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Indoor rowing as a team

How to train together indoors on the erg, and why it matters

Why is training together on the erg important?

Someone has rightly coined that rowing is a symphony of motion. Sometimes, however, on the erg, the consonance of movement is forgotten and all that matters is max effort pulling maximizing the power numbers on the little monochrome screen... While this is good for fitness, it may not be as good for rowing form: a recipe for trouble when heading out on water when spring comes. If you break your rowing technique on the erg it hurts your crew boat too. As a single sculler you can row with a unique technique but in a a crew it is better to have a common understanding on how to row.

Working on crew technique indoors on ergs is easy and convenient. There's no need for a megaphone or a bike for the coach. Technique measurement gear is easy to install and real time feedback can be mirrored onto big screens. Video from the side or from above is easy to shoot and can be used for continuous tracking of progress.

Indoor rowing technique is not only important for those rowing on water. Even if you are concentrating only on rowing indoors it makes sense to find friends to do it with and to work together on technique. Rowing in a team with good technique makes rowing much more enjoyable and enables completing longer distances and races.

Finally, rowing indoors together as a team can help rowers exceed their potential, which can make rowing much more motivating.

How can you train as a crew indoors?

Training together as a team can mean two different things, as well as a mix of these two:

  1. Training together to maximize the speed of the boat
  2. Training together for the team spirit and team fitness

This blog is about both topics, in the same order. Scroll down for the summary with recommendations and a Tandem Erging Challenge!

1. Training together to maximize the speed of the boat

If you row on water in a crew it is beneficial to train together also indoors on the erg. For example, in Finland the summer is so short that unless you synchronize crew technique during winter, there is no time to get the crew into shape during the brief months of rowing on water in the summer. To maximize the speed of the boat the crew needs to row as efficiently as possible. If your crew is aligned on technique, the rowing becomes more efficient, and the crew becomes more than the sum of its part.

How do you synchronize crew technique indoors?

Rowing efficiency is achieved by synchronizing the technique of the crew members and this can be done indoors with a number of methods. One method is to connect the ergs, in series or in parallel, forcing the rowers to row with the same stroke rate. Connecting Concept2 ergs requires slides, which makes the erging dynamic. Also the dynamic RP3 rowing machines can be connected together. We do recommend trying dynamic indoor rowing, although crew synchronization can be done on static machines too (read more below).

Below examples on how dynamic ergs can be connected together by slides or crossbars:

  • C2s in series
  • C2s in parallel 
  • RP3s in parallel.

Concept2 on slides connected in series

Connecting two Concept2 ergs in a line after each other can be done with slides. If you haven't used slides before it makes sense to learn rowing on them alone first. When connecting two ergs together you need three slides, the two rowers sharing the middle one:

Rowing two C2s in series on slides doesn't really feel like rowing a normal 2x double: The combined weight of the "boat" is a tad heavy at >50kg, but it is similar to rowing a coastal C2X :-)

Concept2 on slides connected in parallel

You can also connect the ergs together side by side. This feels better and allows the rowers to not only feel the connection but also see that they are in synchrony (by sideways glances, also helps if there are mirrors). This setup requires five slides for each pair of connected rowers, and so requires quite a lot of flat space around the ergs too.

RP3s connected in parallel

The RP3 allows connecting not just the moving frames but also the handles of the ergs, which helps synchronizing not only legwork but also the hands.

Rowing on the RP3 feels good because it resembles rowing on water. That's why the RP3 also helps maintain good rowing technique. The connection bars for the RP3s are not so common and might be hard to find. RP3s connected via the handlebar feel good only for rowers that are roughly the same size.

Concept2 on slides side by side, not connected

If you don't have means of connecting the ergs together you can also place the ergs in parallel, preferrably next to a mirror to allow for checkups on timing via quick sideway glances. This allows for rowing with the same rate and rhythm.

Static or Dynamic Erg? Does it matter?

No it doesn't matter. You can work crew technique on any types of machines. But, having said that, rowing dynamic (RP3 or Concept2 on slides) is recommended, since it is more similar to rowing on water. Static erging needs a bit more concentration to keep your technique in shape: beware of opening the back too early!-> you can get a Quiske Virtual Coach to help monitor your style ;-). You can read up on the differences between static and dynamic ergs in our earlier blog.

TIP: If you have range of different types of machines at your club or gym it is useful to line them up next to each other and have team members switch places so they get a feel for different types of ergs during one training session. It is beneficial to hop on a different type of erg once in a while, to learn about their differences and to tease your muscles in different ways.

Measuring crew technique

Connecting ergs forces the rowers to row with the same stroke rate but doesn't control the handle (except when using the RP3 handlebar of course) or seat movements. Placing the ergs side by side allows for visual checking by a coach or through video, but minute differences in timing cannot be spotted with the bare eye.

That's why a Quiske Pod comes in handy. A pod can measure and analyze the timing of seat vs handle in detail, and doesn't get tired of monitoring but keeps at it every single stroke.

The Quiske Rowing App comes with a Virtual Coach which simplifies the seat and handle timings into five easy to understand color-graded focus areas: 1. Rhythm, 2. Leg Rhythm, 3. Leg Speed, 4. Seat Stopped, and 5. Style.

The Quiske Virtual Coach gives real time feedback on rowing technique on the indoor rowing machine

Quiske Rowing App also displays the actual speeds of the handle and seat through the drive and the recovery phases, showing rowing technique in much more detail:

The rowing technique can be analyzed in detail through the handle and seat speed graphs

The recorded handle and seat speeds can be overlaid in the Quiske cloud for detailed analysis and comparisons between rowers. With detailed post-training analysis of measured data you can find differences in the timing of the main sequences that the stroke consists of: the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery. After differences are identified in the portal, real time feedback can be used to help rowers align their technique while training.

Indoor rowing technique comparison of Kristina and Pentti rowing a marathon each on Concept2 on slides

The above overlaid graphs show Kristina's (green) and Pentti's (blue) handle (solid) and seat (dashed) speeds measured during the mid-stage of their recent marathon row (Kristina's first marathon, video below). You can see clear differences in the way they do their catch and recovery. Pentti accelerates his seat fast towards the catch (so called trampoline: pulling the frame towards him with his legs just before the catch) whereas Kristina is extending her shoulder-blades towards the end of the recovery (visible as the fast negative speed of the handle). Overall, however, this crew is rowing with similar technique and their rhythm is the same.

2. Training together for the team spirit and fitness

Erging is a great sport since anyone can do it and benefit from it. Heavier rowers are of course generally stronger than their lightweight friends. Also age and gender matter a lot. There are, however, methods for allowing rowers of different weights, ages, and gender to compete with each other on equal terms. This can increase motivation and enables interesting team setups! Below first a method for adjusting erg scores of rowers of different weights, and then two methods for also taking age and gender into account.

Weight Adjustment Calculator

A taller and heavier rower can generally produce more power than their smaller colleague. However, when rowing a boat on water, a heavier rower weighs the boat down deeper into the water, creating more drag. The heavier the rower, the more drag on the boat and the more power is needed to equal their lighter teammate. The erg does not penalize a heavier rower in this way but Concept2 have created a tool that provides a controlled, measureable way to compare the potential of rowers of different body weights: The Concept2 online Weight Adjustement Calculator normalizes weight adjusted scores against a 122.5kg (270 pound) reference in the following way:

  • WeightFactor WF=(body weight in lbs/270)^0.222 or WF= (body weight in kg/122.5)^0.222
  • Corrected time= WF*actual time (seconds)
  • Corrected distance= Actual distance/WF

The Concept2 Weigh Adjustment Calculator does not take gender or age into account since those parameters really do not influence the drag on the boat as weight does.

Taking age and gender into account

If you want to allow all rowers to compete on same terms you can use a handicap calculator which takes not only weight, but also age and gender into account. This calculator was introduced to us by Reiner Modest in Denmark and has been used in Danish slide competitions. In Finland we used the calculator to create a fun CF Regatta at Crossfit Tuusula with mixed crews of four on connected slides.

Allowing mixed crews consisting of a large range of ages and weights allows for a very exciting races and allows lightweight master rowers a fair chance.

Another good tool which lets you compete on equal terms against Concept2 rowers of all ages is the Nonathlon. The Nonathlon lets you compete on equal terms with other Concept2 rowers of all ages. You compete against everyone, but using the previous years rankings and you are only scored against the best times/distances for your own age, weight, and sex. This gives everyone a more equal chance of winning. You can also create a Nonathlon crew and compare against other crews. Highly recommended.

3. Finally, some recommendations

If you row on water in a crew you should definitely also regularly train indoors as a crew. Row with connected ergs just to get the hang of it but a couple of times is enough. Once you're used to rowing with the same rate there is no need for a connection forcing you to do so. Most of your training together should be done side by side with the same rate, on ergs that are not connected.

Technique measurements should be done regularly to reduce the risk of your training being focused only on power, at the cost of technique. A Quiske pod can spot minute differences in technique and timing not easily visible to the naked eye. Measure technique when on separate ergs (not connected) so that there is no influence from others.

Shoot video from the side and from above of your crew rowing to help visualize the data and as an aid for technique discussions with the crew. Slow motion video is also very useful.

Don't forget the most important part of training together, which is building team spirit. Erging together at the same rate helps glue the crew together and helps rowers exceed themselves. You can use weight adjustment and age/gender handicaps to allow and motivate all rowers in your club to compete with each other in an inclusive and not so serious way. Don't ever forget to have fun :-).

TRY THIS: 1 hour Tandem Erg Challenge

Here's a challenge designed for double crews, taking the weight of the rowers into account. There's no age handicap in this race. Row together side by side (connected or not, dynamic or static, doesn't matter) with your double partner at the exact same rate for 60minutes. After you're finished do the following:

  • Take photos of the result screen of each rower: the display should show the same rate for both rowers throughout the 1hr session (see example below)
  •  Note the distances completed and normalize them using the weight adjustment calculator (see above)
  • Calculate the average distance of the two rowers to get the team result

Here's a reference example result by Kristina and Pentti, pictured below:

  • WF for Kristina= (59kg/122.5Kg)^0.222=0.8502
  • WF for Pentti=(75kg/122.5kg)^0.222=0.8968
  • Normalized distance and split for Kristina: 16266m 1:50.7
  • Normalized distance and split for Pentti: 18024m 1:39.9
  • Normalized team result=avg normalized distance and split=17145m and 1:45.30

->Kristina's and Pentti's normalized team result is 17145m.

Tandem Erg Challenge Example Result of Pentti and Kristina
60minutes of rowing side by side with the same rate. Good training and good feeling :-)

The Tandem Erg Challenge runs until end of February 2020: Send your names, weights, 60min meters and photos of the erg monitor summary screens to for a chance to win a rower subscription to Quiske Analytics. We have reserved prices for the best mens, womens and mixed crew. We'll also post the best results on instagram or FB.

With this we want to wish everyone Happy and Successful Rowing in the New Year 2020!

Kristina and Pentti

Ps. Hope you have set some good rowing targets for yourself: What about joining some indoor rowing races? Quiske will be at the ERIC 2020 in Prague on Jan, 11th and the WR Championships in Paris on Feb, 8th and of course at the ErgoMarathon in Finland on April, 25th: Registration is now open (hope to meet you there: some tips on how to prepare)!