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Dynamic vs. Static Indoor Rowing, what's the difference?

Key points from the Quiske Helsinki Indoor Rowing workshop

· indoor rowing,RP3

Quiske arranged our first ever workshop on dynamic indoor rowing in Helsinki, Finland, last weekend on the 11th of November. The workshop gathered enthusiastic rowers and coaches from all around Finland and was in Finnish, but two guest speakers, Danish Olympic Medalist Jacob Barsoe and English coach Edward Boileau, spoke in English: their excellent presentations can be found on YouTube, for links to these scroll down.

This blog post summarizes the key points that came up in our workshop, first a discussion about different types of indoor rowing machines, then a summary of different types of ways to measure rowing technique on these and finally a recommendation on the best type of indoor rowing for rowers.

Different types of indoor rowers

We visited the Head of Charles in Boston in early October and tried out a wide range of different types of machines, how many different kinds of indoor rowing machines do you find in this video?

That's four dynamic machines, one static, and one simulator. A simulator is a machine which doesn't have a traditional handle but instead simulates real oars, that even can feather.

Here's a list of some of the indoor rowing machines we're aware of and have tried:

 

Traditional static ergs:

-Concept2

-Waterrower

-Skillrow (Technogym)

Dynamic ergs:

-Concept2 on slides

-Concept2 dynamic

-RP3

-Oartec DX

Simulators:

-Coffey

-Biorower

It's a confusing field you could say. What's the best indoor rowing machine for a rower? That's what we dived into next. From here on we concentrate on comparing Concept2 and RP3. The Simulators are interesting but we're leaving them for another time.

What's the difference between static and dynamic?

To pinpoint the differences between the different ergs one option is to try them, like we did at the Head of the Charles, and another is to think about how they work in terms basic physics .

By applying basic physics to ergometer rowing the fundamental difference between static and dynamic becomes clear: The force applied by your legs to the stretcher acts equally on you and the stretcher. To quote Anu Dudhia from Oxford University:

  • If you sit at front-stops on an erg and then push your legs down you move backwards relative to room by an amount equal to your leg length
  • If you sit at front-stops in a boat and then push your legs down (oars out of the water) you only move backwards relative to the bank by an amount ~20% of your leg length - the rest of the motion is taken by the boat moving away from you.

This is a result of the action-reaction principle (Newton's 3rd Law). The force applied by your legs to the stretcher acts equally on you and the stretcher.

 

In the static case, the stretcher is effectively attached to the whole planet so doesn't move - you do all the moving.

 

In the dynamic case, the mass of the boat is much lighter (typically 10-20%) than you, so it moves further than you do.

 

This is not just a matter of the frame of reference: in the static (ergometer) you are actually performing more work in accelerating your body weight than in the dynamic (floating) case where the work is split between accelerating the boat and your body in opposite directions.

 

A 'dynamic' ergometer, attempts to simulate the reaction effect by having the stretcher/flywheel (together weighing approximately the same as a sculling boat) also mounted on a rail so that they also absorb most of the motion. Putting the Concept on 'slides' also simulates this effect, although since the Concept erg is much heavier than a sculling boat, it's not as realistic.

The conclusion is therefore that dynamic ergs simulate on water rowing better than stationary ergs.

 

Also, in the stationary case you need to accelerate your body much more at catch and finish since you (and not the erg) is doing all the moving back and forth, and this puts more strain on your back and joints. There's a paper (*) which found that the stroke length is higher on static than dynamic erg particularly with the length increased at the catch. The static erg has higher mean forces which can increase the risk of injury.

A summary of the key differences we've learnt by trying the machines (Concept2 vs RP3) ourselves and by reading papers online (** , ***):

Static (Concept 2):

  • +Simple construction and easy to move around
  • +Standard, used in races
  • -Might encourage bad technique
  • -Doesn't feel like rowing on water

Dynamic (RP3):

  • +Mimics on water rowing best
  • +Helps row with better technique
  • +Gentle towards back and joints
  • -Louder than static machines
  • -More expensive construction
  • -Not standard (yet at least)

We also did a bit of experimenting ourselves and measured the acceleration properties of the RP3 with our RowP App. We confirmed that the RP3 acceleration properties were close to that of on water rowing.

Measuring rowing technique, indoors and outdoors

Above we looked at different types of indoor rowing machines in terms of their properties. However, the rowing technique on the different machines, and also outdoors, can be assessed by measuring with a number of different devices.

 

The market leader in measuring rowing performance outdoors is Nielsen Kellerman with their simple NK SpeedCoach. Another manufacturer for measuring on water rowing is the Australian Coxmate, with their GPS Unit which provides slightly more accurate speed measurements. To measure indoor rowing the standard is provided by the Concept2 PM monitors, which is what is used in most indoor rowing competitions. However, the RP3 provides much more information about technique, and the RP3s are also starting to arrange indoor rowing competitions.

Finally, the Quiske RowP App is a new alternative which works both on water and indoors, and both on static as well as dynamic.

The generic properties and capabilities of the different measurement devices are compared in the below tables.

Comparison of RP3, Concept2, RowP, Speedcoach and Coxmate GPS metrics

The Quiske RowP system is unique in that it covers both indoors and outdoors and also in that it focuses on measuring rhythm, which means that the rower can improve not only the drive proportion of the stroke but also learn correct recovery.

The Quiske RowP App focuses on measuring the rowing rhythm and has a unique virtual coach to help find the right rhythm

Let's go into a bit more detail with the RP3 technique measurement capabilities. An Android tablet can be connected to the RP3 via USB or BT and up to 9 metrics can be displayed in real time. Most popular is the power curve which helps the rower improve their power distribution during the drive, perhaps most easily by paying attention to the relative peak force position.

The metrics provided by the RowP system complement the RP3 metrics shown above by providing information also about the recovery and on the rhythm of rowing:

The RowP App provides instant feedback on rowing technique and especially on the rhythm, also during recovery

The recovery part of the stroke is often neglected and there aren't many devices able to measure it. However, in races, the differences in performance are not so much in the amount of power that athletes are able to put in during the drive phase but more in the efficiency of their recovery. The recovery efficiency is where races are won. Therefore it makes sense to not only focus on the drive, but to also learn the best technique for not rocking the boat during recovery.

Advice from the experts

Back to our indoor rowing workshop. We gathered together 40 or so of the most enthusiastic coaches and rowers in Finland to discuss and try out dynamic indoor rowing. The highlight of the event was however our guest speakers. World and European champion and Olympic silver & bronze medalist Jacob Barsoe spoke about his experiences in indoor rowing and gave insights into how to train smart. He also spoke about the ProW seat which his company has developed to enable rowing without pain.

Our other guest speaker Edward Boileau is an English coach who has built up a rowing programme at a state school in London. Edward has also survived a bad car crash and was told that he would never row competitively again, but he is still racing and wining many Masters events, thanks to the RP3 and yoga. He speaks about injury recovery/prevention on the RP3 and also about using the Quiske RowP system to synchronize the rowing technique in his double crew and his presentation is highly worth watching:

Edward is setting up a training venue in the south of France, for more info visit www.chezboileau.com.

The first ever dynamic indoor rowing event in Finland was a success and Quiske might do similar events in the future. The Finnish winter makes a long indoor rowing season so makes sense to do the best type of indoor rowing possible, and for sure we think dynamic is the way to row.

The Quiske Indoor Rowing workshop included a bit of spontaneous coaching by Jacob Barsoe

Conclusion

We arranged an indoor rowing workshop to discuss and compare dynamic with static indoor rowing. The static indoor rowing machine, here meaning the Concept 2, is a reliable and good tool for increasing fitness. It is great that it can be found on almost any gym to provide a good workout no matter where you are.

 

However, specifically for rowers, dynamic is better. Dynamic indoor rowing mimics on water rowing better. Dynamic is also gentler toward the back and joints and prevents injury even when rowing hard. With dynamic you can do harder practice at a greater pace but it is also more pleasant to row at low pace. The dynamic catch is faster and feels more realistic. With the RP3 it is easier to tune technique thanks to the power measurement capability and the good quality graphical display of it. It is also possible to synchronize crew rowing by having everyone strive for the same stroke profile. By training on the dynamic machine there is a smaller delay in getting used to on water rowing since the difference is smaller. This is especially important in countries like Finland where the indoor rowing season is long.

Happy rowing,

Kristina and Pentti

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