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'Tis the season for long solitary hours on your rowing machine. Everywhere, rowers sit on the erg, grinding out pieces, grimacing with each stroke as sweat drips down their arms, slowly forming a puddle. Five minutes into the session, you’re already questioning your life choices – I’m doing this voluntarily? How long until Head of the Charles? Do I HAVE to hit 28 spm?

OKAY. The erg isn’t THAT bad. The good news is the rowing machine will help you maintain and build rowing specific fitness for next year. Take these tips into consideration as you begin spending more time on the indoor rower.

The Pain Cave.

Erging vs. Rowing on the water

The erg isn’t as forgiving as rowing on the water. Rowing on the water is a much more dynamic. You are constantly adapting and reacting to subtle changes in the environment. On the rowing machine it’s easier to replicate the exact same stroke and generate higher forces. Thus putting you at higher risk for overuse injuries. One advantage of the rowing machine vs. rowing on the water: you can, and should, stand up between pieces.

Confused Erg: Am I an RP3?

Work Smart and Hard (but only some of the times)

Do mostly easy work. Interval pieces can be a fun way to break up the monotony of indoor training. Not all of your work should be hard short intervals though. Incorporate higher intensity work strategically. Most of your pieces should be longer, easier, and focused on building aerobic capacity. The interval stuff should be reserved for increasing anaerobic threshold closer to competition periods.

Tech Work

The erg is a wonderful place to develop bad habits. It doesn’t punish you for rowing poorly the way a boat does. In fact, the erg often rewards poor rowing technique. Remain focused on the technical aspects of the rowing stroke rather than being tempted to pull faster and faster splits. Our bodies learn bad habits as easily as they learn good ones. Incorporate drills into your warm ups and during active recovery pieces to reinforce good technique.

Old School

Hydrate or Die-drate

It’s easier to get dehydrated on the indoor rower. When you’re out on the water moving through the elements your body cools off more easily. Here in Seattle, like much of North America, the fall temps are cool and we’re at little risk of heat exhaustion. Your first erg sessions will likely be in a much warmer environment. Prepare accordingly by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after sessions.

Splits: Learn to Ignore Them

The numbers stare us in the face on the erg. Often, they even mock us. It’s easy to take what is supposed to be a chill erg session and get bent out of shape about your splits. Go into each erg piece with a plan. Use heart rate to monitor the intensity of your training sessions. Take advantage of the depth of information available on the erg but don’t live and die by it.

Rowing Machine or Living Room Furniture?


Find yourself a training partner. Unless you’re one of the those really twisted people who can do a solo marathon most people are more accountable with a teammate. Recruit teammates or a friend (or enemy) who will motivate you to show up and get the work done.

If you’ve got big rowing goals in 2024 the erg will be an important training tool. Moderate the intensity of your sessions. Use the data provided but don’t obsess over it. Coordinate with teammates to improve accountability. Don’t forgo the technical work just because you’re not in a boat. Stay healthy and spring will be here before you know it!

Starting a strength training program doesn’t have to be complicated. These 7 tips will help you understand where to focus your time and energy.

1. Start slow. If it’s been a while since you’ve been doing strength workouts use the first couple training sessions to set new bench marks and understand what your body’s capabilities are. Modify movements if necessary. Body weight exercises and dumbbells provide plenty of resistance for the novice lifter. More advanced athletes will enjoy the challenges of barbell work and complex movements.

Snails are notoriously slow (it's a metaphor).

2. Start simple. Choose exercises that are easily executable. You don’t need to do the latest viral Instagram exercises to get strong for rowing. Most of the trendy stuff you see on social media won’t do much for your rowing. Simple movements like squatting and dead lifting will yield better results than anything else.

3. Failure is not an option. Don’t worry about going to muscle failure. Going to failure can be fun and gratifying but it’s not an important part of a rowing-specific strength program. Stick with rep ranges between 5 and 15. Avoiding going to failure doesn’t mean avoiding hard work. Push yourself to 85-90% or your capabilities in specific lifts during your working sets.

Don't be this guy.

4. Micro Dose (not drugs). Be strategic about how you incorporate strength training into your rowing routine. If you’ve got a lot of time built into your schedule for cross training that’s great. If not, slowly incorporate strength movements into your routine. Do sets of squats after a long easier row. Avoid doing heavier lifting on higher intensity rowing days.

5. Make Incremental Progress. Technique in the weight room is important but worrying too much about technique can be a barrier to showing up. The single most important thing to do when beginning a weight program is don’t do too much too fast. Slowly increase the load you’re lifting over time. As little as 1 lb per week. Our bodies adapt well to small changes.

6. Recover well. This is an often overlooked element of sport training. When you increase intensity and/or add to your training routines you need to make adjustments in your recovery. You may need more sleep after your first couple days in the weight room. Drink water, eat enough, and move frequently throughout the day to ensure you’re getting the most out of your training sessions.

Turns out sleep is good for you.

7. Have fun. Strength training should be an enjoyable aspect of your rowing training. It will help you perform better on the water and increase your longevity in the sport. View the weight room as a place where you can continue to challenge yourself and make improvements.

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The head racing season is wrapping up and the days are getting shorter. As temperatures drop we will be spending less time on the water and more time training indoors. Here are my suggestions for transitioning from on-the-water training to winter training mode.

'tis the season for pogies

(Photo by Ellie Bez)

1. Understand peak performance.

All serious racing training happens in cycles. If you’ve been training to peak during head racing season then you’ve probably made strides in your speed. Recognize that peak performance is not something that can be maintained year round. Hard training hones our abilities for specific goals and races. Training adaptions can be maintained but peak speed will and should decline as we move into the “off season,” If you stay active you won’t lose ALL that you’ve gained. In fact, you’ll carry many of your adaptations forward to next season.

2. Strength train.

The holy grail of winter training. Don’t be intimidated by the weight room. There is much to be gained by starting or re-incorporating strength training into your winter program. The benefits of weight lifting on rowing performance are many. It’s gratifying to see progress in the weight room but keep the bigger picture in mind. Your goals are to get faster on the water. That means avoiding max effort lifts and being smart about how you structure your strength training. Lift weights 2-3x per week with adequate rest between workouts (think 48-72 hours for full recovery). Focus on the “big lifts” like squat and deadlift. They’ll yield the best sport-specific results. If you’re new to those movements start with lighter weights and get comfortable with the motor patterns before adding significant load. If you’re more experienced incorporate barbells and progressions (front squat, kickstand deadlift, etc.). Strength training doesn’t have to be scary. Think of it as a new challenge and a great opportunity to increase performance.

Deadlifting: a rower's best friend.

3. Avoid burn out.

The next question to ask yourself is “do I need to take some time off before I begin winter training,” Are you grappling with some nagging injuries? Are you burnt out and is rowing beginning to feel more like an obligation than fun? If yes, those are indicators that taking some time off could be beneficial. This doesn’t mean sit on the couch and gorge yourself on Doritos but it might be a sign that you should pursue other activities for a while.

Obligatory golden hour rowing photo.

4. Work on your aerobic foundations.

If you’re still feeling inspired to get on the water or spend time on the erg then a “Congratulations” is in order. Your first race of 2023 will dictate how and when you ramp up your training intensity. In the mean time, focus on mileage rather than taking a lot of hard strokes. It will be easier on your body. Those easy, but many, strokes will lay the aerobic foundations for next year. Well laid foundations are necessary to build speed leading up to racing season. Perhaps you’ve been banished to the erg room for winter?

A stable of ergs

5. Adapt to the erg.

Don’t go nuts on the erg, at first. The erg is tougher on your body than rowing on the water. The dynamic nature of rowing a boat ensures more variety from stroke to stroke when compared with the erg. Especially, if you’ve been rowing in small boats. With the complications of controlling the boat removed the erg allows us to pull harder than we would on the water. We apply force differently to the erg and often create more fatigue and stress on our joints and connective tissues. Give yourself time to adapt to the erg and slowly increase mileage. Remember, just because you’re on the erg doesn’t mean you should forego tech work.

6. Dial in your technique.

The winter is an excellent time to work on the technical aspects of the rowing stroke. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors. If you’re lucky enough to be able to row on the water year-round spending time addressing technical flaws in your stroke is always a good use of time. Technical work tends to be aerobic and lower intensity. Thus fulfilling two vital aspects of rowing training. If you don’t have the luxury of rowing year round or are in need of a break from the sport lets talk cross training.

Cross training can be fun AND include fresh air

7. Cross train.

The winter is a great time to incorporate cross training. Start prepping for your ski season or running season now. Ease into the mileage and introduce the new activities slowly to ensure your body has an easier time adapting. If you’ve been cross training throughout the fall season expect to be able to ramp up more quickly. Having winter goals will help you stave off burn out and allow you to engage with other activities and friends. All sports demand specific skills but there is crossover between endurance sports. Maintaining your aerobic capacity is key to a successful transition back to rowing in the spring. First you’ve got to get through the holidays though.

8. Train during the holidays.

Staying active through the holidays can be a challenge with travel and being removed from our routines. Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing. If you do take time off from training during the holidays take that into account when you get back to activity. Beware hammering away on the erg day after day in order to make up for “lost time,” especially if you’ve taken extended time off. We typically see an uptick in injuries coming out of the holidays a couple weeks into the winter training season. Don’t be a statistic.

9. Set goals for 2023.

Those who do something rather than nothing will have an advantage going into the new year. Start thinking about your 2023 goals and work backwards from there. Maybe your 2023 goals include a specific race or trying a new aspect of the sport. Feeling burnt out on team sweep boats? Maybe it’s time to get in a single or double and fine tune your stroke? Bored with rowing on the same stretch of water everyday? Sign up for a travel regatta or open water race.

You'll be loading the trailer for spring racing in no time at all.

Next year's racing season will be here before you know it. Use the “off season” to get strong, expand your aerobic capacity, develop technically, and have some fun cross training.

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