Rowing on the erg is an integral part of CrossFit, we often warm up and cool down on the rower and generally give ourselves a good thrashing on it somewhere in between. We have all done workouts where we either have to row a specific distance or an amount of calories, whether that encompasses the whole workout or if it is part of a workout. Here I will try to explain what the difference is, why it’s important, and if we should always be rowing faster.
First of all, the rower is an ergometer, it measures three things, how many times you make the flywheel go round (distance), how long you have been rowing for (time) and how quickly that flywheel slows down (watts).
Rowing for distance
Rowing for distance is pretty straightforward and most of us will understand that when you row faster, the distance you cover in a certain amount of time, increases linearly. So you get a 1 for 1 return on the effort that you put in. The number of times the flywheel goes around is the distance and if you add a time component to this, then we can work out our speed (distance / time), just like if we were travelling in a car. So, distance and time are a linear phenomenon and we can calculate for example rowing 1000m at 4mins/500m will take 8 minutes or at 2mins/500 will take us 4minutes. Therefore, in a 500m race, if I am rowing at 2:20/500m and you are rowing at 2:30/500m, I will get off the rower 10 seconds before you J.
Rowing for calories
Rowing for calories is less straightforward. As mentioned above, the rower measures how quickly the flywheel slows down, this is known as watts, which is then converted into calories. This is a measure of how much energy that you have transferred into the system. As you row faster, the calories you count in a specific amount of time increase exponentially, you get an 8 for 1 return. So if we are rowing for 25 calories and I row at 2:20/500m and you row at 2:30/500m (only going a small amount faster) I will get off the rower 53 seconds ahead of you.
How does this information help us? Keeping in mind it takes a lot more energy to row faster (to be precise eight times harder to go twice as fast). If you are rowing for distance it will cost you a lot of energy to get off the rower first, with only a 10-20 second head start and if you’re gassed then this will get eaten up very quickly if you need to rest. However, if you are rowing for calories it might be worth it, you get an 8 for 1 return, you will still be gassed getting off the rower but you will have an enormous head start.
Grab a rower out and have a play rowing a couple of 20-30 calorie sets at different speeds and see the results for yourself. You may then be able to work out what pace you can row at comfortably and get the most bang for your buck when it comes to your next wod.