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You Are What You Erg, So Erg Mindfully

Whether you think of winter erg training as a conditioning tool, a necessary evil or a little of both, you may as well get the most out of your time on the machine. Pay attention to quality as much as quality. I guarantee you that, come spring, your winter erg habits will show up in the boat.

I like to say that “you are what you erg,” but, with masters rowers, I find that erg scores do not necessarily correlate to the ability of the individual to move the boat on the water – at least not as directly as they do for collegiate rowers.

So during winter workouts, make sure to stay aware of your technique. Keep in mind how your erg technique will transfer to the boat and affect boat speed.

To help improve your erg technique, it’s best to do drills during warm-ups. Using your warm-ups to focus on areas that need improvement will make it easier to maintain positive changes during the rest of the workout. Steady-state erg pieces also are ideal for working on technique and rhythm.

Here are six workouts to help get you through the long and sometimes tedious workouts you’re doing if you’ve signed up for this year’s Holiday Challenge from Concept2. If you haven’t signed up, I recommend you do so. It’s a great way to stay motivated.

Workout: 29′ Total

5′ at 16 spm
4′ at 18 spm
3′ at 20 spm
2′ at 22 spm
1′ at 24 spm
2′ at 22 spm
3′ at 20 spm
4′ at 18 spm
5′ at 16 spm

Notes: This is a really good piece for working on consistency. Within each time segment, keep the rate as steady as possible, as well as the splits. Keep it calm and patient and OWN the piece. Be in control of your row, stroke by stroke.

Workout: 3 x 12′ with 3′ rest in between

Piece #1: 4 minutes @ 18 spm; 4 minutes @ 20 spm; 4 minutes @ 18 spm
Piece #2: 4 minutes @ 20 spm; 4 minutes @ 22 spm; 4 minutes @ 20 spm
Piece #3: 4 minutes @ 22 spm; 4 minutes @ 24 spm; 4 minutes @ 22 spm

Notes: This is a good piece for focusing on technique and gaining confidence in your abilities. Make this workout SOLID. Low ratings are good, because they give you plenty of time on the recovery (time to think, time to breathe, time to re-focus), and a chance to play with ratings (exactly what your ratio of power to drive speed to recovery should be).

Workout: 2 x 20′  (+11 seconds of 5k split)

5′ at 16 spm
5′ at 18 spm
5′ at 20 spm
5′ at 16 spm

Notes: Focus in on each 5′ segment. Strive for consistency. Pay attention to your breathing. Heart rate should be about 60 percent of your max heart rate (+/- 10 beats).

Workout: 2 x 15′ of 40” on, 20” off

Notes: Go after it and work for PBs. You should feel amazing and dead all at the same time!

Workout: 3 x 12′ with 3′ rest in between pieces (+11 seconds of your 5k split)

The rate for each piece will be: 18 spm, 20 spm, 18 spm

Notes: Keep the splits, even though you feel you could go faster. Maintain the body-over position – tall back and no slouching. Connect on the footplates at the release.

Workout: 3 x 10′ of 30” on, 30” off

4′ rest in between pieces

Notes: Keep it calm and patient and OWN the piece. Be in control of your row, stroke by stroke. GO! The “on” strokes should be all out and way below your 5k split.

A final note: I have been writing this column since the fall of 2003, the same year I was asked to conduct the first MastersCoaching clinic. MastersCoaching has grown exponentially since then. Now it’s time for me to “retire” from writing this column and devote all my energies to coaching. I have thoroughly enjoyed doing this for you and for USRowing, and I am grateful to USRowing for the opportunity.

I look forward to seeing you at regattas in the future! May you have a healthy and productive winter and a wonderful holiday season.

My best to you all.

Mayrene T. Earle, M.Ed., is founder of MastersCoaching. She conducts camps and clinics for masters rowers around the world. She also provides coaching for coaches and offers Erg Inspiration classes by phone. Contact Mayrene at

Copyright 2010 © Mayrene T. Earle. All rights reserved.

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