Wednesday 1 February 2012

Erging theory

With ergs increasingly in the news as you'll know from your emails, it is perhaps a good idea to put down a few wise words of advice.

Let's start off with a motto: "It never gets easier, you just go faster". In fact that isn't what I want to say at all, but its a great quote!

How not to hate ergs

This is the important bit. Many people seem to approach ergs as a once-a-year test for which-crew-will-I-get-into. Or, they do them so infrequently that every one becomes a quest for a new Personal Best or Seasons Best. This is a recipe for making every erg deeply unpleasant.

JH found Winter Workouts: Why do Rowers Fear the Erg? which expresses much the same thoughts. If you're doing running training, you don't do every practice run flat out, or near flat out. Ergs should be the same: do them regularly, but do most of them well backed off from your PB. They are supposed to be regular fitness training, not episodic tests.

How to like ergs

This is the converse of the above: positive advice as to what to do.

* Pick a piece to do regularly. Record your times / distances. Compete against yourself. Compete against your crew members, in a caring-sharing-group-huggy good way, not in a fanatical race to the top of the table way.
* Join heiaheia, and join the Chesterton group to share your training and see other people's.
* 30 mins is a good piece: long enough to gain fitness. 2k is good as a test piece but it isn't long enough.
* If you're new to all this (a) ask for advice and (b) consider starting off with 10 or 20 minutes before venturing on 30 mins.
* Establish a regular schedule, say once a week (assuming you're doing other training during the week; more if not).
* What works well for me is a "sawtooth" schedule, which is roughly: 30 minute pieces, done at PB-900m, then PB-700m, ..., PB-200m. That forms one set; repeat until fit. Possibly fling in a test piece at the end of each set or two. PB-800m is fairly easy, but you still sweat. PB-200m is hard work. Adjust the exact numbers to suit yourself.

How to do erg tests

However, if you really do want to try your hardest for a test, then you might like to read:

* How to: Pull a 2k test
* Something about rowing..? The 2K
* Dr Southgate's advice column from the old website.

Other good things about ergs

You can also use ergs to practice your rowing technique. Not all of it, obviously. But if you're told, in the boat, that you're rushing the slide; or you're told that you're not separating properly, or your hands-away is too slow: then all of that can be practised on the erg. And usually, if you'd like, someone will be available to coach you.

What we do with ergs

We're doing the ergs to get fit, at this time of year. But they will also form part of the crew selection process come the summer. So I'd better talk about how we compare people.

The current "table" is here, and it is aimed at Head of the Trent type distances, which is not too dissimilar to 30 minutes.

Weight adjustment

In order to compare scores there is a "raw" and a "weight adjusted" value. "raw" is, as you'd expect, exactly what the erg says. But in the real world a heavier person presses the boat down in the water and slows it down a little. So it is fair to correct the scores to a nominal weight. But a truely fair correction is elusive. What I've done is use a 2/9 power law for the weights, and correct against "your weight plus deadweight", where deadweight is your share of the boat+cox weight (which works out at about 20 kg). If all that is gobbledegook to you, all you need to know is that both the raw and adjusted values are judged, but the adjusted ought to have preference, and that in practice, it hasn't generally mattered which we use. If all that made sense but you'd like to know more, just ask, I can mail you the exciting spreadsheet for you to play with yourself.

Let's try to make it clearer by an example. The nominal weight I use is 85kg. So:

* Steven Andrews, who weighs 95kg and has a raw time of 21:12 for 6k, gets corrected to a longer time: 21:44.
* William Connolley, who weighs 73kg and has a raw time of 22:53, gets corrected to a shorter time of 22:07.

In the spirit of "how not to hate ergs" please don't treat the above as targets.


As a very rough guide, which we will feel free to tear up if we want to, the aim for M1 is an 8k 30 min piece, a 22 min 6k piece [*], and a sub-7-min 2k. All weight adjusted.

Since M1 tend to do more ergs, we have a better idea of their targets than anyone else. Very roughly, I'd say 7500m for 30 mins would be a decent target for M2; that then scales (via more magic; 1.06 power law) to a 23:40 6k and a 7:23 2k.

[*] More exactly, 22:07, but 22 is a nice round number.


* Ergodic theory


  1. Mark my words, no good ever came of newfangled mechanical stationary rowing devices! T'ain't natural!

  2. Give me a big enough erg and I will move the Earth - Some dodgy Greek