Coaching the Drive – by Howard Aiken

(This is the second in a series of coaching notes. You may find it helpful to read it with the preceding “Coaching the Catch”).

The “Drive” is the ‘working’ phase of the rowing stroke. If we consider the four phases of the stroke (catch, drive, finish, recovery), the drive differs from the others in that it is as much about power as technique.  The drive is the application of force to the handle of the blade to lever the boat past the spoon.  That said, the quality of a good drive in the boat depends on how it begins at the catch and ends at the finish, and there are several different opinions as to what should happen in between.

  1. The muscles powering the drive

The most important point to be made about the drive concerns the fundamental sources of its power.  These are your leg muscles, the same muscles you would use for jumping.  This is important, because rowers tend to be more aware of “effort” than “output” and so tend to see the power available from legs, body and arms as more evenly matched than they actually are.

Your leg muscles contain a high proportion of fast “twitch” fibres which can deliver the rapid acceleration required for running and jumping.  The simple fact that your leg muscles can be used to jump off the ground means that they are, on their own, able to accelerate however many tens of kilos your body weighs to over 9.8 metres per second per second (the acceleration due to gravity) – and they can do that even if you aren’t a trained athlete.

This is a huge amount of power and more to the point it is an amount of power that your back and arm muscles are completely incapable of delivering.  You could test this for yourself, although I would not recommend it, by attempting to “jump” your whole body into the air from a pull-up or by using your back muscles.  Arm muscles are fast, but lack the power of the legs.  Your back muscles are very strong but contain far fewer fast fibres and more slow fibres suited to maintaining body posture.

Leg power is therefore the foundation of a good drive.  There may be different opinions on how we build on that foundation, but all coaches will agree that without the legs there is no drive.

For those interested in the anatomical detail, there is a useful summary of the muscles used in jumping here:

When we jump, knee extension and hip extension occur simultaneously. We unbend (extend) knee and hip joints at the same time to launch ourselves into the air.  Similarly in rowing, the drive involves forcefully straightening the knees and opening the angle between the thighs and the trunk.  However, in rowing, while we are using mostly the same muscles, we differ in the sequence in which they are used.

The difference can perhaps be summed up best in the following diagrams, showing how both the knee angle (K) and the hip angle (H) open during the stroke:

Figure 1. Catch Position

In the catch position (Figure 1) the rower is compressed into frontstops with the legs flexed at the knees and the body flexed at the hips.  We have acute angles at both the knee (K) and hips (H) while the arms are at their longest (A).  In a normally rigged boat, the rower’s heels will be raised off the footplate to maximise the length of the stroke and the pressure on the footplate at the start of the drive will applied through the balls of the feet.

Figure 2. Drive Position

During the drive the rower executes a sequence of movements.  First, the knees extend, opening the angles at the knee (K1) and hip (H1). The arms remain extended, so their angle at the elbow (A) remains unchanged.  As the knees extend the heels come down onto the footplate to support the drive.

Figure 3. Finish Position

Next the rower leans back, opening the hip angle further (H2).  Lastly, the arms are used, drawing the stroke through to the chest and closing the angle at the elbow (A2).  At the finish position the knees are fully extended and hips partly extended (at full extension the rower would be lying down in the boat).

The sequence ‘legs, body, arms’ is fundamental, but there are different schools of thought as to how soon during the drive the body should be used.  I favour late use of the body, mainly because it helps rowers to focus their effort on maximising use of the legs and therefore of the exceptional power they provide to the stroke.

  1. Common errors during the drive

2.1 Early use of the back. A common novice error (particularly with older novices) is to combine the use of the legs and body, swinging the upper body back as soon as the catch is taken. This error synchronises the knee extension to the hip extension, very much as they synchronise when we jump.  The knees take longer to extend and the force applied to the blade – particularly in the early part of the drive – is therefore reduced.  Sometimes, when you ask such rowers to stop using their bodies and arms and row ‘legs only’, rather than driving the slide to backstops position, their leg drive stops after just a few centimetres at the point when they would start using their backs – showing that they are not making full use of their legs.

In my view, if as a coach you can get rowers to focus on delivering the full power of their legs for the full length of the slide you have a good basis on which to build a powerful stroke.

A rower’s back needs to be strong enough to transmit this power from the legs to the arms.  This is not always the case with younger rowers who sometimes have a tendency during the drive to let the legs push the slide back faster than their upper bodies.  Their hip angle tends not to open as the knee angle opens (an error we call “bum-shoving” in the UK).

This situation becomes reversed with older rowers, ex-rugby players and others whose upper-body strength is proportionally greater than that of their legs. They will tend to use their backs early in the stroke and will under-use their legs. That is not to say that they don’t get to backstops, but they lose the legs-body-arms sequence and use their backs rather than their legs as the main driver of their stroke.

2.2 Early use of the arms is another novice error. Novice rowers often focus on the movement of the blade rather than the movement of their bodies and in their anxiety to move the blade at the catch they use their arms to pull on it rather than pushing with their legs.  As was pointed out earlier, the arms can deliver only a fraction of the power available from the legs, so it is important to encourage these rowers to apply pressure on the footplate as the best way to move the boat.

While the arms are fully extended during most of the drive they are working under tension and their muscle strength is not a factor in the power of the first part of the stroke.  I often tell rowers to imagine their outside arm (the arm connecting the shoulder to the end of the handle) as a rope with a hook on the end.  Its muscles are not used until the legs and body have done most of the work.  Early use of the arms will actually reduce the amount of power applied to the handle in the first part of the stroke because the amount of weight (or pull) which can be supported by the flexed arm is limited by the strength of the flexing muscles – mainly the biceps, whereas the amount of weight which can be supported by the extended arm is limited by its tensile strength, which is far greater.

  1. Blade depth

While there is at least a partial consensus on the good and bad technique in terms of body position (more on this later) there are a variety of views on the most efficient use of the blade. My personal preference as a coach of club and college rowers, is to encourage them to use the carefully engineered buoyancy of the blade as their guide to blade depth during the drive.  In other words, I coach my rowers to let the squared blade float in the water at its ‘natural’ depth. Other coaches argue that more efficient transmission of force to the water is achieved by planting the spoon deeper so that its top edge is 4 to 5 centimetres below the surface during the drive.  This may well be effective for elite scullers, but I think the video evidence from our best rowers shows that they work with the buoyancy of the blade to set the correct depth.  Watch this video for example from 3:09 to 3:19 (unfortunately the IOC only allow us to watch this on YouTube).

  1. Washing out”

At the end of the drive as the rowers lean back and use the power of their arms to bring the handle toward their body, some rowers to pull the handle down into their laps or sometimes even to their upper thighs.  This has the effect of bringing the spoon up out of the water before the stroke is finished, producing a telltale “wash” of agitated water on the surface rather than a deep “puddle” of swirling water at the finish.  It also has the effect of lowering their rigger, upsetting the balance of the boat.  I will cover the finish in more detail in another blog, but for the purposes of coaching a good drive, the way to avoid this error is to ensure that the spoon remains floating at its designed depth until the handle is almost at the rower’s chest at which point the outside hand taps down to extract the blade cleanly (with a minimum of splash) from the water.

  1. Variations in drive technique

A comprehensive survey of the various techniques taught for the drive is beyond the scope of this blog, but luckily, for those who are interested, there are some useful summaries available online. This paper by Theo Körner:

dates from the early 1990’s and compares what were then known as the GDR (East German) and the Adam (West German) style.  The Adam style dates from the 1960s and encourages rowers to use their backs earlier than we would today.  The GDR style is much closer to modern techniques and emphasises an early leg drive followed by later use of the back.

Another paper by Dr. Valery Kleshnev on the biomechanics of rowing outlines two further variations, the Rosenberg style (from the USA) and the Grinko style (from the former USSR)

see his figure 11 on page 16 reproduced here:

Kleshnev analyses these four styles in terms of their relative emphasis on leg or trunk musculature and their tendency toward simultaneous or consequent timing.  He then shows typical power curves for each style – his figure 12 page 16 reproduced here:

He makes the following point which I find interesting: “Styles with the trunk emphasis (Rosenberg and DDR styles) produce more power because of better use of big muscle groups as the gluteus and longissimus muscles. However, these muscles are congenitally slow because they are intended to maintain body posture”

I don’t know how Kleshnev measured the different contributions of legs, arms and trunk but the overall shape of the Grinko style curve (d) in the figure above is closest to my view of the ideal for a well-trained rower.  Peak power is delivered early by the legs, with the trunk and arms becoming effective later in the drive.

The shaping of the power curve is of course best rehearsed on a rowing machine where the rower gets immediate visual feedback on its shape.

While as I have said, the drive phase of the rowing stroke is more about power than technique, it is not without its subtleties and coaches continue to experiment in pursuit of more efficiently applied effort and greater boat speed.


Four rules for winter vacation training

With the winter vacation approaching for many college and school rowers in the northern hemisphere, I thought it might be useful to put together some guidelines for rowers who want to come back from the vacation fit rather than fat.

Rule 1.  Frequency beats intensity. Given that this is a rower’s blog, I put this rule as #1 because if you take only this one rule away from this blog it will have been worthwhile. Your current body shape and level of fitness is primarily the outcome of just two factors: 1) your genetic inheritance from your parents and 2) your lifestyle.  In the context of this blog your ‘lifestyle’ is your day-to-day activity pattern. If you have an active lifestyle your body shape will tend to show firmer muscle tone and better posture and your cardio-vascular system will tend to have an increased capacity for carrying oxygen. The reverse will be true if you have a sedentary lifestyle.  To be effective in terms of competitive performance, training must be part of your lifestyle. That means quite simply it should be something you do most days. If necessary, keep a diary and schedule regular times in it for your training. If your training is important to you then it will take priority over other activities and your friends and family will respect and adapt to your schedule. You can of course compensate to some extent for less frequent training by increasing the intensity of exercise when you do train, but to be a competitive rower even at club level you really have to be training most days, because it is the things you do most days that your body adapts to.

Rule 2.  Know your training programme.  Which specific exercises should you be doing and how should you be doing them? While it is true that to some extent all physical activity is ‘exercise’, not all exercise is training. Think for a moment about the metabolic requirements of a 100m sprint as compared to a 10k run. The 100m sprint requires a (primarily) anaerobic burst of energy and the metabolisation of nutrients already present in the muscles and bloodstream – not least because there simply isn’t time to transport them from elsewhere in the body. The 10k run on the other hand is an aerobic exercise which depends on the mobilization of the body’s carbohydrate and fat stores over an extended period of time. Unsurprisingly therefore, sprint training and endurance training are not the same and do not produce the same results. Rowers of course need both types of training and need to be aware of how much of each they are doing.  So a clear itemised programme which delivers a mix of aerobic and (some) anaerobic training, and a sufficient variety of exercises to stop you from getting bored is essential. In addition to training their metabolic systems, rowers also need to build muscular strength. More rowing is the best way to do this, but time spent on the ergometer comes a close second. In my opinion weight training comes third and training with heavy weights should only be done after an induction course with a competent instructor. After all, a training programme which puts an athlete out of action through injury is a waste of time and effort.

Rule 3.  Know your performance numbers.  Measure your performance every time you train and keep a careful record with dates and times. This is easiest to do on the erg, but can also be done for runs (when you know the distance or always run the same distance) and weight training. It is less easy on the river – an uncontrolled environment which is unlikely to be the same session to session – or when doing things like circuit training, so don’t get obsessive about this, but it is very motivating to see your performance improving over time.

Rule 4.  Aim for regular, incremental improvement.  If you are training regularly and effectively then this WILL happen.  As a coach I would much rather see regular incremental performance improvements – even small improvements, than inconsistent training delivering irregular highs and lows.

Finally, a hint. Do your first training session on the first day of your vacation. It gets you and the people around you used to your training schedule as quickly as possible and once it becomes part of your routine it becomes much easier to maintain. “Start as you mean to go on” is good advice on many levels.

Happy holidays.


Eyes in the Boat

Eyes in the Boat

I was recently asked to write an article for a new rowing magazine* (Row360 – The subject of the article was a new coaching aid developed in Australia called Sibi At its heart, Sibi is an array of rigger mounted high speed (100 frames / second) video cameras which monitor rowers and their blades during an outing. The hardware is backed up by some very clever software which allows coaches capture, edit and manage the images they need from this array without spending hours on a PC.  It tied in very well with my last blog post on the use of smartphones in coaching (Regattas and telephones – are you making best use of them?) although mainly to show how much more we will be able to do with purpose-built video systems rather than general purpose smartphones.

Here’s the full version of the article:

Eyes in the Boat – An Australian Innovation

If there is one technology which has enhanced the coach’s life over the last few years it is digital photography.  Whether as video or stills, digital photography has allowed coaches to hold up a mirror to their crews and say “THAT’S what I’m talking about”.  From smartphones to Go-Pro cameras to professional video equipment, there’s a price point for every club and every crew.

This year, an Australian company called YePP has taken the next logical step and is marketing a product designed specifically for rowing (called the sibisystem – sibi is short for “see it believe it” ) which allows coaches to capture each individual crew member, simultaneously, at 100 frames/sec, during a session, from multiple, dual-lens cameras mounted on the boat.  Given the sheer amount of video ‘footage’ their system can create, they have wisely added comprehensive video editing and analysis software as part of their product.  So now, in addition to capturing the coach’s eye view from the bank or launch, coaches can record much more detailed close-up, stroke-by-stroke video of each rower’s performance.

Controlled via an sibicleansmallintuitive iPhone app, training requirements are minimal and crucially a recording can be triggered after an event occurs (catching a crab for example) allowing the coach to collect video from before, during and after the event from all cameras simultaneously with a single ‘trigger’.

When I first heard about it, I must admit I thought this was probably an “elite squad only” product, but in fact schools have been among the first users – and potentially in any rowing club which doesn’t have enough coaches to go round or where coaches also have to cox their crews (my least favourite coaching option) this product could be a real game-changer.  While the coach can continue to provide real-time feedback, YePP’s sibisystem provides indisputable objective evidence as to how the rowers and blades were working during  a session – both in terms of individual technique and their timing with the rest of the crew.

The user’s view

For those of you who are interested in the technical details of the cameras there’s a webpage here:  However, I was more interested in discovering what the coaches and rowers who had used the system thought of it.  I was able to speak to two users on YePP’s Early Adopter Programme from Melbourne Girls Grammar, namely Christian Neeson, Director of Physical Performance and Health, and Lachlan Beckett, Head of Rowing.  Melbourne Girls Grammar have a history of innovation in rowing, having put the first girls crews out on the Yarra River as early as 1905.  Not surprisingly therefore, they were among the first to use video recording as a routine part of their coaching repertoire and as early as 2010 were experimenting with GoPro cameras attached to boats, blades and coxes heads.  While they got lots of useful footage from the cameras, coaches also discovered the practical limitations of the technology and the hours of time it took to review and edit the material placed real constraints on how often cameras could be used.

Working with YePP allowed them to make a major step forward in their coaching.  In Christian Neeson’s opinion “the ease with which we can ‘time-travel’ through the record of an outing makes a real difference and as a bonus we’ve also saved on the costs of having people following the boats with cameras”.  With 120 athletes to look after, he now has an archive of individual recordings for much of the squad which can be reviewed with coaches, parents and the athletes themselves.


As Head of Rowing, Lachlan Beckett is responsible for a team of 36 coaches and uses the sibisystem to track the progress of individual coach’s training plans.  He also feels it has changed the way they coach. “Traditionally, coaches would spend time during an outing sorting out issues of technique with individual rowers.  This would occasionally lead to rowers feeling ‘picked on’ or neglected – which is certainly not what you want in a school environment.  YePP has allowed each rower access to an entirely objective record of their own performance, annotated if necessary by both their coach and themselves, which they can own and which can form the basis of a more obviously equitable teaching environment. So they’re happier, more proficient technically as rowers and more competitive as a result.”

SibiSystem  – Overview

Unlike general purpose video products, the Sibisystem has been designed for rowers and no-one else.  The cameras are not just waterproof, they are designed for simple attachment to racing boats and their two lenses capture synchronised video of both rower and blade.  With up to eight synchronised cameras (16 views) per boat coaches can capture up to 200×15 second sequences at 100 frames/second during an outing, triggered from an iPhone app.

The hardware is controlled by an integrated suite of software designed around coaches and rowers. Video archives can be maintained for each individual rower and annotated by both coach and rower.  Recordings can be compared to show progress over time. The system is self-contained and needs no additional IT infrastructure other than in Internet link. The current version of the product is based on five years of research and development and additional features are in the product pipeline for future release.

YePP have a team in place to support both the ongoing development of the product and the successful deployment in clubs around the world. With the financial capabilities of most rowing clubs in mind, they have designed a purchase plan based on a small up-front payment followed by an ongoing monthly fee.  For this each customer gets 8 dual-lens Cameras, 4 Bridges, 1 Hub, accessories and 98 User licences.  The fee includes all upgrades and new releases.

Is it for you?

My guess is that the coaches who will make best use of YePP’s sibisystem are probably (like Melbourne Girls Grammar) already routinely using video and photography as part of their coaching toolkit.  They will most appreciate the step up in capability that it provides and their rowers will gain the greatest competitive advantage from it.  And to rowing clubs and coaches out there who aren’t using video yet, the message is “look out”, because coaching is changing – and YePP’s sibisystem is setting a new benchmark for the coach/rower relationship.

Full product descriptions and technical details are available on the company website at .

*This is a longer version of the article published in the September/October 2014 edition of Row360.

Coaching crews for competition – Part 1

Rowing is for everyone – and some rowers can be perfectly happy rowing purely for their own recreational pleasure.  For the majority of rowers however, at least part of their motivation derives from an ambition to compete (and even to win) against other crews from other clubs.  The winter Head Racing season and the summer Regatta season exist to provide club rowers with the opportunity to build their skills and fitness and to test them against their peers. This blog is not aiming to be a comprehensive guide to competitive preparation – it is more of a list of the points crews and coaches need to address if they plan to compete effectively.

From the coach’s point of view, learning to row and learning to race are two different things.  In simple terms the heart of the difference lies in the contrast between coaching individual rowers and coaching crews (sometimes – perhaps confusingly – referred to as ‘boats’) collectively.  Training for competition involves coaching a crew through all phases of the race from before the start to after the finish.  This training will involve deploying the rowing techniques they have learned so as to deliver the best boat speed for the duration of the race.  While strength and fitness are fundamental components of their collective performance, the essence of rowing is that strength and fitness on their own are never enough.  If they were, rowing would be a much simpler and predictable sport.  The ability to maintain good individual and collective rowing technique under the physical and psychological pressure of competition is above all what differentiates winning from losing performance.

No crew is going to be perfect, either in its technical capabilities or fitness, so the coach’s job is always to make the best of the crews, boats and training facilities available to create a winning combination.  My own view is that coaching crews for competition should be centred on training crews at ‘race pace’.  There is a place for low-rate exercises when training crews on individual aspects of technique, but a crew – particularly an inexperienced crew – is unlikely to be comfortable at race pace if they only ever row at that pace during competitions.  Extended work at race pace in training prepares the crew for the different ‘feel’ of both boat and blade at speed.  It also provides a vital part of their fitness training.  Coxes also benefit, because a boat moving at race pace is a very different challenge.  Things happen far more quickly and if the cox is new to race pace they are likely to make mistakes.

Coaching crews for competition will include:

  1. Land training
  2. Erg performance monitoring
  3. Start sequences
  4. Pre- competition
  5. Crew / seat selection

Land training.

Land training is an ongoing progrramme for competitive rowers.  It starts at the beginning of the season and continues throughout the season although at least in the UK, when long spring and summer evenings make weeknights available for water training, it may taper off slightly. It should include at a minimum:

  • Sprint ergs up to 2k metres
  • Endurance ergs – at least up to 2 x 30 minutes (BR recommends no more than 30 minutes uninterrupted rowing on the erg)
  • Circuit training – including light weights and core stability training
  • Weight training (free weights, not machines)


  • Running (3km – 5km)
  • Cycling (5km to 10km)
  • Swimming
  • Other aerobic cross-training

Erg performance monitoring

The ergometer, as its name implies is primarily a measuring machine.  It can provide a very accurate measurement of an athlete’s power output over a range of distances and speeds. Most coaches use the 2k test as the main metric, but 1k and 500m sprint tests may also be useful.

Start sequences

Over any distance up to 2km, a crew’s performance over the first 250 – 500 metres will be a significant factor in their final position.  While it is not possible to win a race with a good start, it is certainly possible to lose a race with a poor start.  Start sequences are first of all a way of avoiding a poor start by providing a pre-planned sequence of strokes designed to get a boat up to race speed as quickly as possible.  I have heard coaches recommend everything from full slide, firm pressure strokes to half-slide half pressure strokes to start a boat moving – there is no agreed ‘best’ start sequence.  For most club crews a start sequence has to provide the ‘low gears’ required to accelerate a boat quickly and their most important contribution is to keep the crew rowing together.  In most cases, the difference between a good start and a poor start is simply that in a good start every crew member gets to take all the planned strokes, whereas in a poor start, strokes get missed.

Pre-competition preparation

Competitions differ in the distances over which they are rowed, the nature of the race against other crews (bumping races, head races, side-by-side races), the start (rolling, stake boat, pole and line).  All of these differences should be reflected in the training plan for the crew. Race tactics appropriate to a bumping race are going to be wrong for a head race, a rolling start is obviously different from a standing start – and why do so many coaches entirely forget to coach coxes and crews on the intricacies of  reversing accurately and quickly onto a stake boat?

As far as time allows, the training plan before a race should familiarise the crew with every aspect of it, including the start, the race tactics, the distance and the speed at which that distance should be covered.  Ideally, every race should be raced to a plan rather than conducted as an experiment.

Crew / seat selection

Not every coach will have the luxury of being able to select a crew of his or her choice from a wide pool of potential crew members.  Where this is possible, accurately measured seat-racing tests can provide a useful indicator of boat performance.  However, it is not simply a matter of choosing the strongest or even the tallest.  Technical ability and competitive temperament – the ability to maintain performance under psychological and physical stress – are also important.  Even experienced coaches will disagree over details of crew selection and it remains as much an art as a science, but getting a crew to work well together is crucial and takes time.  It is their collective performance as a crew which matters.

Incidentally, in coxed boats, the choice of cox is as important as the choice of rowers as the cox will be responsible (with the rower in the stroke seat) for executing the race plan and is a vital part of the crew.

Coaching the 2k Test

The 2k test is a standard performance metric across the rowing world. While its value is by no means endorsed by all coaches, it is a test likely to be faced by most rowers and so it is worth knowing something of the alternative approaches to getting a good result.

Have a plan

The worst possible approach for individual rowers is simply to get onto the erg and to row as hard and as fast as you can for 2000 metres.  Human physiology evolved to deliver sprint speed over short distances (to escape predators) and slower endurance speed over long distances (for hunting).  Neither of these capabilities is appropriate to the 2k test.  The 2k is in effect a long distance sprint – which is why it can be a painful experience and why a plan is required to execute it effectively.

Warm up first

The 2k test requires that your heart, lungs and muscles are working efficiently from start to finish, so you need to start with your body in an active state as opposed to a resting state. To get your body from ‘resting’ to ‘active’ requires at least 10 minutes of sustained exercise. During these ten minutes, the heart rate accelerates, breathing becomes deeper, blood vessels dilate and muscle temperature rises.  A good warm-up aims to take the body through the transition from resting to active gradually but as quickly as possible.  Proper hydration and food intake the day before your test is also important, but don’t eat in the three hours before the test.

Steady state plan

The simplest type of plan is based on an understanding of the 500m split time you need to deliver in order to achieve your target 2k time.  For example, to achieve a 7 minute 2k time a rower would need to average 1:45/500m.  In simple terms therefore, the rower would get to this split time as soon as possible and stay there for the duration of the test. This would mean that for the first part of the test the rower is working below maximum effort, while for the latter part of the test he or she would be working at or near maximum effort.  This is difficult for inexperienced rowers who find it hard to judge their endurance and test to over-exert themselves in the first half of the test and struggle to maintain performance during the second half.  Experienced rowers who have never used anything other than a steady state plan should at least experiment occasionally with variable state plans in pursuit of their optimum 2k performance.

Variable state plans

These plans attempt to shape the rowers performance so as to deliver different levels of performance during the 2k test which result in the best possible overall time.  The variable plan which I teach divides the 2k distance into 4 x 500m pieces at constant rate.  The first 500m piece is rowed at firm pressure, the second at light pressure,  then at increasing pressure during the third and fourth 500m pieces.  As with the steady state plan, there tends to be a temptation for inexperienced athletes to ‘overdo’ the second 500m sector. However, if this can be avoided, the second sector will take longest and provides recovery time during the test which allows the rower to deliver a much faster third and fourth sector and (ideally) a faster overall time than with a steady state plan.  I have seen rowers take over ten seconds off their 2k time by changing from a steady state to a variable state plan.


Whichever plan you use, performance will improve with practice.  For too many rowers the 2k test is an occasional trial of strength, unrelated to their other training, which they have to survive during winter training. The truth is that the 2k is like any other activity, it can be trained for and with practice, performance will improve.

Coaching use of the 2k

There is absolutely no reason why high-rate 2k pieces should not be a regular part of the training plan.  By building rowers’ familiarity with the exercise, it can be made less intimidating and a more accurate measure of performance.  The 2K test is most useful as a regular, routine component of the training cycle, as familiar to every rower as weight training or gym work.  Rather than making the 2k test into a twice-yearly initiation rite, make it a routine exercise to be practiced like any other.

Indoor Training – The Erg

The erg (or ergo or rowing machine) is the next best thing to rowing a boat as far as training rowers is concerned – and arguably better than the boat for measuring a rower’s power output accurately and repeatably.  Sadly, for too many rowers, the erg is an instrument of torture to be avoided if at all possible.


From the coach’s point of view, the erg is just too valuable to be left out of the training programme so it is part of our job to make it less intimidating to the less-than-elite rowers who make up the majority of most clubs.  I find the following approaches helpful:

  1. Coach your rowers on how to use the erg.  It is an ideal platform for rehearsing the shape and sequence of a correct rowing stroke.  A surprising number of rowers are self-taught on the erg and use very poor technique, so wasting hours of training which could have been used to build useful ‘muscle – memory’.
  2. Ask rowers to do their erg sessions in groups, ideally following ‘stroke’.  Just as marching makes walking long distances easier, rowing together makes a 30 minute piece easier.
  3. Make it a rule that rowers have a 2 minute rest off the erg to stretch and take a drink after a maximum of 30 minutes exercise.
  4. Have each rower keep a personal record of their erg performance so that they know exactly what level of performance they are aiming for on every erg session.
  5. Vary the erg programme with short sprints, long UT2 sessions, 1k, 2k and 5k pieces. Use the Concept 2 website occasionally for their ‘Workout of the Day’ (

Indoor training at most clubs is centred on the erg and as with so many other exercise options, frequency beats intensity.   It is an excellent route to fitness and deserves to be used to best effect.