The Concept2 rowing ergometer is an amazing piece of exercise equipment that is the standard for off-the-water training for most college and elite national teams. At about $900, it is also one of the biggest bargains for someone looking for the ne plus ultra in home exercise.
Invented by the Dreissigacker brothers of Morrisville, Vermont, founders of the Concept2 Corporation (also the leading manufacturer of carbon fiber oars), their ergometer consists of a rolling seat on a steel beam, a handle with a bicycle chain which spins a fan, using the air as resistance. The rower’s progress is noted on a “performance monitor”, an LCD that shows strokes per minute, average pace, distance, and a wealth of other information that provides incentive and a very accurate session-to-session comparison of progress.
The Concept2 website has an online log for entering in one’s results, and a global ranking that lets one compare one’s best times with other rowers.
The machine is at the heart of the sport of competitive indoor rowing, culminating in the annual world championships, the CRASH-B Sprints, which pits thousands of rowers against each other in Boston every February. There are hundreds of regional and country competitions conducted around the world, with the sport being especially popular in the UK.
This morning I downloaded a program called RowPro. I connected my ThinkPad X60s to the ergometer’s performance monitor with a USB cable and was able to divert the output from the erg to the laptop. A nice graphic of a sculler indicated my progress down a virtual race course, and I set up a pace boat to keep me honest over the course of a 30-minute row.
What is very cool about the program is that you can row virtual races via the internet against other RowPro users, upload your results to your Concept2 online logbook, and use the system to establish training plans. This, to my geeky mind, is extremely cool, and I can think of no other example of virtual physical competition. Stairmasters, elliptical trainers …. none of them hold a candle to the ergometer in terms of total workout and the added value of virtual competition.
Here’s the rankings for heavyweight men, age 40-49, in the USA. As of this morning I am ranked 25th in the country. At my peak, a few years ago, I was first in the US for the 60 minute distance, and my best performance in the world championships was a 6’28.7″ in 2003 over the standard 2,000 meter sprint distance (this was the most evil thing I have ever done to myself). I’m in training now for next February’s race and will be rowing long distances over the next three months before moving to interval training of intense short distances interspersed with rest periods to build up my maximum heart rate.
The trick is staying motivated. An iPod can carry me only so far, so I’ll buy the full version of RowPro and start virtually racing to keep the competitive juices flowing.
Buy an erg. You won’t regret it. Stick with it and you’ll get in the best shape of your life. I’ll make the bold prediction that indoor rowing becomes an Olympic event in my lifetime.