Saturday, 20 October 2012

Rowing Machines Part 1: The Three Variables - Drag, Rating and Power

As mentioned before, I'm a rower. I have learned to love, then hate, then love my ergo. 
What's an ergo? 
It's the proper name for a rowing machine. It's short for ergometer, which comes from the Greek (just showing that Classics is a useful degree!) ergo = work, meter = measure. 

In Australia we call it ergo for short. In the UK they just call it an erg, which is silly because that isn't a proper word but once it gets stuck in your head it's hard to get it out again. 

Any Americans out there? Know what you call them? (I did go over to Seattle to compete, but can't remember their term for it.)

Anyway, ergos are a great way to work out even if you never want to go in a boat. It uses all your major muscles (legs, core, arms), builds flexibility and teaches you to control your breathing.

However, it does require some actual technique and knowledge. And let me tell you, most gym goers do not have that technique. 

There are some original youtube videos out there of people in the gym making a fool of themselves, but it felt mean putting them up. So I've chosen this one as it demonstrates some of the worst moves out there, but the guy is doing it intentionally, I think. So feel free to laugh. 

So, I'm doing a quick series on the rowing machine because it's a great piece of gym equipment... if you use it correctly.

Today I'm going to start with just being able to set up and use the machine. 

There are three basic things you need to know about to use the machine effectively:
- drag/resistance.
- rating/speed.
- power. 

In running you can make a work out harder by going faster and/or going up hills. 

On a rowing machine there are three variables. 
1. There is going faster: driving your legs down faster and moving your hands faster. This increases your rating, which is measured in the number of strokes per minute. 

(this screen is at 28 strokes per minute, up in the right hand corner). 
As a general indication here's the rates I use for different types of workouts.
Active recovery/ Cardiovascular work: 18-20spm.
Endurance training: 24-26.
Race training: 28-32. 
Sprinting: as fast as possible with good technique. (In a race you generally try to take off for the first few hundred meters at 44+). 

2. Increasing resistance: using the drag on the machine to make it harder (like increasing the incline).
At the side of the machine you will see the fly wheel with a moveable lever:

This increases the feel of resistance when you pull the handle. 1 is the easiest and 10 the hardest. 

This is not a test of how macho you are! You should not do all work out at 10!

Once again it depends on the work that you are doing.  On a treadmill you wouldn't think of doing a longer run at maximum incline, you save that for short hill sprints. So you also shouldn't do long work outs at 10, you vary other aspects instead.

Between 3-4 is the generally recommended basic use, because it should be equivalent to the resistance you get when you are on water. If you are particularly weak, you could use it lower, or if you are focusing on building strength and muscle you could have it a bit higher.

Note: when the flywheel gets dusty or dirty, the drag factor changes. Therefore, if you want to make sure that you are working out at the same drag factor across machines, you can't trust the numbers on the dial. Instead, you need test the drag factor through the monitor.

For the older monitors (PM2) turn on the monitor, wait for the zeros to be displayed and press the READY and REST buttons together. 

On the new PM3/4 monitors, from the Main Menu select 'More Options' and then 'Display Drag Factors'. 


Take a few strokes and look at the value displayed. According to Concept 2 (makers of the rowing machines) a brand new machine will have a drag factor of about 90-100 at the 1 damper setting, and about 210-220 at the 10 setting.

Generally, aerobic work should be roughly between 120-135.

3. Along with rating and resistance, rowing also has a third important factor of power. The stronger your leg driver, the hard you pull, the faster your boat will go in the water. 
Rowing is strange in that you can move slowly, but still get a faster speed because you are relying on your strength. Or you can have less strength, but move faster and still have a good speed. Obviously, the best is if you can move fast and put in the power. 
Overall speed is measured by your 'split' (also called other things like pace, etc, but split is what I work with). This is a measure of the amount of time it would take you at your current speed to do 500m. 

You can vary the information given on your screen, but having your split up is usually the best.


Your aim is to keep that time/500m as low as possible. And you don't have to move faster up and down the slide in order to do that. Better technique and driving harder with your legs, good body rock and a strong finish with your arms will also drop your split. 

So, your challenge for this coming week:
Row for a minute at a rating of 26 with a drag factor of 125, trying to keep your split constant. 
After a 30 second break, then row at a rating of 20 still with a drag factor of 125 and try to keep the same split by working harder. The stronger you are, the easier it will be to get a good split with a lower rating.

As I'm reasonably strong, but with shocking cardiovascular fitness, I find lower ratings with hard work much easier than trying to row at a higher rating for an extended period of time. 

So trying playing with varying your strength, speed and resistance to see how they all feel. 

1 comment:

  1. It's the proper name for a rowing machine. It's short for ergometer, which comes from the Greek (just showing that Classics is a useful degree!) ergo = work, meter = measure. rowing machine reviews