Question of the Day

I think this is a basic technique thing, but a lot of people seem to forget to watch their arms when we’re erging because they’re so focused on everything else. I know what the finish looks like but what position would you say the arms/elbows are in at the catch? Also with arms on the erg, should they be going straight in and out? Like should the cord (or whatever it’s even called) be moving at all vertically? If that makes sense?

It’s hard to explain over the internet what it should look like – it’s definitely something you need to see, not read – so my suggestion would be to watch this video. It’s the best one I’ve seen because it really breaks down the stroke and shows what everything should look like. They start with the finish around the 0:56 mark, so if you pause the video there, you can see what her body looks like.

The video I’ve posted below is great because it shows you everything people do wrong. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the 1:10 mark where they demonstrate “chicken wing arms”. The opposite of the chicken wing arms that they don’t discuss is the T-Rex arms. If you look at a T-Rex’s arms (in this super educational photo) you can see that they’re tiny, close to the body, and weirdly bent at the wrists, which if you watch some people on the erg, that’s how they row.

Regarding how the arms should travel, yes, they should ideally be going straight in and out, for the most part. Think of the handle and chain as the oar; if your arms and hands are going all over the place on the erg, what do you think the oar would be doing if you were in the boat? The movement of the chain and hands is a hotly contested topic amongst rowers. Some rowers on the erg pull the handle all the way up to their chests because it makes the stroke longer and the output is a few more meters per stroke than if they’d pulled into their usual targets.

If you watch the video below, see if you can pause it at 0:26. Look at the rower in the bottom right of the screen with the black and red shorts. See how far he’s laying back and how the handle is practically level with his shoulders? Now, unpause it and go back a few seconds so you can watch him take the full stroke. Play from 0:23-0:28 a few times and watch the path that the chain travels. He pulls the handle in really high, which, because he lays back so far doesn’t change the chain height too much, but watch it on the recovery … he shoots his hands down from his chest to his knees as he swings up and then brings them even lower over his feet 0:30 before lifting them back up a few inches at the catch. These are all guys on the Canadian national team so obviously whatever they do works for them but for the sake of demonstrating a different side of the argument, this guy does a good job of making my point.

Personally, I think this style is really inefficient so when I’m trying to explain the stroke I tell people to pull somewhere between the bottom of their rib cage and their belly button and make the small c-turn with the handle to mimic tapping down with the oar handle. I think you should row the same on the erg as you do in the boat because why wouldn’t you? People who say “oh, I don’t do this in the boat” are wrong – whatever bad habits they have on the erg almost always translate into bad habits in the boat.

You don’t want the chain flopping up and down because a) that will break it, b) it’s inefficient, and c) it’s just wrong. I tell people to envision a table or something over their legs that they have to slide their hands across as they come into the catch. Visualizing your hands gliding across something helps them to stay level and avoid lifting their hands up (which in the boat would mean they’re catching before their bodies are actually at the catch), as well as from dropping them down too low which would lead to missing water and rowing it in.

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