Rowing Machine: Using the Best Resistance Levels for Most Effective Workouts

Rowing Machine (ERG)Do you ever wonder what about the resistance levels for the Rowing Machines (aka: Ergs)? Do you set them to the highest level to get the hardest workout? Or do you set it to the lowest levels because you don’t want to work that hard? Let’s unpack this.

The most effective use of the erg is to replicate the actions and rhythms used to row on the water (even if you’ve never crewed before and don’t intend to.) To that end you want to set the resistance or Drag Factor to what you would experience in the water which for the average adult (male or female) is around 115. Generally, that is between 4.5 to 6.5 on the resistance setting; however, every machine varies so it’s a good idea to calibrate the drag factor each time you use the erg to work out. To do this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit on the erg and prepare to start rowing.
  2. Turn on the Concept 2 computer by pressing the Main Menu button
  3. When the list of options appear, choose More Options
  4. Choose Display Drag Factor
  5. Start rowing as you normally do; when you get a consistent number adjust the resistance up or down to 105 – 125. (I am 6’ 5”, weigh 220 pounds and generally row at 120.)

The drag factor is designed to replicate the kind of boat you would be rowing. The smaller sleeker shells will have less drag in the water and will therefore glide further with less force applied by the oars. Big, old, and beat up shells (like what are used for beginning classes) will not glide through the water as fast or as far thus they will cause considerably more drag in the water. So when you are lifting that resistance lever to the highest level understand that what you are really doing is getting a slower and shorter recovery, or glide time. If you want to work on your power and strength focus instead on a long, even, and hard push with your legs, a smooth engaged lean back with your torso and an even clean pull with your arms. Then reverse that pattern two times slower on the recovery slide.

Rowing at the highest setting does not equate better strength training; it can promote poor technique which can lead to injury, especially in the back and shoulders. Conversely, rowing at the lowest setting can be a really useful tool for developing core control and stability. Many coaches will have their rowers do drills at the lowest setting to develop those areas.

The best way to develop your strength on an erg is to focus improving your stroke rates and times while increasing distances per stroke traveled. I will be getting into these details in future posts.

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