Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hard rowers and holy rollers

For me, this has been an offseason of trying new things. It started with my mountain biking adventure at the Landmine Classic, where I crashed and had an awesome time. Last week, Rachelle pulled me into the part of the gym where they do stuff other than cycling or running, stuff with weights and lifting things, stuff that I'm (still) not at all comfortable with. Monday night there was my first adventure with the rollers, and last night was the TRI Rowing event at the Community Rowing boathouse on the Charles River here in Boston. 

The Community Rowing Boathouse
The indoor training room is upstairs in the back of the building. The last of the 3 platforms sticking out of the second floor in the picture above is off the room we were in. The event was put on by Concept2 rowing, one of the leading companies in the rowing ergometer market (The US olympic team uses the models we used last night). The idea was to show triathletes how rowing could be beneficial for their training. If those triathletes just happened to want to buy a rowing machine later on, so much the better. Definitely not a hard sales push. 

The class was co-lead by our team captain, Sunny, who is evidently good at just about everything. She is certified on Concept2 machines, and acted essentially as our coxswain and rowing technique model. She had talked to me about the idea of rowing as part of training before this event got scheduled, so I wasn't surprised to see her heavily involved. 

The class started out with some simple slow easy rowing to get technique down. The hardest part of technique for me is keeping my knees together. i feel like the muscles inside my thighs (so groin and whatever else is in there) need to be stronger. This was always a weakness in hockey, and probably affects my running and biking as well. Everything else felt good, even my back, which surprised me because my clearly my weakest link in sports (100 extra pounds mostly in my midsection will do that).

Once everyone had the basic form down, we worked on trying to find a comfortable speed at which to row and still get a decent amount of power output. We first measured this in terms of our time per 500 meters. They explained that 26 - 28 strokes per minute is a good starting point and at that pace i was able to get down to about 1:45 seconds per 500. Of course that was going basically as hard as I could, and I couldnt sustain that pace for very long. I mostly averaged around 2:20 per 500.

Next we learned about pacing, which involved rowing intervals of increasing pace. We started at about 26 strokes per minute and worked to get over 32 strokes a minute. It doesnt seem like a big change, but it definitely felt like a big change. The instructor compared it to swimming, where you can be really efficient in getting across the water in as few strokes as possible, or you can put out less power and use more strokes, which is obviously less efficient. Finding a way to still generate a significant amount of power while doing more strokes is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak.

Then, we went for pure power. How hard could you row while keeping your strokes per minute around 28. Being the biggest guy in the room, I have an advantage is that I can really get my weight behind my pulls. We measured our power output in watts, and for a short time I was able to get my wattage up around 320, which was second best in the room. It shows that the weight helps and hurts, because getting the wattage up is great, but not being able to sustain it sucks. In the end I averaged around 300 watts, which I was fairly happy with for 3 minutes worth of rowing.

Finally, after a much needed break, the leaders divided us into 3 person teams, and we did a relay race. One ergometer, three people. The idea was that we'd row a combined 2000 m, with no one allowed to row more than 1000 m. You had to be smart during transitions, as the clock ran the whole time, even if no one was rowing. I rowed as hard as I could and did 2 segments of about  2 minutes each with my watts up over 300 for the most part. In the end, it took our team 8:30 to go 2000 m, which was about middle of the pack, I believe. And it was a lot of fun to do.

In the end, I was glad Rach and I did this, and I am definitely intrigued by the idea of rowing my way down some section of the Charles in a rowing shell. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to do it consistently, and I'm guessing even more to do it well. I'm going to add it into the gym rotations we're doing, so long as FitRec has machines that will allow it.

When I got home I was simply too beat to run, but after a long rest and a little dinner, I decided I want to try and tackle the rollers again. This time, instead of just hopping on and going for it, I devised a plan. I put the rollers up against the one flat wall in the living room and moved the couch next to the other side of the rollers so that the only way I'd wind up on the floor is if I somehow managed to take a header. 

My biggest problem on Monday night was that I just couldn't get stable enough on the bike to start pedaling properly, and then use my momentum and balance to keep going. So last night I used the wall as a crutch to get started and then once I was up and riding would move slightly to the right so as not to be touching the wall at all as I rode. I was able to do this successfully for a few minutes at a time, with just occasional bumping of the wall or leaning to avoid falling. I did take two falls onto the couch but no damage was done, and I found myself far more in control than the night before.

It's amazing how much I'm finding I need to work on balance and bike handling, but it's looking like I'll be able to gain a lot in those areas through using the rollers. I'm hoping that at some point in the near future I wont need the wall to get started on the bike so I stick the rollers in front of the TV and watch a Spinervals DVD while riding. But  even in just few minutes on the rollers, I'm finding this is definitely a good away to get in a winter workout. 


  1. Great job! Rollers scare the bejesus out of me so I'll stick to my trainer,which bores the bejesus out of me. Guess there are tradeoffs to everything.

  2. Sweet. Now give me my wheel back so I can ride my bike. Its 70 degrees out and no one should be riding inside.

  3. Glad to hear you had fun rowing and had more success with the rollers. Concept 2 rowing machine tip from the ol' been-there-done-that file: Tuck the back of your shirt in your shorts (unless it is already short enough) because material caught between rowing seat and track for said rowing seat makes for a jolting, not-so-pleasant experience!

  4. Happy Halloween, Ben -- thanks for rowing with us and for recalling in such great detail the drills and tips Meredith and I gave in the clinic. Good student, quick learner!

  5. Awesome report Ben! Thanks for the write-up. You did great rowing and it may work well for you in between rolling off rollers. Rollers still scare me. I'll stick with the erg. :-)

  6. Derek - yep, and really if you're careful with how you set it up, I think its pretty easy to prevent any serious injuries on the roller.

    Rach - I'll decide when you can have your wheel back LOL

    Anonymous - Thanks! I had fun! They're nice machines and I learned a lot in the class. Sadly most of my shirts arent big enough on me yet to hang down too far LOL

    Sunny - Hey Chief! It was a good class, and I felt like I learned a lot. I didn't hurt myself and I got a good workout!

    Meredith - Thanks again for the opportunity! It was neat to try. I'll definitely be mixing it in when I can find places to do it!