There has been a lot of buzz online this week about a poster for British Rowing showing a national team athlete using purportedly poor technique at the finish during an ergometer test on the Concept2.
My view is this: The ergometer is not an exact simulation of actual rowing, and the physics are different, especially on a static erg like the Concept2 without slides. The technique to maximize results on the erg is different than the technique to maximize boat speed, and elite athletes know how to do both. On the C2, maximizing the length of the pull by any means necessary will improve your score. A previous post on this blog shows how Canadian elites do 3-stroke max wattage tests on the C2, and the technique is ridiculous but effective in terms of how the C2 calculates power output. While we can criticize the publisher for picking this particular picture, we shouldn’t criticize the athlete. If she is wearing a GBR jersey in an Olympic year she clearly knows how to be maximally effective both on and off the water.
But the controversy got me thinking: Is it actually more effective to lay back and break the wrists at the finish on the C2?
I was always coached by Jim Barker at Undine Barge Club to “sit up and support the finish” in order to maximize the ability to keep pressure on the blades with the smaller muscles in the arms and upper torso once the leg drive was over. Being on the C2 instead of in a single scull makes it easy to get sloppy on this, but it also makes it easy to test the theory out!
Here’s what I did:
8 rounds of 100m, arms-only rowing, with 1 minute rest in between. The first four rounds I broke the wrists at the finish and let the elbows drop below the wrists. The second four rounds I tried to keep the wrists parallel to the forearms and elbows (more like actual sculling). Then I looked at the elapsed time on the intervals to see which was faster. This video shows the difference in technique:
What were the results? The last four intervals (wrists flat) were about 1 second faster than the first four (wrists bent), even though my arms were tired and the stroke rate was somewhat slower.
How did the power curves differ?
Curve 1 (wrists bent): Sharper drop-off, uneven “blip” in the power curve.
Curve 2 (wrists flat): shallower slope to the drop-off, smoother curve.
What I found, at least for me, was that keeping the wrists as flat as possible made the finish a little slower, but allowed me to pull with the traps straight through to the fingertips, so that the force curve did not drop off as sharply at the finish. This let me squeeze out the last four intervals about a second faster than the first four, even though my arms were full of lactic acid by then. This says that over a 2K piece, maintaining a strong and upright finish position would lower my score by at least a few seconds. My finding in this non-scientific test is that while you may get more chain length by laying back and pulling extra high, you will not be able to maintain acceleration on that extra chain length, and therefore you may not get much benefit for the extra energy expended.
Appreciate any reader comments.
BONUS QUESTION: Can anyone recognize the racing tank I am wearing? It is “old school” from a US club that doesn’t exist anymore, but is still my favorite jersey….