piece gently return the handle to the holding bracket.