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You Are What You Erg

MastersCoaching founder Mayrene Earle’s Erg Tips For Masters

Mayrene Earle knows a lot about coaching. She coached and was an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also coached at both Northeastern University and Wellesley College.

When she was done coaching college students, she turned her attention to masters and founded MastersCoaching. This time of year, she is in Florida running clinics, but she is well aware that the weather around most of the country drives rowers indoors. And she knows how important it is to work out on a rowing machine.

Earle has some specific ideas about how masters should train on the erg and she shared them this week in a question and answer session.

Q – What kinds of workouts should masters rowers be doing, how long and how often?

A – It depends upon when their peak times are during the year, like are they going to San Diego (Crew Classic) in the spring or is it for master’s nationals (in summer) and are they training for a (1,000-meter piece)? The rule of thumb is to do three aerobic (prolonged exercise of moderate intensity), two anaerobic threshold piece (the point at which lactic acid begins to replace burned oxygen in muscles) and one anaerobic (short high, intensity exercise during which oxygen is quickly depleted.)

Q – How hard should a master be working?

A – What I do is I have my rowers do a 20-minute test piece and we take the average split and add 15 to 18 seconds to that. So you would be working at that pace. Another way to do it is to work at a pace where you could carry on a conversation. It could be for 45 minutes, or three, 20-minute pieces, anything longer than 20 minutes generally.

For the anaerobic work, we take the 20-minute test piece and add 12 to 15 seconds to the split. I would do race pace and intensity stuff, short intervals of one minutes, two minutes, three minutes. That’s once a week and it’s sort of a speed workout and as you get closer to your racing season, you would do them more times per week.

Q – What about ratings?

A – In the wintertime, I go really low. In the beginning of the winter, I start out low and alternate. I go two minutes at a 16 (spm), two minutes at an 18, just something to keep them from being totally bored.

I go low so they learn to connect at the front end. The rowers I see on the ergs, because they are going at such a high rate, they’re not connecting. They’re not learning how to connect to the water when they get back in a boat.

Q – What about technical focus?

The first thing I tell them when they come off the water is to row the erg like they’re still on the water. Even though it’s difficult, I tell them to try and feel the boat moving out from underneath them on the recovery. Feel the chain pulling you into the catch, rather than being ahead of the speed of the chain, just like they wouldn’t want to be ahead of the speed of the boat during the recovery.

I do a lot, a lot, a lot, of rowing with feet out so they can’t pull themselves up and have to learn how to use their hamstrings on the recovery.

Q – How important is it to work on a rowing machine and should masters be doing cross training or strength training?

A – I say “you are what you erg,” so whatever you do on the erg is what you are going to take out on the water with you. And the opposite of that, is if you really work your technique on the erg, you’ll be better the next time you get in a boat.

I believe strongly in cross training for masters so they don’t get injuries. But I would like to see them on the erg five days a week depending on the strength and skill level. I would say go more if you’re at the higher skill level so that you are getting that intensity training but cross training to keep you from getting injured.

A lot of my women are doing yoga training. The women from Community Rowing, Inc., in Boston are doing yoga training there and the person they are working with is making them flexible, incredibly flexible. It’s very impressive. But definitely work on flexibility because as we get older, we lose it.

Strength training? That depends on how much time you have. When I was a collegiate coach we did it three days a week. This time of year, we did heavy weights and as the spring came, we did more maintenance lifting. With masters, it’s kind of tough. One thing, they don’t have enough time and the second is, they tend to not be able to recover enough from the session so that their next session on the erg is not the quality we are looking for. But I still strongly believe in strength training.

Written by Ed Moran | Jan 28, 2013

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