Friday: Horror Films. Video Feedback

One of the primary reasons that I wanted to get expert coaching was to make improvements in my rowing technique.  I figure that there are three elements to achieving good boat speed.

  1. Lose weight.  (5 kg is worth a second of pace at least just in reduced displaement)
  2. Improve fitness
  3. Improve technique

I know how to do number 1 and 2.  Those items are determined by the amount of time I have to train, work commitments, willpower and desire.

Technique is tougher.  I know good rowing when I see it, and I can see that there are things wrong with my rowing, but I want some expert guidance to figure out what needs to be fixed first and by what means.

Since I am using a remote coaching arrangement with Marlene Royle, that means that I have to record video and share it.  I did this over the winter and I think I made some good progress on improvement the mechanics of my stroke, especially the recovery.

Now I am back on the water, and before I get too set in my ways, I wanted to take some video in the boat and start fixing stuff.

I have seen all kinds of arrangements to take video.  If you are lucky enough to have a live, local coach, it’s very simple.  They film you from the launch.  Without a coach, you have to figure a way to mount a GoPro or some other camera on the boat.  The easiest is to mount it on the stern deck, but then you don’t get to see a lot of the body work in the stroke.  To get that you need a side view.

To get a side view, I picked up a trick from Larry Tait.  He figured out how to mount an old rigger backstay to the end of his rigger, and then put his gopro on the end of the backstay.  This gets the camera about 6 feet out  to side, and with the wide field of view, that’s more than enough to see the whole stroke.

I described it a bit more detail and included pictures of the setup here.

So, I set myself up and went out for a row.  I had about an hour, so I decided to do a bit of a free form session.  I would do 6 minute easy rate ladders consisting of 3′ @ r18, 2′ @ r20 and 1′ @ r22.  To spice it up a bit, I decided to throw in a few practice starts, just  to see if I remembered how to do them and to see how good my balance was at the catch.

Here’s the whole session

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 5.28.47 PM

And here’s the video….

The first video is the first rate ladder.  During the 2′ at r20 I was making my way through the s-turn.

After the first 2 ladders, I reached the dam in Waltham.  I did a set of four starts after I turned around.  A couple of them were OK.

After a couple more ladders, and a few more starts, I did one last short ladder, just 10 strokes at each rate from r18 up to r28.

Looking at the video, I see a whole bunch of issues.

  • Sad to say, I’m heavier and balder than I was the last time I did side video in the boat. :-(.
  • I am not sitting erect enough in the boat, my hips are rocked too far back throughout the stroke.
  • I am not completing my rock over on recovery before I start to slide.
  • Blade depth looks OK to me, although it looks like my hands are arcing up right after the catch and then leveling out.  The last ladder looks worse in terms of “rowing over the barrel”.
  • As you can see, I struggle a bit with balance.  I lightly skim my blades on recovery.
  • Some strokes have a pretty pronounced pause at the finish.

And here, or pure entertainment value is my worst start of the day.  I caught a crab and nearly flipped

The look on my face as it happened was priceless.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 5.47.27 PM.png

The great thing about rowing is that it keeps you humble!

Feeling a bit better: Feb 8 to Feb 15

Last time I posted, I had decided to take a step back and mix up my training a bit to try to get some momentum back.  The good news is that I think it is working, at least I am feeling a bit more relaxed than I was.

Thursday, Feb 8: Strength Training

  • Full PT Suite
  • Front Squats, KB Swings, Pull ups, Deadlifts

Friday, Feb 9: No Training.  Spent my training time working on my project looking at how aging effects rowing performance by mistake.  I was only going to make one little tweak to my “R” code and when I looked up 90 minutes had gone by.

Saturday, Feb 10: 4 x 20′ / 3′ (On Slides)

I bought a pair of slides a couple years ago and they have been in the gym at work.  I have rarely used them because it’s a pain to set them up and break them down after ech session.  I decided to bring them home and use them on my erg down on the cape.

It was awesome!  I loved the feeling of rowing on slides again.  With the technique stuff I’ve been working on the rowing motion felt really fluid.  Add in the fact that this erg has a core perform seat and it felt very much like real rowing.

My goal was just to get some low intensity meters in, and keep my HR below 155.

Workout Summary - media/20180210-1840300o.csv
Workout Details

I found it very natural to row about 1 spm higher on slides, and I was maybe 1 second slower than on a static machine.  The difference between rowing on slides and rowing on the dynamic is night and day.

Sunday, Feb 11: 8 x (4:30 @ 18, 0:30 @ 30+)/30″ (On Slides)

To follow up on that blissful session I wanted to have a bit more fun on slides.  I really like this 8 x 5′ with 30 sec sprint session.  I’ve been doing this kind of sessions more since reading this book.  The One Minute Workout

It was a blast doing it on slides.  I could rate up very easily, which I can’t seem to do on the dynamic machine.

Workout Summary - media/20180211-1530300o.csv
Workout Details

Another delightful session.  The feeling of rowing on slides was so different that I decided to take a quick video to see how my technique looked.  Spoiler alert:  I have work to do.

Despite my best efforts, I am still not getting my body over before breaking my knees on recovery.

Monday, Feb 12: Strength Training plus 40 minutes Cat VI

Full PT suite.

40′ Cat VI row.  A great row.  Felt very easy.  Nice low HR.

Workout Summary - media/20180212-1305260o.csv
Workout Details

Was able to speed up a bit in the second half because my HR was so low.

Then I did a Strength Session

  • KB Swings 3 x 20 with 16kg
  • Front Squats 4 x 8 with 145 lb
  • Trunk rotation with 50 2 sets of 10 each side
  • Pull ups: 5,4,3,3

Tuesday, Feb 13: 10 x 500/2′ @ 22

PT Suite

Enjoyable little workout.

Workout Summary - media/20180213-1340290o.csv
Workout Details

Wednesday, Feb 14: Strength Training only

I was pressed for time.  Distracted by the Aging related decline project again.

Full PT Suite

Strength Session

  • KB Swings – 3 x 20 with 16kg
  • Front squats – 4 x 8 with 145lbs, 1 x 8 with 165lbs
  • trunk rotations – 2 x 2 x 10 with 50 lbs
  • Pull ups – 5, 4, 3, 3
  • Dead lifts – 5 x 8 x 150lbs

Thursday, Feb 15:  No Training.  Rest Day


Sunday: 3 x 20′ / 3′ Cat VI – Dynamic, plus video

Since I didn’t feel particularly bad yesterday, just really tired, I wasn’t sure if I was better today.  I went to bed at 11 and slept until 9.  When I woke up, I certainly didn’t feel like erging.  So, I hung out, wrote up my journal, did some grocery shopping and some chores around the house.  Finally, around 2, I decided that I should get it done.

The workout on the agenda for today is a regular old 3 or 4 x 20′ / 3′ at Cat VI.  That means rate at 18 and pace between 2:03 and 2:08.  I have been thinking about getting back on the dynamic erg for a while.  Since I am making changes in my stroke, I was wondering if it would be a less unpleasant experience with better technique.

I decided today was a good day to try it out.

Most folks rate up a bit on the dynamic, so I decided r20 was the target instead of r18.   And since I have had such struggles with it, I decided that a target above 2:05, maybe 2:07 might be a good idea.  In any case, I would go by a HR limit.  Keep it at or below 155.

And that’s what I did.  It seems that deleting and reloading painsled fixed my issues, it worked fine today.

          Workout Summary - media/20180128-2010330o.csv
Workout Details

It was a lot more work than on the static, but it felt a bit better better than before.  It was certainly easier to maintain proper form, at least I thought so.  After I finished, I set up to take a short video so I could see I was actually doing the right things.

I watched the video and yes, it looks like I was doing a pretty good job on recovery.  I was a bit more slumped than I should have been, but not so bad.

Here’s the video, judge for your self.

I was interested to compare doing steady state on the dynamic to the static.

  • Power:  About 5 watts lower
  • Rate: 2 beats higher.  Also note how much less consistent my rate is.
  • HR: About 5 beats higher
  • Drive length: 10 cm shorter on the dynamic.  I will have to do a video compare to figure out what’s going on there, but I suspect that I am compressing less at the catch on the dynamic and that’s probably a good thing.
  • Peak force:  just about the same
  • Average force: lower, which makes sense since I am doing less power at a higher rate
  • Peak/avg ratio: follows logically.

Tonight:  I am flying to Korea via Hong Kong.  My flight leaves at about 1:30 am.  I get to Korea Tuesday morning.  I’ll be there through Friday.  More crosstraining!


Friday: I’m about 2 steps into a journey of a 1000 miles

I’m not sure who, but someone said that a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.  Well, I contend that the first step is pretty easy.  It’s steps 2 through 500 that are when you start to wonder if the journey is such a good idea.

Today, I was doing a new workout.

Session: 8 x 5’
Rest between: 00:30 easy paddle
Rating/Pace: 4:30 @ Cat VI pace: SR 20 + 00:30 power @ Cat II; SR 30-32

Of course I misread it on my phone and took 1;30 between 5′ chunks.  Oops.

Pace targets were 2:03 to 2:08 for the Cat VI and 1:45 for  the Cat II.

Of highest importance was trying to keep my mind on the technique modifications, but try to do them at r20 and r30-32 instead of at R18, which was basically could be rowed like a pause drill at body over.

I started with the full suite of PT exercises.  SI corrective, quad stretch, foam roll the quads and IT band, the glute thing on swiss ball and the core exercises as well.

Then a 2k warmup with 10 stroke bumps.  Trying to work out how to row at r30 while keeping my knees down longer.

2018-01-12 08.41.21

Then the fun part.

2018-01-12 08.41.31

So, since the whole point was technique.  I did yet another video  this one is 30 seconds of r20, and 30 seconds of r30.

The r20 looks better to me.  Still keeping the knees down, but smoother.  The r30 looks like I am falling back into bad habits.  I can’t tell you how hard I was trying to get my hands away fast and hold back on the slide, but I have to do more work on it.

The picture on the left is at r20.  The one on the right is at r30.

Stay tuned.

Tomorrow:  The hard one.  6 x (3′ @ r28, 7′ @ r18)/1′


Thursday: Glutes! 3 x 20 / 1′

My coach sent me some feedback on the video that I posted.  She was trying to be nice, but it was clear that I am not successfully implementing her suggestions for me.  Here’s exactly what she said…

It is a big shift in rhythm so I understand where you are coming from. But yes, this is a little better but still not quite there. But almost!
Put the focus on keeping your glutes firm and stabilizing the quads- i.e. hold a “dead slide” now wheel movement until your wrists are over your knees.

I have to confess that I was totally mystified about how to keep my glutes firm and my quads stabilized, so I shot back a quick email asking.  and she explained it really well.

Tense your glutes, keep contact with your feet, firm up your quads. That’s all.
Now straighten your arms and move just enough through the pivot to allow your wrists to reach your knees.
Zero in on that position.

So, I messed around with that position a bit. and noticed that consciously tensing my glutes when I swung my body in the drive ended up helping to propel my torso forward on recovery.  I could actually feel a distinct body swing.  Of course, it felt completely foreign to me.

I started with my PT exercises.  Not the full set.  I did the SI corrective, quad stretch, foam rolling, and twisty glute thing on the swiss ball.  I skipped the core stuff.

Then into the erg session.  I had been thinking about it a lot during  the day on Wednesday, and as I drove to work on Thursday morning.   I have taken roughly 3,010,000 strokes over the past 7 years.  About 2.2 million of them have been on the erg.  Expecting to change the way I take a rowing stroke in an instant or without a lot of concentration is not realistic.

I remember a while ago Tiger Woods basically took a season to reengineer his golf swing.  If it took him a while, I guess I should expect that it will take me a while too.

So today, I decided that the number one priority was to take strokes with “perfect form”.  Well, that isn’t exactly right, since I don’t know what perfect form is.  What I actually did was to focus on tensing my glutes as I came into the finish and keep them that way until my arms were out and my body was over.  It was horrific!  Trying to maintain concentration on every stroke was murder.  My rate and pace were all over the place, but I kept at it.  By the time I got to the third 20′ piece, it was feeling a little less alien, but still required a ton of focus.  If I got interested in the podcast in my headphones, I would notice that my knees might pop up early, or my butt was mushy at the finish.

I finished mentally tired and with a sore pair of glutes.  I don’t think that they have worked that hard in a while!

Workout Summary - media/20180111-1345310o.csv
Workout Details

2018-01-11 08.36.30

But the most important thing was technique, so I did another minute at the end to see if it looked any different.

Well, it certainly looks…different.  The knees are staying down, but there is a noticeable hiccup in the recover after I get to body over, and before the seat moves.  I think I need to over correct this way to try to unlearn bad habits?

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 11.25.29 AM.png

Wednesday: 3 x (5 x 500 @ r24 / 1′ ) / 5′

I have been squeezed for time the past two days so I skipped my physio exercises.  Seems that was a mistake!  Last night I started feeling really tight in my left hip and back and this morning, my SI joint was really sore on the left side.

I was a good boy and did all my exercises today, and afterward, it felt a lot looser.  It still gave me a bit of a twinge if I finished with too much layback.  Probably useful since I need to be more consistent and use a bit less layback in general.

The session for today is one that I have done at least 3 times now.  I like it.  At r24, it’s pretty easy to crank out 500s.  They sting a bit at the end, but you can really focus on stroke mechanics because the rate and pace are pretty reasonable.

The target pace for these was 1:52.

To make the setup simple, I programmed this as 500m intervals and 1′ rests.  Then after 5 hard intervals, I did the next one as a very light pause drill, stopping at body over on every stroke and trying to isolate and feel the body recovery.  I ended up cheating myself out of about 20 seconds of the 5 minute rest this way, but there was plenty of recovery time.

I started with a 2k warmup with 4 x 300m or easy and 200m of hard.

          Workout Summary - media/20180110-1436060o.csv
Workout Details

2018-01-10 09.25.47

Then I tightened the foot straps, programmed the PM, and got going.  Not much to report.  I was really trying to hold both rate and pace, while focusing on fast hands away and full body recovery before breaking my knees.  It wasn’t too hard, but I was glad when the 5′ breaks came along.

          Workout Summary - media/20180110-1435320o.csv
Workout Details

Compared to last week.  My HR was running a bit higher today, not sure why.  Last time I opted to push the pace on the last one, I didn’t today.

After I finished, I was curious to see if all the effort I was putting in to technique was actually doing something or if I was just deluding myself.  Somewhere in between, I think.

I still have to hold the knees down longer.  Here’s the offending screen capture.  Arms bent, body halfway there, but knees already up.  Bad Greg!

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 12.52.22 PM.png

Tomorrow:  4×20′ / 3′ Cat VI, r18, 2:05



Tuesday: 4 x 20′ / 1′


You might be noticing a trend by now.  I’m looking at it as a rebuilding period.  In this period I have a few goals

  • Get competent medical advice about lower back pain and fix any issues with flexibility or imbalances.  This includes stretches and exercises
  • Get competent coaching to improve my rowing form for better efficiency and injury prevention.  This includes drills.
  • Rebuild my base aerobic fitness by doing lots of easy rowing

Today, I got to work on all three.

I started by doing my normal pre-rowing routine.

  • 10 SI exercises on  my left leg
  • foam roll my quads
  • use a lacrosse ball to get after trigger points around the front of my hips and pelvis
  • 2 x 40 sec glute bridges on an exercise ball
  • 4 x 10sec torso twists

After that, I did a couple of drills that were recommended to try to improve my posture at the finish.  Here are links to the drills.

Since I wanted to review it after, I taped my attempt at doing it and took a few easy strokes afterward trying to maintain the posture.

I found the drill to be very useful.  I was able to remember what the position felt like and try to hold it during the row.  By sitting the erg next to a mirror and looking at the hands back position, and then a proper finish position, I was get that picture in my mind and then look every once in a while during the row.

After that, I did my 4 x 20.  Today, I started off aiming at 175W, but HR was really high, so I backed off slightly to try to keep it under 150.  Remarkably, just a few watts was enough to do that.  I did a lactate test at the end, and it read 5.3, which I thought had to be a mistake.  I retook it and it was 3.0.  Still much higher than I would have expected, but at least plausible. Rowing while focusing so much on posture was a lot harder and felt very unnatural.  I imagine it will take weeks to start feeling natural.  I think next time I will stick at this 170W-175W range.

         Workout Summary - media/20171114-2005300o.csv
Workout Details
03|04718|20:00.0|02:07.2|169.7|18.6|148.7|153.0|12.7 - 3.0

Lactate Log

Tomorrow:  I’m getting tired of all this base building, I need a little bit of intensity, so I think I will return to an old classic, 8×500.  Pace target around 1:45.


Erg Video

It’s been a while since I took side video, either on the erg or in a boat.  I had a little time yesterday, so I decided to do it.

To keep it reasonably short, I did 30 seconds each at 8 different rates from 18 to 32spm.

         Workout Summary - media/20171108-1200290o.csv
Workout Details

The first strokes are taken at about 30 seconds in.  So to specific stroke rates start at these times.

  • 18: 0:30
  • 20: 1:00
  • 22: 1:30
  • 24: 2:00
  • 26: 2:30
  • 28: 3:00
  • 30: 3:30
  • 32: 4:00

What do I see?

  • To my untrained eye, the drive looks OK.  The recovery less so.  I am breaking my knees too early on the recovery and my body is swinging way too late.  This is going to be a bitch to try to change.  It’s a pretty ingrained habit.
  • It looks like I am overcompressing at the catch.  My legs are not separating as much as they were, but they are not solidly together at the catch.  I think earlier body prep would help with this.


Wednesday: 3 x 500 Taper (in 2x)

On Lake Quinsigamond in the Vespoli double with Joe.

Weather:  Wicked dark!  Warm, around 65F.  Wind from the SW around 10mph, but it felt like it was lighter in middle and kicked up a bit again at the end.


  • Long Rojabo style warmup
  • 3 x 500
    • Pace: ~2:00
    • Rate: 28-30
  • Long rests with square blade drills
  • Long cool down with some more sets of 20 to work on technique

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 7.06.12 PM.png

No Heart Rate data.  I assume the battery in the H7 gave up the ghost.


The intervals were basically at a 2:00 pace.  I feel like that’s pretty good boat speed for us.

Workout Summary - media/20161019-125836-77588o.csv
Workout Details

I stuck the GoPro camera on the stern today to get a look at how well we were rowing together.  It was way too dark to see much for the first 45 minutes of the outing, but it was light enough during the last 10 minutes or so during our row back to the boathouse at the end.  We did four sets of 20  strokes on / 20 strokes off you can see in the rate plot above.  They were at 28, 24, 26, and 24 spm.

So, it looks like you will have to sneak over to youtube to see the video, I can’t seem to embed it anymore.  Here’s the link.