Rowing Technique in the Gym


eights sil

Ergo (Gym Rowing Machine) Suggestions.

  1. The ergo is an excellent machine for checking your leg, body and arms technique, not to be confused with a fitness operation, which is another aspect of the Ergo. Used as a fitness operation, genuine rowing or sculling techniques go by the board, you can be a highly successful Gym Monkey on an Ergo, but with very little true rowing technique.

  2. But by identifying your legs, body and arms co-ordination in a static situation is a good way to start, in a boat the novice has very little opportunity to gain this ability, because they are fighting to control the boat.

  3. The ideal is that two or three people watch, identifying each others good points and failures in their Ergo technique, this gives a greater understanding of technique and exchanges of ideas are always constructive.

  4. The front stop or imaginary front stop, depending on your slide length, should be a comfortable driving off point, in respect of your legs.

  5. If you are leaning too far forward (over reaching), the slide will go before the body (Shooting the slide) and losing the bulk of the leg power.

  6. If you are too upright and your legs are folded to almost vertical you lose the ability get a powerful drive off the legs. Some Ergo training guides suggest that the legs should be vertical and the action is three part, legs, body, arms, this may be fine for Ergo Competitions, but in rowing, the complete movement is one piece, totally smooth and fluid with a fast hands recovery swinging on to the next stroke. This is not really possible on the Ergo, the speed of the boat and the hand recovery enables you to have an easy swing forward into the next stroke naturally, the Ergo has no speed, you are forced to pull yourself up on your feet, the least amount of reliance that you can do pulling yourself up on your feet the closer you get to a rowing stroke, never have your feet strapped in tight, you become very aware of pulling on the feet when your feet are loose in the stretcher. If you pull yourself up on your feet in a boat, the sudden weight movement will cause the boat to bounce causing greater friction and slowing the boat and the run, the smoother the operation the more run you get on the boat. The Boat Race a couple of years ago, Cambridge were bouncing the boat when they started getting tired, Oxford's boat was running smoothly with better rowing technique.

    four Sil

  7. If you have a slight body lean and your legs are comfortably set to drive the slide backward, I have always considered that to be the most effective, there is always a variation because of leg power and length and flexibility with fitness as you become more proficient.

  8. The aim is for the legs to push the body backward, with the body uncurling as the arms accelerate the simulated blade through the water, all finishing together at your back stop position, with a clean swing forward to the next stroke. There is a school of thought that you should always have a straight back, maintaining a straight back in a boat involves muscles opposing each other to keep that position, whereas an easy curl produces a smoother more powerful stroke. Maintaining a straight back can cause a two three piece action.

  9. Avoid a long lay back, this will put the boat down, a comfortable finish with a very slight back inclination will give a powerful finish.

  10. In Ergo competitions the rowers hands come straight off their chests, this is not possible in a boat, the blade has to come out of the water, which involves pushing the hands down and forward in a smooth movement, it is always worth doing this on any Ergo exercise, the aim is technique followed by power. Power first creates many problems and it is far harder to introduce technique to someone who has been developing massive power on an Ergo, many fail to understand the extreme precision involved in quality rowing or sculling.

  11. If you start with technique, you understand the application of power. A similar sport that requires extreme precision is golf, a super strong golfer with no technique may hit the ball 300+ yards, very occasionally straight, most times all over the course, if they have technique they can harness that power far more often. Rowing and sculling is equally as complex.

  12. I can’t stress enough, to have someone watching, it is extremely easy to develop faults working by yourself, it also takes a lot longer to remove them from a coaches point of view, understanding and watching is vital.

  13. Having sculled in the top class  in the country I was always very aware of continual room for improvement, so getting technique right on the Ergo is vital and then the boat.

  14. Suggested Ergo exercises, start with a three quarter pressure low rate for 1 minute, 10 secs very light low rate, 1 minute full pressure low rate, 10 secs light low rate, three quarter pressure again etc. remove the 10 secs light between the three quarter and full pressure, by going at low rate you can concentrate on technique. Aim for 2 miles first of all, building up to 4 miles or the equivalent Kms, check the rates, timing and distances constantly, row on your head, thinking rowers and scullers are the successful ones.

  15. A short Gym exercise after warm up, 1 minute flat out, 1 minute very low pressure, repeat three time and take a breather.  Aim at building up to 2 minutes flat out, half a minute very light, 1.5 minutes flat out, half a minute very light followed by 1 minute flat out and another half a minute very light and take a breather. Before you do this ensure your technique is right, don’t try this until you are reasonably fit, if you have any medical problems don’t do this without guidance. Rowing is a sport where you can row yourself to a standstill in twenty strokes, when you are rowing the harder you row the harder the water becomes to complete a stroke.

  16. Once you have established a comfortable style you can increase the rate, but maintain the technique, the three quarter pressure should be at a controlled rate, say 26 strokes to the minute, the full pressure between 32-35 strokes to the minute. The full pressure rowing can be extended two three or four minutes.

  17. If you want to get the rate up always shorten up forward on the slide, a series of three quarter or seven eighth strokes will always put the rate up, the same applies in the boat, trying to raise the rate by rowing harder only works if you are super fit and a great oarsman, if you are not shortening forward, means the Ergo is still running fast from the last stroke, so you can add further speed to it, but you have to maintain the faster rowing stroke, the faster the boat goes the easier it is to raise the rate and maintain it.

  18. Being fit is one thing, but being boat fit is another, the Ergo can help you to maintain that boat fitness.

  19. Breathing, try and maintain one breath per stroke in hard rowing, I breath OUT at the end of the stroke and IN coming forward, it is vital that you establish a breathing system that is compatible with you, breathing out of control can cause massive problems.

  20. Finally you will often hit the fitness wall after one to two minutes in a race, you have to row through it, and you do and your best rowing normally takes place after that.

Pair Sil

Gym technique on an ergo is frequently over looked and replaced by ergo competitions, which reading the guide lines, creates a three or four piece rowing action.


Firstly to increase your rate you have to pull yourself up on the feet to get to the next stroke, a complete rowing “No, No”, since it bounces the boat, the action to get the best ergo result involves a four phase movement of legs, body, arms and pulling yourself up on the feet, rather than a one piece smooth movement, as previously mentioned.


The term,  regularly applied to the ergo enthusiasts without technique are Gym Monkeys, incredibly fit and strong, but will always be beaten by a crew with technique.