Posts Tagged ‘ergs’

It’s a bit of a cliché, but one I’m always grateful for. However feeble my erg score (and it’s feeble enough to be kept a closely guarded secret), I can always comfort myself with the thought that ergs don’t float – by which I mean that what you do on a rowing machine doesn’t necessarily translate into what happens on the water.

You can be all grunt and heft in the erg room and achieve massive, macho scores, but if your technique on the water is lousy – if you’re missing the catch until half way through the stroke, or you’re flying up the slide like an elephant on castors – you can waste all of your (admittedly impressive) efforts.

So if there were an erg that mimicked what happened on the water in any sort of realistic way, we’d all be pretty interested, right? Well, yesterday I had the chance to try out some WaterRower rowing machines that claim to be the nearest thing you can get on land to the real thing.

My attempts on the various models were overseen by Leander rower and Olympic hopeful Alan Sinclair, whose most exciting claim to fame – and sorry, Al, for bringing this up rather than your more serious achievements – is being Robbie Williams’ body double in the video for The Flood (just pausing for a moment here to let the Take That! fans pick themselves up off the floor).

Anyway, with Alan there to help me, what could possibly go wrong?

On the WaterRower and still smiling

First on trial was the basic WaterRower, which you’ll probably be familiar with. It was smoother and quieter than a Concept2 (sorry to mention them, but if I don’t, someone will). Other than that, it felt pretty familiar.

What a face! This is harder than it looks...

Definitely a step up was the Oartec Slider. This is a dynamic rowing machine that is designed to give the most realistic feeling of rowing on the water, and is supposed to be kinder to your back. What marks it out from a static one is that the frame moves (if you’ve ever put a static erg on a frame, you’ll have an idea what this feels like). When you push off with your legs, they move away from you, rather than you moving away from them. The whole experience is more fluid – always good in a water sport.

I can’t deny I didn’t quite get the hang of it in the short time I had to try it out, which explains the faces I was pulling (probably just as well that you can’t see Alan’s face as he watches my efforts…). I was pinging backwards and forwards, sometimes hitting front stops and sometimes back stops, which is not how it’s supposed to work. I would imagine, though, that if you can get to grips with it, it could be a very useful bit of kit.

What could possibly go wrong?

Finally, the machine I’d been waiting to try – the Oartec simulator. It’s huge and metallic and looks like something that would-be astronauts might use to test their suitability for space travel (though I’m assured it does fold down into a more storable size). What is so unusual about it is that rather than just having a straight handle on a chain, it is rigged with separate, solid handles for sculling or for bow or stroke-side rowing.

This really is more like the real thing. We had it rigged for sculling, and the motion really did feel exactly like the sequence of movements in a sculling boat (right down to the sculler’s knuckle that I managed to sustain within a minute of climbing aboard). On the erg you don’t use exactly the same muscles, especially on the upper body, as you do in a boat; with this one it was much more familiar.


"Have you started pulling yet?"

it took a little while to get used to it and to get even a moderately respectable score (I’ll never live down my shame when Alan peered at the monitor and asked if that was the sort of score that I’d normally be achieving. No one is supposed to know). But I really think I could come to love it (all right, like it, at least).

For a start it looks really cool (come on, that matters!) and anything that is less like an erg and more like a boat is always a winner for me. Best of all, if you’re looking to improve, you could use it to work on your technique in a meaningful way.

So, as I said, with Alan in charge, what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing much, except for the small matter of me breaking one of the machines. And which one do you imagine I managed to break? Yes, you guessed it.

Of course, they were all very lovely about it and said it wasn’t really broken and there was just a belt that needed re-attaching or something. But still…

Ah well. Even if my erg scores are nothing to write home about, at least I’ve shown that I’m strong enough to break a monster machine. That has to count for something.

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I know it’s unlikely. Me, pint-sized, featherweight and spectacularly unsuccessful novice rower, firmly in the Masters *cough* category, rowing the Tideway with two of Britain’s finest U23 rowers. Has to be a joke, right?

Well, actually, no. Today I joined GB U23, Olympic hopefuls Ben Duggan and Nick Middleton in a mixed quad for a paddle out of London Rowing Club in Putney. You can look out for us at Henley next year (OK, now I’m joking).

It was all thanks to the good people at Oartec who were there to showcase a selection of their rowing machines (of which much more in my next post – together with photos, technie stuff and even a shameful confession on my part).

Ben and Nick, together with fellow Leander member Alan Sinclair, told us all about what it takes to cut it as an international rower (a whole lot of work, calorie counts to die for and an attitude to alcohol that would put the England rugby team to shame – and again, more of all of that in a later post, too). We got a chance to try out the ergs (actually fun when you have an international rower supervising it – must suggest that to our club captain…)

And then our boat arrived.

Admittedly, it wasn’t the finest or fastest craft in the world – a “virtually unsinkable” tubby rigged as a quad – but who’s complaining when you’ve got internationals at bow and stroke? Nick took the bow seat, fellow journalist Dominic Hart (sports ed at the Daily Mirror) was at 2, I sat at 3 and Ben at stroke.

Now then. Remember what I said in a previous post about everything melting down when you’re rowing in front of the clubhouse and wanting to impress people? Now imagine that the people you’re wanting to impress are not the club captain or even the mocking juniors, but the best rowers you’ve ever met and are ever likely to meet. Exactly.

Needless to say, the Little People got a fair amount of revenge in. Struggling with a sticky gate on stroke side that made feathering a challenge (yeah, yeah, blame the boat, why don’t you?), I certainly reinforced my novice status, catching several crabs and generally rowing my worst.

But it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. How many people get the chance to practise their sport with their sporting heroes in actual, real life? OK, so I may have rowed like a beginner, but I was rowing like a beginner with Britain’s best.

So a massive thank you to Oartec. A massive thank you to the Leander boys for being so patient and generally amazing. And despite their best efforts, a big yah-boo-sucks to the Little People.

GirlontheRiver 1,000,000: Little People: 0

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Although rowing legend Matthew Pinsent  declared this week that #FF stands for Friendly Follow rather than Follow Friday (and who am I to argue with the likes of him?), I shall continue with my three-week-old tradition of running a Friday blogspot.

A last-minute recommendation has had me clicking on Carlos Dinares. Its raison d’etre is the promotion of the dynamic erg, but if you don’t mind this there are some brilliant articles about rowing, with a useful  focus on how to make the boat go faster, so it’s definitely worth a rummage.

Next up, and closer to home, is the surprisingly poetic Rusty Rigger, a blog brought to us by Bristol Ariel Rowing Club (just far enough away from Monmouth to prevent them from being arch-rivals). There are lyrical descriptions of the river, enough pleasingly Grumpy Old Man observations to make me chuckle and more honesty than most rowing blogs tend to manage (not every outing is a good one, after all). Go read.

In a brief departure, this week I’m also recommending a tweeter rather than a blogger – please, please take a look at @YoureARowerWhen. It is, as the name suggests, “dedicated to all the crazy things about rowers that non-rowers just don’t understand” and gave SonOnTheRiver and me a good half hour of laughs reading its tweets and laughing in recognition.

And finally, in a shameless bit of self-promotion, I’m going to point you in the direction of Rowperfect which has an eclectic blog featuring – oh! – none other than GirlonTheRiver in a guest post this week – but also news, views, some regular funny stuff and other rowing-related bits and pieces. Always worth checking out as you never know what you’re going to find.

Have a great weekend. And if you happen to find yourself at Monmouth Head, come and say hello – I’ll be the frazzled one frying bacon and looking longingly at the river.

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Forgive me for being indelicate, but I can’t help noticing that with the head season nearly upon us, there’s rather a lot of testosterone in the air.

The gentlemen of the rowing world seem to be greeting the prospect of long ergs and distance rows with more than their share of grunting and posturing. The internet rowing world is full of “bring it ons” and “grrrs” and detailed accounts of erg sessions and kilos lifted.

Impressive though it is, I’m not altogether sure whose benefit it’s for. Perhaps it’s designed to unnerve the opposition. Perhaps it’s a misjudged mating ritual. Or maybe it’s simply a way of mentally shifting up a gear. Either way I find it kind of sweet, in the same way that I view my (small, male) dog’s noisy attempts to frighten the postman.

Meanwhile the fairer (and in many ways stronger) sex are going about the seasonal change in a more methodical way. Meetings are in the diary. Schedules are being drawn up. And, behind the scenes, quietly, the ergs are whirring into action again (though to my shame I discovered a tell-tale cobweb on mine this morning).

It doesn’t mean we’re less enthusiastic about the heads ahead. After all the noise and splashing and stress of the regatta season, I’ll be quite glad of the heads-down, no-nonsense nature of the long haul. There is, after all, more to take away from a head than the silverware. Even if you’re not first in your class, you’ve got a time to work on and to compare with last time and next time. And I can’t say I’ll really miss the adrenaline rush of the racing start.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I have to go and get cracking on my evening’s workout. That’s an hour long erg at 1:53, followed by some weights and then a giant steak. Grrrrr. Bring it ON!!!

Just kidding. I’m really off to make a cup of tea.

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