Rowing Ergometer Training

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A rowing ergometer is a stationary machine that enables its user to experience watercraft rowing indoors. The machine provides a total body workout that challenges the cardiovascular system and strengthens upper and lower body muscles. Since air resistance machines were introduced in the early 1980s, indoor rowing’s popularity has sparked rowing communities and competitions across America and around the globe.

Design and Features

Rowing ergometers, also called “ergs,” are a modernized version of rowing machines designed to measure the work performed, such as distance, calories burned and strokes per minute. Most machines are 8 to 9 feet long and are connected to a flywheel that generates resistance when the rower pulls a handle. The rower can move back and forth thanks to a sliding seat on a track. A monitor is connected to the machine that gives feedback. Some machines offer software packages that record sessions and analyze data.

Using the Erg

The classic stroke has two phases, the drive and the recovery, as explained by Concept2, maker of an ergometer used in international competitions. Begin with the knees bent and the feet pressed into the footboards; hold the handle with arms outstretched. Initiate the stroke by extending the legs, then pull the handle to the abdomen and lean the upper back to a slightly reclined position with support from your core muscles. The recovery phase movements are essentially the reverse of the drive, according to Concept2. “Blend these movements into a smooth continuum to create the rowing stroke,” the company says.

Health Benefits

At moderate speeds while rowing on an ergometer, a 155-pound person burns about 246 calories in 30 minutes or 422 calories at a vigorous speed, according to The exercise is easy on the joints due to the low impact of the movements and it improves cardiovascular fitness, according to Concept2. Many large muscle groups are involved during the rowing motion. Your triceps work to extend your arms and your biceps are used to pull the handle toward you. As you extend your legs to slide backward, your glutes and hamstrings engage, your back muscles get worked and your abdominals contract to stabilize your torso.

Start Slow and Easy

Novice rowers should start with long and easy strokes before they handle short bursts of speed. Compared to other stationary machines, rowing ergometers use more muscles through a greater range of motion, which brings your heart rate up a faster rate than a stationary bike or a treadmill. To avoid back injuries, the club recommends never slouching during the exercise and leaning from the hips instead of flexing the spine when pulling and releasing the handle.

Indoors vs. Outdoors

Aside from the obvious–the machine lacking oars and operating on dry land–the movement of ergometers is strikingly similar to rowing a boat. Digitalized data showed the drive phase of rowing on the ergometer was a perfect match to its outdoor counterpart, according to a Purdue University report in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The main differences were in the recruitment of the upper arm and forearms, but of minor importance because of their small contributions to the overall form, according to the study.