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Maximizing your Indoor Rowing Experience: Tips for Rowers

'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!


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