This winter, hit the erg and gain outstanding fitness results.
By Tory Canfield
The rowing machine, also known as the “erg,” is one of the most effective cardio machines in the gym. Used correctly, it can offer a total-body workout with serious cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits. But there’s a reason that the odd-looking contraption is usually available: It can be very physically and mentally challenging. But if you take time to learn proper technique and understand its mysterious ways, the erg could help you conquer your next athletic feat, whether competing in a 10k or an Ironman, or getting back in shape after an injury.
#1: PREPARE THE MACHINE
Adjust the foot pegs so the strap is over the balls of your feet. Next, set the damper lever somewhere between 3 and 5. Think of the damper as gears on a bike. Setting it higher or lower changes how hard your workout feels, but does not change your work output. A high damper setting will call on more muscle strength and less cardio and will feel like rowing a heavy boat. A low setting will feel like rowing a racing shell. The computer monitor (see #4 below) will give you the true story on how effectively you’re pushing yourself.
#2: CHECK YOUR FORM
# 3: START SMALL & BUILD
Once you get the hang of the technique, start with a short workout (say, 5 to 10 minutes) with medium to light pressure, then work up to longer pieces. Set a goal before you start and program the monitor to help keep you to that goal. If your technique is correct and you’re fully committed, your workout should feel physically and mentally challenging but not painful. Setting the monitor and knowing your plan (and keeping to it) will help you reap the benefit from the erg.
#4: TRACK YOUR PROGRESS
There are three main settings on the erg computer: You can view your workout in terms of calories, watts, or meters. I recommend meters, which is shown as a split time: how long it takes you to row 500 meters. When starting out, take note of that number and work to decrease it. For example, if you’re rowing a 2:20/500 meter split, aim to stay below 2:15 for longer pieces and below 2:00 for short intervals.
#5: MIX UP YOUR WORKOUTS
I generally try to do at least one long endurance workout and two high-intensity interval workouts on the erg each week. I mix this with cross training (swimming, biking, Nordic skiing) and weight lifting. It’s important to do a 5-10 minute warm up and cool down (think light to medium pressure and relaxed on the stroke rate) before and after each workout.
Here are a few erg workout ideas – you can vary the length of the workout to fit your schedule:
The erg can teach you discipline and how to push yourself way beyond your comfort zone. There is no better piece of the equipment in the gym to get you in your best physical and mental athletic shape. See you on the erg!
A professional firefighter and avid Zenergy member, Tory Canfield rowed for the Cornell University varsity crew team, making the national podium each year. She continues to race with her Cornell teammates and became a National Masters Rowing Champion in 2015 and a World Masters Rowing Champion in 2017. She relies heavily on the erg to prepare for her races.