Best way to use a Concept2 rower
October 17, 2012 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I just purchased a Concept2 Model D rower with PM3 monitor. What's my best way to use it given my condition and goals?

I recently joined a Crossfit gym, but bailed on it after a month for a number of reasons. Mostly, it was too far from me, but also I felt like I was going to get injured and I've had enough of that. So I spent the money I would otherwise have spent on the one bit of equipment they had that I REALLY enjoyed using, namely a Concept2 rower.

(I liked Crossfit, especially the variety and challenge)

I had a spin bike before, but found it mind-numbingly boring. The rower, however, doesn't bore me at all.

I want to use this to do a combined strength/cardio workout if possible. I do also have a set of dumbbells and I aim to also work on pushups and situps to complement the rower.

Okay, data points a-gogo.

-- my cardio fitness is very good, borderline athletic, because I mountainbike a lot. I also snowboard in the winter -- another leg thing.

-- my lower body strength is good, upper body strength terrible, core weak. I can squat til the cows come home but can only do about 4 or 5 pushups, and maybe 20-25 situps (continuous).

-- I'm a bit overweight, not massively

-- I find long slow workouts very boring.

-- I often find myself wanting to do more at the end of a workout. The flipside is I tend to push myself too hard.

-- my goals are general overall fitness. In particular I want to balance out my upper and lower body strength. I also really need to increase my anaerobic fitness, as I'm great on a long bike ride but point me up a sharp steep hill and I die.

-- I want to maintain my cardio over the winter so I'm starting at a higher leve mountainbiking in the spring.

-- I've got a copy of RowPro

--- I've got an ANT+ HRM but it doesn't interface with the PM3 and I don't want to stump for a PM4

I know this is a bit diffuse but I'd really welcome any pointers, or descriptions of how you use the Concept2.
posted by unSane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I love love love rowing machines for fitness training.

First, and most importantly - learn the right technique - what position your back should be in at each point in the stroke and when to engage your arms, etc.

There are guides and videos on the intertubes.

Bad technique can tweak your back.

Once you have technique down use the rower's display and your heart rate monitor with a display (your iphone?) that does show the ANT+ HRM's output

You will be using so many more muscles than nearly any other exercise it's so easy to get into anaerobic respiration that it can crash your workout.

Go waaaay slower than you think your fitness level allows then ramp up slowly.

If the machine will be on a carpeted surface consider putting towels around it to absorb sweat. DAMHIK

Have fun! These are wonderful machines
posted by BrooksCooper at 7:33 PM on October 17, 2012

Perhaps take the high-intensity interval training that is the basis of Crossfit and apply it to your rowing - tabata rows, 30 minute running clock and start a 500 meter row every 3 minutes, X rounds for time of short-medium rows + sets of pushups / squats / whatever
posted by thedaniel at 7:33 PM on October 17, 2012

Best answer: There are three parts to the drive: Legs, back (waist/core), arms. You go out, you go in. Legs, back, arms, arms, back, legs. begin opening your back about 3/4 through your drive on your legs. Similarly, bring in your arms about 3/4 through your back. Quick release with the arms, lift your back, and then slowly bring your legs back to the start of the drive. During this, do not drop your hands. Keep them level, flat and loose - meaning don't drop them and cause the chain to smack up and down, and don't death grip the thing to give yourself copious amounts of blisters. I tell you this now, because you need to learn this, you need to memorize this, and you need to practice this.

-1000 meter warm-up. Set the baffles to about a 3 or 4. Stroke rate sould be about 20-24 dependant on your height (24 if you are short, 20 if you are tall) Your target rate should be a consistent 2:10/500m. If you are going too fast, slow down. If you are going to hard, ease up. If it is too hard, ease up.

work outs:
-Isolations. 500m leg only / 500m back only / 500m arms only / 500m back only / 500m leg only Legs should be around 24-28 strokes per minute. Back should be about 28-32 strokes per minute. Arms should be between 40-50 strokes per minute. I expect you to be cursing me at about 1:30 of the arms. Finish off with a 1000m piece before doing a cool down.

-Intervals. Intervals are used to shock the system to increase power, stroke rate, or endourance.
--For power, start with the baffles on a 3 or 4. Set the erg for 500m on, 1min off - repeat. You should be exceeding your standard 500m/split for a 2K erg piece by about 10-15%. On each subsequent interval, try to hold the same pace, but increase the baffle by 1 for each interval. After 5 intervals take a water break, then do 5 more, but work yor baffle back down to the 3 or 4, one step each interval, before your cool down. Note: you must know what your 2k 500m/split is to do intervals.
--For stroke rate, regardless of power and baffle, you want to increase your stroke rate 2-10 spm. 500m on, 1:00 off - repeat. First interval is 2 spm faster that you are used to, second is 6, third is 4, fourth is 10, last is 8 (so, if you stroke normally at a 22, then: 24 / 28 / 26 / 32 / 30). Now do 1000m with a stroke rate that feels natural. Repeat the cycle with your new stroke rate (you'll have gone up 2-4 spm). Next time you are on the erg, use that middle 'natural' stroke rate as your stroke rate.
-Endourance. This is to focus on the middle of your erg piece. so you do a 500m / 1m rest, 1000m / 1m rest, 500m / 30s rest, 1000m / 30s rest, 500m / 1m rest, 1000m / 1m rest.

2K is the new(ish) standard for sprint pieces, it is important to pull one to get a baseine of your performance. If you've never pulled a piece before, generally expect 10-15 seconds improvement on the next piece (this diminishes over time). The ideal state should be you falling off the erg when you are done with this. This wil take less than 10 minutes.

5K piece, after you pull 2 2Ks, throw in a 5K. Then do 5Ks as your piece until you want to club yourself to death with the flywheel. This will take roughly 20 minutes.

10K. Once you think you hate 5Ks, pull a 10K. The goal of a 10K is to not stop, and to finish in less than 50 minutes (ideally much less). Throw these in every five 5Ks or when you reach a plateau in 5Ks.

Once your 5Ks are being pulled at 1:45-1:55/500m (dependent on where you start) switch back to 2Ks, and use the 5Ks as your 2K plateau.

Your 2Ks you can hopefully get down to 1:30-1:45/500m

500m piece for intervals and 2Ks, 1000m for 5K and 10K pieces, no requirements for rate and power, just concentrate on form, put the baffles at 0.

Typical workout :Warm up - Training - Cool Down

Week 1 (3 days /wk, rest in-between)
Day 1: 2K piece
Day 2: Isolations
Day 3: Intervals (non-power / non-stroke rate / non-endourance)

Week 2
Day 1: Isolations
Day 2: Intervals (stroke rate)
Day 3: 2K piece

Week 3:
Day 1: Intervals (Endourance)
Day 2: 5K piece
Day 3: Intervals (power)

Week 4:
Day 1: Intervals (endourance)
Day 2: Intervals (power)
Day 3: 5K piece

Week 5:
Day 1: Intervals (power)
Day 2: Isolations
Day 3: 5K piece

Week 6:
Day 1: Intervals (stroke rate)
Day 2: Intervals (power)
Day 3: Intervals (endourance)

Week 7:
Day 1: Intervals (power)
Day 2: 5K Piece
Day 3: Intervals (endourance)

Week 8:
Day 1: 10K
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:35 PM on October 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Have you been to the Concept2 website? It's actually a pretty good resource for initial training programs and technique videos (depending on the Crossfit gym you went to you may want to review these!).
posted by Anonymous at 7:54 PM on October 17, 2012

As I've mentioned previously, the Cross Team Challenge will put you in virtual competition with other highly motivated rowers, and also give you great workout ideas (though just one per month).
posted by gubenuj at 10:06 PM on October 17, 2012

Best answer: Nanukthedog: "During this, do not drop your hands. Keep them level, flat and loose - meaning don't drop them and cause the chain to smack up and down, and don't death grip the thing to give yourself copious amounts of blisters. I tell you this now, because you need to learn this, you need to memorize this, and you need to practice this. "

Here's something that will help you with this immensely: Sit on the erg, and take half a stroke, finishing with your hands pulled into your chest (usually just below your pecs).

Look at the chain-guide, and where the chain is in relation to it. Put a sticker or piece of tape there, and make sure that the chain stays right next to that sticker through your entire workout.

Nanukthedog's post is fantastic, and you should follow his excellent advice. Some things I'd emphasize:
  • You will not greatly improve your upper body strength by rowing. Sorry.
  • Intervals are a great way to build up to longer distances. Starting out, you might only be able to row 2000 meters, but I'll bet that you'll be able to do it again after just a few minutes! Row every piece of the interval like it counts.
  • Erging is one of the most effective ways to sap every last ounce of energy from your body. You should be falling off of the erg when you get done.
    • But don't overdo it and get hurt. Crossfit people tend have a terrible record for creating unsafe workouts. You should be tired, but your back should not be screaming out in pain.
  • Those isolations are kind of different from anything I've done. "Back only" is frowned upon by a lot of coaches – it's awkward and easy to hurt yourself doing. Sometimes I'll warm up with an Erg version of the pick drill (which is also helpful for reminding you of how the components of your stroke should fit/blend together).
  • Resist the temptation to adjust (or raise) the baffle. Set it at 3 or 4 unless you have something very specific in mind (Nanukthedog's suggestions are good though). Don't set it to 10.
  • Your split times are the most direct indication of your performance. While you're getting started, don't worry too much about how many strokes per minute that you're pulling (as long as it's reasonably consistent). You're not doing anybody any favors if you're rowing 30spm poorly, and not actually covering any "distance."
  • When we say to SLOWLY use your legs to return to the catch position, we really do mean it. Your drive should be fast, but your recovery should be slow. The recovery should take considerably longer than your stroke did.
  • Keep good posture. Sitting tall, back straight, head upright and looking straight forward. You'll probably need to do some core exercise to achieve the strength necessary to make this consistently happen the entire duration of piece. It's important for performance and injury-prevention. I've seen tiny guys with good posture destroy beefy athletes with bad posture in a 2k.
Oh, and set a goal.... 100 or 150km by the end of the year would be ambitious but completely doable.
posted by schmod at 10:09 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd note: I'd describe rowing as the even distribution of power over a set distance to leave you with no reserves upon completion. Meaning: consistency of stroke is crucial. If you start at a 2:07.1/500m, you want to finish a 2K at 8:28.4 (2:07.1/500m splits), or a 5K at 21:11.0 (2:07.1/500m splits). (Realistically, give yourself 125m to find your groove.) Plan your times with reasonable improvements and work your split time backwards.

I focused my discussion on stroke rate moreso than I would normally because I can't get a baseline ahead of time for you. Any times I gave were based on you being male, and in decent shape. While height is an advantage, I rowed with a bunch of guys 2 feet shorter who could still pull decent erg times.

Rowing is not for your biceps. Rowing is for triceps, back, core and quads (and yes, it uses every muscle - but those are the big hits). If you can, erg alongside a full length mirror to watch your form. If you are having trouble maneuvering your body into the right form check out a technique video at Concept 2.

Other variations I forgot to mention, practicing starts, power 10s etc.

I should note also: when I said 'back only' I meant, extend your legs to be through the drive and move your back only. Instinct will have you trying to pull your arms as well, what I've found is that when that happens, people cheat on their drive, and wind up at the catch with their arms already engaged, and loose a bit of their power. Likewise, arms only means, legs out, back at 11:00 and arms only.... enjoy the unexpected core workout.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:56 AM on October 18, 2012

Congratulations. It's a brilliant machine.

I can't comment on strength/cardio workouts, but I can thoroughly recommend that, if you live anywhere near a river, you learn the scull technique in a boat. I bet that if you like using the Concept 2, you're going to love rowing on the water.

I bought one years ago, because I found that rowing helped with a persistent back problem I was having. These days, I use it to support my rowing training in the boat, and my performance is far more effective on the machine for having learned the classic rowing stroke, which, by the way, can take years to perfect. It's also nice to know the difference between the resistance of the chain and resistance in the water.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:21 AM on October 18, 2012

Best answer: Strategies for a sprint (2Km)

The start:
2 leg only strokes - 1/3 slide, 2/3 slide
1 leg, back to 12:00, arms start to engage. You should be at a 30-34 spm
5 full length strokes, with each stroke slowing down to the 6th stroke being 22-26.

The finish:
The finish doesn't start at 500m. At 500m you want to candidly evaluate your energy reserves and bump down no more than 2 seconds for your split time (2:07.1 should drop no further than 2:05.1) At 250m, cut your stroke length to increase the rate (if you were at 22, go to 26, if you were at 26, go to 30), at 150m turn the engines on full - you've got 30 seconds to live. That last 150m can be at whatever power you can apply, but keep the stroke rate at that newer higher stroke rate until the last 50m - then give everything you've got.

You might thank me after you finish cursing me.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:58 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and welcome to the cult club.

If you like erging, go find a local recreational team, and take a learn-to-row class. Rowing is a great way to start/end a day, and there are lots of programs that cater to casual non-competitive rowers.

I sweep instead of scull (one oar/person vs. 2), so I'll tell you that Sweep rowing is totally awesome and better (but, really, it's a matter of preference -- sweep is generally easier to learn first, and I'd probably pick up sculling if my team offered it).
posted by schmod at 10:45 AM on October 18, 2012

Yeps, sweep rowing is also great, and probably better for strength and fitness, as it's much heavier work and needs less technique. I rowed sweep for years before learning scull, and I don't think I was ever in better shape before or since.

Scull is a different beast altogether, though. The basic stroke is closer to the concept 2, but that's just the start of it. Once you've learned to maneuver a one man boat with nothing but a pair of oars while going backwards on a crowded canal, you realize that scull is to sweep what ballet is to weight training. Like schmod says, it's personal preference.

Anyway, sorry for the derail. Enjoy your lovely new toy.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the comments, guys. I'm not going to pick out best answers as they were all good. My head's still spinning a bit from all the information. In a way I'm having a hard time picking out the best (for me) from all the many workout options that are available.

I'm not a nutty Crossfitter but I do like their maxim that you should do what you personally find hardest so I'll probably work up to some of the high intensity stuff. As a mountainbiker I tend to stick pretty religiously to just under my AT, so I think I should probably work on some anaerobic excursions and checkerboard that with more aerobic workouts.

In terms of complementary exercise, what do you guys recommend? As I say, I'm working on pushups and situps. I don't have an easy way to pullups, but I have dumbbells and a bench that I don't love but don't mind using to fill in the gaps.
posted by unSane at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2012

Response by poster: I do have a couple of questions though.

The sequencing suggests that it's legs, then back, then arms, in fluid motion. Some of the online videos I've seen suggest driving the butt back on the drive so the body remains angulated forwards before rotating back as the legs straighten. I can do that but it feelsl like it puts a lot of stress on the back because I'm basically compressed as the legs are dong their business., as opposed to having a nice straight back. What's the correct form here?

Secondly, there's a lot of vairation in how people do the final part of the pull with their arms. If I keep my elbows tucked in, the handle ends up pretty much atop my stomach. To get it to my sternum I have to fly my elbows out a bit, which doesn't feel that strong and I understand is bad form. So again, what's correct form here?
posted by unSane at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2012

What follows is based on the stroke in the water, and how it applies to the concept2. If you're not rowing in the water at all, you'll probably want to modify it a bit to suit yourself.

You're not supposed to pull with your arms until you've straightened legs, so while your legs are bent, your arms are stretched, and vice versa. I can't say any instructor has ever told me to lean forward while stretching my legs (believe me, they've told me a bunch of other stuff) and I've always let my pelvis unfold naturally while keeping my lower back straight in the first stage of the drive, so that I'm sitting straight by the time my legs are extended. I'm pretty sure the way you describe would end up curving the back forward and hunching the shoulders. So, probably not.

At the end of the stroke, there's a difference between classic rowing technique and your moves on the machine. On a boat, your oars describe an arc in the water, whereas the Concept2 goes in a straight line along the length of the chain. On a boat, the resistance decreases and your elbows extend out naturally along the sides of your torso as you extract the oars from the water. The Concept2 allows no such luxury, and the resistance is at a maximum when the chain is extended, so tucking your elbows in and pulling up to your chest is the natural thing to do. The people in the videos extending their elbows may just be using the same form that they would in a boat. I do what you do, which is lean back a bit further, tuck my elbows in and let my abs and shoulders do the work. Whatever you do here, don't lock your legs straight at the end of the stroke, keep your knees nice and relaxed.

For complementary exercise, I'd say pretty much anything that strengthens the core will feed back into your stroke. YMMV, but I've found anything that keeps my abs firm, my shoulders supple and my trapezius engaged is good. I'm not a huge fan of crunches, though - there are some much better exercises in yoga and pilates IMAO.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:45 AM on October 19, 2012

I'm not a rower but I've had lots of them try to explain the technique to me. The gist was that from backstops (all the way back) the stroke goes arms-body-legs-legs-body-arms in that order, with most of the power coming from the legs.
posted by katrielalex at 5:03 AM on October 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments, guys and gals. I have a few data points for you.

My resting heart rate is 58 or so, no higher anyway (I'd had coffee). I tried a 2k, and turned in a pretty woeful 8'59. I think I could have done a bit faster but I'm not used to how I should pace it yet. I hit a max heart rate of 172 bpm, but most of the time I was in the 150s.

One thing I noticed was how uncomfortable I am going anaerobic. I realize now I pretty much strive to stay aerobic when I'm mountainbiking, I guess because I'm always on longer rides and don't want to blow up. So going all out is definitely something I need to get used to.
posted by unSane at 5:41 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Another update: I've done about 55,000m on the rower so far and I really love it. I knocked 6m off my 10,000m time. I found using a HRM incredibly helpful to stop myself blowing up. Mostly I've been following the '40 minute fitness' plan on the Concept2 UK site.

I'm not up to holding a 2'10 rate yet without going anaerobic. I can maintain 2'20 for a good while at about 85% of my maximum HRM, then it slowly slips to 2'30 at the end of (say) a 10k.

I think the hardest thing has been realizing that almost all the power comes from the legs, so the drive is really what counts.
posted by unSane at 8:36 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Another update: I'm up to about 110,000m now, although I had to take a break for about a week after I strained a muscle doing something else (fixing my wife's computer, if you must know).

Since I started on the rower my resting heart rate has dropped from about 59 to 50 and it feels like it's got a ways to go yet.

10,000m feels like the distance for me. Unless I'm going for a PB I always feel like there's more in the tank so I might go for some longer ones too. The sprints don't really interest me.

I can't believe how useful the HRM has been for keeping me from blowing up.

I deeply love this machine.

I had a kind of epiphany a week or so ago, when I had to go fetch something from my outbuilding which is about 500' from the house. And I just ran, because I could. For anyone who's used to being fit, so what? But if you're used to being unfit, it's amazing.

Also, I've been dropping about 2.5 lbs/week since I've been using it, without really modifying my diet except cutting out carbs apart from beer. Haven't missed them a bit and haven't been hungry. I started about at about 198, am now 185, and I figure my target of 165 is actually achievable, which seems a bit like a miracle.
posted by unSane at 8:36 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

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