The ‘Concept of Ergos’


By now you have most likely experienced the wrath of the rowing Ergometer or ‘Ergo/ Erg’ in slang. With the rise in popularity over the last decade, it has become a staple in most athletes’ exercise regime and one that is used regularly at Pinnacle Performance for developing various energy systems, profiling and to improve performance.

The Ergo has its many benefits – it is low impact, full-body, and brings great ‘bang for buck’ in terms of energy expenditure. However not everyone has had much experience, if any, rowing in a real environment whatsoever. So what we’ve done is put together a cheat sheet for starting your own rowing career without ending up on a Youtube fails compilation of pelicans in the gym….!

Technique/ Sequencing. This is the biggest, most important and the most difficult part of Ergometer rowing. When you learn to row you are essentially building a new movement pattern from the ground up. This means you need to practice, practice, practice! And of course be patient. It is a good idea to spend 5-10minutes on sequencing and technique work before every ergo. Just like Strength and Power development, technique must come before tension/ pressure. The image below shows a rough idea of the appropriate movements.


You do not want to spend any time here so it is your priority to keep your straight back fixed and drive with the legs. A common fault here is to start leaning back straight away. Stay tall and put the tension on the legs. Remember that rowing is a fluid motion and even though we are quick to initiate the transition, it is not overly jerky.


The drive phase starts off by first unleashing the power of your legs and then as you pass the strongest position (where your knees are half the way down) your hips start to open and you lean back from your hips. Keeping with the theme, you should be sitting really tall and combining leg drive and the hip hinge.


Finally, when you may finish the drive by pulling your elbows back keeping your wrists strong. The finish position should be strong and tal as you want to efficiently rebound energy into the next stroke. If you finish in a strong position here the recovery will be much easier to initiate.


From the finish position (legs straight, hands on chest), you want to sit tall and move your arms away from you first, the quicker the better. It is tempting and a common fault to start the recovery by bending your knees first, don’t. After you have straight arms, your body is next: keep your back straight and hinge forward from the hips. Then and only then can you start to bend at the knees and return to the catch position. Key words here are: control and recover. This should set you up in a strong position at the catch.

Lingo…there are really only 2 terms you will need to know:

  • ‘Split’ (Split Time), refers to the time it would take you to row 500m. This is instantaneous and will change as you row and is the main way rowers track their output/speed;
  • ‘Rating’, refers to the amount of strokes you will row in a minute at the current tempo.

Precautions…hip and lower back pain. Repeated flexion of your hips and lower back is not ideal. At all times consult your strength and conditioning coach/ physiotherapist if you feel pain.


  • Catch – stay tall and do not over or under reach. Brace and build up for the drive;
  • Drive – legs drive first, then hips and finally arms come in last and towards the finish
  • Finish – a tall braced position will lead well into the next stroke, ensure you are not sitting back too far or a slouchy position;
  • Recovery – keep your back straight and recover with arms away first, then from the hips and last from the knees. Control your momentum up to the catch.

Good luck with your ergo training and feel free anytime to get in touch with us should you want to know what we do to coach all our members with the rower and why they see such huge improvements on the ergo, as well as all their other facets of training!


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