It is my firm belief that the Ergo should be a rowers best friend. I know that an ergo doesn't float, and that a rower can be a lot better or a more effective rower in the boat than on an ergo (and I know this as I have rowed with a number of rowers like this myself). BUT, I still believe that an ergo is an invaluable training tool for a surf boat rower.
The reason I think an ergo is such a great tool is specificity. Performing the movement pattern that you are going to be doing in a race is really the ONLY way to train. (I know there are other factors and I will address them in other sections!). It isn't always possible to have all five crew members available and ready to spend time in the boat. If this was possible, then that is great, but often conditions, work, family and other commitments don't allow for this. So training outside of the boat needs to be done. As training time if often limited, this time should be spent as specifically as possible. And ergo rowing is as specific as you can get for a surf boat rower (out of the boat of course).
So what sort of work can be done on an ergo? What sort of work should be done on an ergo?
The answer to these questions in a resounding DEPENDS!
It depends on the time in the season, the previous training level of the rower and of course what other sessions are being done (in and out of the boat).
Training in general can be split into two general categories; aerobic and anaerobic.
This is the LONG stuff where the body works at a level that is sustainable for long periods of time. Since the energy being used is derived from the burning of oxygen and stored glycogen (or even fats), there are few toxic by-products and as long as the energy sources are available then the activity can go on indefinitely.
This is the shorter more intense efforts. When the body starts to work above what is known as the anaerobic threshold (the point at where the anaerobic system is required to provide energy) the stored energy used in this system is used up and there is a build up of toxins in the body that will ultimately limit performance.
If you read the section on periodisation you will note that early in the season the focus is on the quantity of training and the quality is low. This is the time for lots of aerobic training. As the season progresses and the frequency and importance of racing increases, the intensity of training increases and there is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic training. Towards the end of the season and around the time of the major events, training moves almost totally away from the aerobic and into the anaerobic training.
As hard as it may first seem, the minimum time you should be spending on an ergo is 30min a session. This doesn't have to be 30min in one effort or without getting up to stretch for a minute or so, but the work load should be a minimum of half an hour. Hopefully as you become fitter and more used to the sessions, 30min will feel like a simple warm up.
A good rule of thumb for base aerobic training is to do it at a "conversational" pace. Do the workload at a level where if there was someone next to you on the ergo, you could hold a conversation with them.
Here are some examples of some base aerobic training sessions for the ergo:
3 x 10min efforts (1min between efforts) - first effort at an warm up pace, with the other two at a slightly increased level.
2 x 15min efforts (2min between efforts)
1 x 30min effort
10km - set the ergo's display to count down the 10,000m. Try and remain constant in your efforts. At the end of your first 10k effort, note the average time per 500m and try and better that next time you row.
10km - with 100m firm every 5 min (to help break the monotony).
1hr - aiming to have a neutral split (i.e. first 30 min same as second).
21.2km (Half Marathon)
There are thousands of variations on ergo sessions that can be done and many of them fall within the anaerobic category. Some of them I will give below and some info about what their purpose is.
Base Aerobic Threshold Training
1min on, 1min off - the 1min on efforts are done at the same pace you would so a flat out 6min effort at (e.g. do 1800m in 6min, your work rate should be 1:40/500m, 1900m in 6min - 1:35/500m etc). The "off" minute is rowing light (with correct technique). The rowing during the "rest" periods is VERY important. At first you may struggle to do 10 of these efforts, but will find that improvement is fast. Aim for as many as you can do while still maintaining your desired effort level
3 x 2000m efforts with 3min rest. Row three 2000 meter pieces at challenging intensity with 3 minutes rest between. Ease into the first one slightly, then go consistently hard for the last 2.
4 x 7min efforts with 4 min rest. Pre-set the monitor for a 7 minute work time and a 4 minute rest time. Row at a challenging pace. This is an anaerobic threshold workout that will build power and aerobic conditioning. Cool down at the end with 5 minutes of easy rowing.
Pyramids - strokes, metres or time. Example of distance: 250m hard, 250 light, 500 hard, 500 light, 750 hard, 750 light, 1000m hard, 750 light, 750 hard, 500light, 500 hard, 250 light, 250 hard, 500 light. Strokes and time follow the same principle.
2 x [15 (20sec hard - 40sec easy)] Pre-set a work time of :20 and a rest time of :40. For the 5 minute rest, just row easily through both work and rest intervals for 5 minutes. Warm up, then row 30 work intervals in 2 groups of 15 with 5 minutes rest between groups. Each work interval is 20 seconds in length with 40 seconds rest. Try to create the lowest time per 500m as possible in each hard interval.