Let me say first of all that in my view, the foot-straps on every ergometer are there for the athlete’s safety and any coach who feels that he or she would be compromising their athlete’s safety by doing without them on low-rate endurance ergs should feel free to ignore this blog.
For those still reading, here’s an interesting observation. I routinely teach beginners to do any erg sessions at 20 spm or lower, without straps. A recent group of student beginners arrived at the club already trained on the erg and I introduced them to strapless technique. After a short erg some of them reported feeling that they were doing much more work with their hip flexor muscles – exactly the muscles which would be working more consistently to maintain their upper body posture when using the erg without straps. That is a good thing. It meant that they were now using muscle to compensate for the support they had been getting from the straps, particularly at backstops.
It is important, because if a rower is dependent on the straps to maintain balance while on the erg, they’ll be dependent on their shoes to maintain balance while rowing – and that will tend to disrupt the balance of the boat. The forces exerted on the straps or shoes at the end of the drive phase (the finish) are (1) in the direction of movement, to absorb the inertia of the rowers body weight moving to backstops and (2) upward, to stop the rower falling backward as they lean back. It is the upward component which is disruptive, because people are not symmetrical and so it is almost impossible for the force to be exerted equally on the two shoes. One will be pushed upward more strongly than the other and the boat will respond by rolling downward on the opposite side.
Rowers are only made aware that this is effect if and when they are asked to row “feet out” (i.e. feet outside the shoes) and even though this awareness helps, without the development of the hip flexor muscles on the erg (by doing low rate endurance sessions without the straps), they won’t have the muscle tone to correct it.
So with the caveat on safety at the top of this blog, I’d encourage coaches to develop strapless / feet out technique on the erg as a real aid to boat stability.
Copyright Howard Aiken 2018