Published: 30-Sep-2021

Masters - it's time to embrace the erg!

Training on the erg is something that everyone loves to hate but it delivers huge benefits. Here is a summary of the main reasons why you should include the erg in your training programme and some tips to make you a more efficient, less injured, and happier rower.

Author: Anne Kilian

Why should masters train on the erg?

Colleen Orsmond (Olympic rower), Ursula van Graan (Olympic rower) and Grant Dodds (Olympic coach and Masters coach) were polled for their opinions on this topic.

All agreed that training on the erg is something that everyone loves to hate ... but it delivers huge benefits. Here is a summary of the main reasons why you should include the erg in your training programme:

  1. Improving your technique – on the erg you don’t have to worry about balance in the boat and compensating for weather conditions. It provides a controlled environment where you can focus on your technique.
  2. Building strength and power - the erg gives you a definitive measure of what power you are pulling. Its consistency enables you to measure improvements in your fitness and strength. There is no better tool than the erg to measure improvements.
  3. Efficient physiological training – physiological training focuses on improving physical fitness, endurance, mechanical and metabolic efficiency. Masters are often busy and cannot get to the water regularly. The erg is then a brilliant option as it is an extremely efficient form of physiological training for rowing.
  4. Heart rate zone training – on the erg you can focus on specific targeted heart rate zones. There is a lot of information about how important heart rate zone training is to develop your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and maximise the effectiveness of your training. Here are some resources to find out more about heart rate zone training:

The 10 commandments of the erg

Adapted from the original article by Becca Borawski Jenkins.

Here is a list of tips that, if you follow, will help you be a more efficient, less injured, and happier rower.

  1. Don’t grip too hard – keep enough grip so as not to lose the handle, but not so much that you wear out your hands, have achy forearms, and tear up your palms.
  2. Drive with your legs – rowing is mostly about your legs. Despite your natural instincts, your legs are far stronger than your arms and should be doing the vast majority of the work. Your quads and glutes should be really sore after a hard rowing workout.
  3. Body, arms, legs; legs, arms, body – this is the sequence of rowing. If you reorganize this list, it doesn’t work.
  4. Don’t pull with your arms – keep your elbows straight as you drive your legs. It’s about your legs, not your arms. As soon as your arms bend, you’ve lost the ability to translate power from your legs.
  5. Keep your elbows relaxed – don’t lift up your elbows at your sides. Don’t artificially tuck them in, either. Keep them relaxed at a natural angle and don’t make chicken wings.
  6. Don’t shrug your shoulders up – don’t pull your shoulders up into your ears as you drive back in the stroke. Instead, imagine you are pulling your shoulder blades together behind you.
  7. Pull the handle to the bottom of your ribs – for the ladies, you want to pull the handle to the bottom of your sports bra. For the men, pretend you’re wearing a sports bra.
  8. Imagine your upper body is a pendulum – Okay, maybe an upside down pendulum. More like a needle ticking back and forth between 11:00 and 1:00 on a clock face. At the “catch” or beginning of the stroke, right before you drive back, you should lean forward at the 1.00 position. At the “finish” or far end of the stroke, when your legs are fully extended, you should lean back to the 11:00 position.
  9. Don’t bend your knees too soon – as you start to return forward in your stroke, your knees need to remain straight until the handle is above your mid-shin. Hinge at the hips, sit up tall, and wait (just like with a deadlift) until the bar has passed your knees to re-bend them. Feel those hamstrings burning.
  10. Don’t slam the seat into your heels – As you continue to move forward and return to the start of the stroke, you should stop when your shins are perpendicular to the ground and your heels are curled up off the footplates, but your seat should never run into your feet.


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