Monday, December 1, 2014

The Coffey SimulatOar review: Is this the ultimate rowing machine?

After a nearly two year absence the RFP blog rides again.  I will not belabor my absence but suffice it to say that only something of sufficient interest could bring me back to my keyboard.  That something is the Coffey SimulatOar.  Yeah, I finally bought one.  It is no secret that I love to row.  I am damn near obsessed with it.   It was a crushing calamity of circumstances that kept me off the water for nearly the entire past year.  (on one warm october day when I had no other responsibilities I managed to get on the water for an hour, thus snatching one small remaining morsel of victory from the jaws of defeat).  It took me about 10 minutes to get the hang of it again but I had a good row.  In any case I resolved to never get in that situation again.  After being off the water so long, I never want to feel that out of synch again and I decided that if I couldn't be on the water I'd treat myself to the next best thing.

You may recall my extensive review from a couple years ago of pretty much every dynamic erg there is.  In case you missed it, here is the link

If you would prefer my condensed and possible updated conclusions, I thought the Rowperfect Indoor Sculler was the best of the dynamic ergs as long as the somewhat limited monitor interface is not a deal breaker.  Also the fiscal outlay for this machine is a bit high.  Nonetheless I love mine and I would buy it again.   I still have the C2 static, I sold the Oartec and the C2 dynamic (I ended up hating that last one, it gave me a backache because it always made me open my back to early).  Enough about that.  Let's talk about the SimulatOar.  In fact, better yet, I will let these videos do the talking:

You can clearly see that this has a lot of boat-like action.  Using the Concept2 slides and springs made by Coffey (additional cost)  as well as the speedcoach monitor really makes this feel like being in a single.  The resistance can be adjusted by opening or closing the fan vent .  Also the cleverly designed feathering mechanism adds to the experience.  I plan on mainly rowing this during the winter.  When I'm not on this I will likely be lifting or on the skierg.  I also plan on using the Rowperfect a bit still.

The SimulatOar was easy to assemble and the fine folks at Coffey rowing were great to work with.  My first unit had some issues courtesy of FedEx but this was all handled and they had me up and running in no time.  The monitor, as I said is a Speedcoach.  It is easy to use, nowhere near as fancy as the concept 2 monitor, but that really doesn't matter.  As long as I have elapsed time, stroke rate, and some measure of effort like heart rate or distance I am fine.. Out of the box it gets fairly comparable numbers to the C2 static and the Rowperfect (set at 100kg 4x).  The other day I did some 10 min pieces on each machine at the UT1 training band (for me thats a heart rate from 141-154).  The meters rowed were as follows:

Rowperfect 2710m, SimulatOar 2686m, C2 static 2587m, Rowperfect 2632m, Rowperfect 2612m

The reason I did more pieces on the RP is that my ass was killing me because the skin over my tailbone was getting chaffed on the SimulatOar.  That is my only complaint.  My favorite seat so far is the one on the Rowperfect.  I chafe on every other seat over my tailbone.  On the water I liked the Dreher carbon fiber seat too but thats about it.  Unfortunately that seat doesn't fit my boat, so the SimulatOar is even boatlike in the respect that my ass hurts and I need skin grafting after 15k.  I just ordered a seat pad so we shall see if that fixes things.  In any case, I am thrilled with the SimulatOar.  It is the most boat-like of any erg out there.  It is a bit expensive coming in at just under 3k (including the Speedcoach, springs and sculling setup)  this does not include the slides as I had those already.  However when you look at how well constructed this device is, you will probably realize that your money was well spent.  Because of the width required, space may be a concern for some.   The total space required is 7 feet in width and 9.5 feet in length.  If you prefer not to use the slides (bad idea) you can shave off about 3 feet in length.

As the Coffey's say, "the only thing missing is the splash" I would like to add that the track bite is also missing thank God. Bottom line, if you like to row on the water and you have the space, get the SimulatOar.  Put it on your Christmas list, sell your plasma, cash in your 401k, just make it happen.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Sculling In A Nutshell

Since the weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, at least in my neck of the woods, I think it is time to focus on training outdoors.  Summer to me means rowing, running and being outside as much as I can.  Today I want to tell you about a great book that just came out about rowing on the water.

I met the author, Gordon Hamilton at the Florida Rowing Center.  This is where I first got exposure to sculling and much of this was under Gordon's watchful eye.  As a first exposure to the sport I was a bit overwhelmed and a lot of the teaching has been forgotten or was never fully processed in the first place.  Yeah it happens, and we all need a reminder.  Enter "Sculling in a Nutshell".  This was a much needed refresher for me.  I have read several books on the subject between working with Gordon at the FRC and purchasing this particular book.  I love this book.  It serves to remind me and at the same time re-teach me the lessons I learned previously.  I found myself thinking "Oh, so that is what he was saying".  Now that I can read and re-read at my leisure it really gets a chance to sink in.  Gordon has a very unique way of looking at sculling and his teaching may seem a little different, unlike what you may have learned from others.  Suffice it to say, this book is a worthwhile investment for the veteran rower or the novice.  There is a lot of good information here.  If you are a rower go buy it.  I bought my copy on  Better yet if you can, next winter or spring, escape the cold and go to the Florida Rowing Center.  Here is a link.  You can have Gordon sign your copy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Product Review: Lifeline Jungle Gym XT

I am beginning to wonder if I am turning into a Gearwhore.  I suppose the thought would not have crossed my mind were it not at least partially true.  Fair enough.  The good news is I am really impressed with this product and I am going to give it a favorable review.  Reader's Digest version:  If you have been looking to add suspension training to your regimen get this instead of the TRX.

Now for the rest of us that want the Full Monty review....  

You may have considered adding suspension training to your regimen.  I think that is a great idea as it offers opportunity to hit the core pretty hard and also develop stabilization strength.  Do I think it should form the basis of your training?  Absolutely not.  It will not develop maximal strength, it will not get you "swole", it will not by itself optimize your training.  It will offer a novel way to train the muscles including major movers and stabilizers, it is super for core, and it is great for working in circuit training. It is also quite versatile in that it can fold up in a small box, you could easily throw this in a gym bag or a suitcase.  You can hook these handles behind a door, over a bar or even over a tree limb.  This can go anywhere.  We all know most hotel gyms suck and when they suck they suck mightily.  You'll see maybe a lifecycle and a treadmill and if you're super lucky some dbs and a big blue exercise ball.  There is usually some creeper already in there training so most rational folks either go for a run outside or find a local gym.  You can always bang out some burpees and skip rope in the parking lot but you're likely to attract the wrong kind of attention  doing that (any kind of attention is the wrong kind).  I used to bring a kettlebell on trips. I will never do that again because it weighs a lot and I don't like the idea of having a cannonball floating in the back of the car no matter how well I strap it down.  Also you can't take it on a plane, the jungle gym, on the other hand is made to travel.  Enough about that.

Most people who are in the market for this have considered, or are considering the TRX.  I have used it extensively.  It is well made, just like the jungle gym.  There are things I dislike about the TRX that the jungle gym circumvents.  Firts with the TRX you are stuck with a "V" configuration.  The Jungle Gym allows you to move the sets of straps independently.  Also adjusting the strap length is simple, easy and quick.  I like the handles better on the Jungle gym.   They are much easier to keep clean and the foot stirrups are much easier to get in and out of.   The best part is the Jungle Gym XT comes at close to half the price of the TRX, and it is better!  It comes with a great DVD where a lot of great drills are demonstrated and explained in detail.  Some of these drills are really demanding.  Have a look at my setup and if you have questions let me know!   Click here to read more about the Jungle Gym XT.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dynamic Rowing Machine Decision Algorithm

Quite a few questions have come up regarding the dynamic erg review posts on the blog.  As I continue to work with all of my equipment I am convinced that if you can swing it the Rowperfect Indoor Sculler is the best option out there.  It is pretty much all I use anymore.  It has taken me a little over a year to come to this conclusion.  It may not be for everyone however so here is my attempt at an algorithm to sort things out.  Sorry it is kind of hard to read.  Old guys like me might have to zoom in on the screen a little bit.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Product Review: Concept 2 SkiErg

I was all set to call this post SkiErg II Electric Boogaloo, but then I realized there was never an initial review.  This is a major oversight on my part as I have owned this machine for almost 2 years.  Put plainly, I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I love it because it is well made, it always works, and it uses the familiar Concept 2 PM Monitor (Mine has a PM4).  What do I hate about it?  Nothing really...aside from the fact that it is an absolute ass-kicker to the extent that an alternative working title for this post was "Hail Satan".   After further consideration, I concluded such a title would be a google-fu dog whistle for  Satan worshipers, goth teenagers, and the like.  They wouldn't like it here.

Let the record state I am not a cross country skier.  I purchased this machine because I felt that it would be a great conditioning tool that would undo a lot of the bad stuff that endless rowing might do.  In fact I still believe this to be correct.  Rowing involves a lot of legs and posterior chain, this also hits the legs to a significant extent but majorly hits the anterior chain and also involves the upper body.  This is the yin to rowing's yang or something like that.  The SkiErg can even be used sitting in a chair for example to isolate more upper body or to work around a lower extremity injury.  It is important to realize that it only simulates the double poling action in cross country skiing and a lot of people may take issue with that.  Fair enough but at the end of the day it involves all the muscles used in skiing and it delivers on the conditioning side.  The worst I have ever felt in my life was after a 1k all-out effort.  Keep in mind that I have gone to great lengths to torture myself.  Concept 2 is very good about creating online opportunities to generate H+ ions and fun in the form of online competitions both with the rower and the SkiErg.  This month the "Tour de SkiErg" is going on.  Each week is a different race which you can do any time over those 7 days.  This week is 2k, last week was 500m and the week before was 5k.  Next week is 10k.  I can't wait till next week.

For less intense aerobic efforts the SkiErg works well too.  Longer intervals are enjoyable, the machine is not loud at all so listening to music is always possible.  As far as putting the machine together, it is no big deal and the instructions are clear.  You can buy a stand for it which will allow you to move the unit around.  This costs a bit more.  I opted for the wall mounted version because I am cheap frugal.  Using the machine is pretty straightforward and I do not find it to be as technically nuanced as rowing.  Hence this a great device for intense circuit training.  Why there aren't more of these things in commercial gyms or especially Crossfit gyms I'll never know.  This seems like just what the doctor ordered for those adult daycare centers gyms.

Do I like this machine?  Put it this way, if someone told me I could only keep 2 items from my gym I'd be hanging on to my Rowperfect Indoor Sculler and my C2 SkiErg.

If the floor doesn't look like this when you are done, you didn't try hard enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On-line training: Lesson Learned and Lenten sacrifice

Anyone who followed the old Rational Fitness blog will recall my fondness for having others program my training.  I believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well and therefore one should strive for optimal results.  Of course, the first ingredient is showing up.  The second ingredient is doing the right thing when you get there.  It is a lot easier for me to negotiate both of these hurdles if I know what I will be doing ahead of time.  As far as training for rowing I have worked with Xeno Muller and I have also utilized the Rojabo program.  I have done well with both.  Xeno is really good at video analysis of the stroke and also programming.  I rowed my best ever 2k race on the erg (6:36.9) while working with him.  I was 39 at the time and about 75 kg.  Being a vertically impaired (5'8") old man, I was pretty pleased with that result.  Xeno has a great website and blog and always has good informative posts.  He isn't excactly cheap but he knows the sport and he has the olympic medals to prove it.  Check out his blog here.  

I also use a Dutch website called Rojabo for my training.  To use this you run 2 tests on your erg and it will spit out a program.  It requires you to periodically redo the tests to guage your progress.  Once you do the tests, in addition to generating your next few weeks of training it will tell you your predicted result and also your potential optimal result.  Based on my last test it told me I had the potential to row 6:17.  Very flattering.  But my next question was, then why the heck did I get a 6:40.5 at my race the other week.  I am leaving oceans of time unaccounted for.  I emailed Bo from Rojabo to figure out what the deal was.  The Danish rowers are well know for having some of the fastest lightweight rowers anywhere.  Their training appears to be briefer and more intense compared to the way training is done by others.  Apparently most of these guys do other things besides rowing, they have jobs or go to school just like the rest of us.  There is no arguing with their results.  For a recent example check out Henrik Stephansen who just recently set the lightweight world record (again) on the 2k erg.  The guy goes sub 6 as a lightweight!  The scary thing is, if you check out Xeno's site, Xeno thinks there are still issues with his technique that if addressed could make him even faster!  Have a look....

Anyway in my emails with Bo I was informed that even in practice at capped rates (say a piece that calls for 20 strokes per min) these guys are always in little competitions with each other.  The program gives you a good idea where you should be at a given stroke rate so you have some parameters.  And herein lies the lesson that I perhaps have been failing to incorporate in spite of what so many people have probably been trying to tell me over the years.  If you are at a capped rate, or any rate, make every stroke count.  There should be no such thing as garbage time and I think that is where people get led astray particularly with those Concept 2 challenges where you try to log the most meters etc.  Long steady state is good but make that count too with technique drills etc.  Xeno is big on that.  If you have an interest in Rojabo, the website is  You can try it for a month for free. 

Since it is lent and I don't want to offend the new Pope, whoever that's going to be, I have to give something up.  I am giving up wasting time with rowing garbage meters.  

Here is an interesting little aside... I repeated the power test on three different ergs (it is a 6 min test and you cover the monitor so you can't see your splits.  1 min at 20 spm x2 then 1 min each at 22, 24,26,28 spm.  Once thats done you have your splits for each of those ratings.  I tested on the c2 static, c2 dynamic and rowperfect indoor sculler.  If you set the boat in the rowperfect as a 4 and the weight at 94 kg You will in theory generate numbers almost dead on with the static c2 for the same effort.  Here are the /500 m splits all are 20-20-22-24-26-28 spm respectively.

Rowperfect:  1:51-1:51-1:49-1:47-1:44-1:40  
C2 static:  1:53-1:54-1:50-1:48-1:45-1:42
C2 dynamic 1:59-1:58-1:56-1:52-1:49-1:47

In order to convert for the rowperfect I used time splits as the monitor does not store watts in memory furthermore for any given pace the watts are higher on the rowperfect as it also accounts in its calculation for work done against the internal bungee whereas the C2 monitors do not account for this.  I used the "ultimate erg calculator" available here to make those calculations.  It is interesting that with the C2 dynamic the amount of work done at a given pace is less.  Perhaps the explanation is that is quite easy to rate higher with any dynamic machine, particularly with the Concept 2 variant because the footstretcher and handle weigh next to nothing and changing direction is almost effortless therefore maybe 23 -24 spm equates on that equates to 20 spm on the static.  You engage so instantly at the catch on the rowperfect that this does not seem to be an issue.  I suppose this is more than anyone wanted or needed to know but hopefully it is of interest to someone.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Training music

If you spend any significant time on an erg you'll likely come to appreciate the benefit of listening to music while you train.  Since you are pretty much sitting in one place with almost no change of scenery, any external stimuli is a welcome relief.  This is in sharp contrast to rowing on the water where I strongly advocate NOT listening to music because it can be a dangerous distraction.  Anyway on the water there is the wonderful sound of oars clicking in the oarlocks, the blades moving through the water and the boat sliding through the water.  Those are great sounds.  Other not so great sounds may occur but you still need to hear them, for example: your oars slapping the water if you are rowing like shit or the sound of motorboats or douchebags on jetskis.   I have a strong dislike for that last group, can you tell?

Enough about that, this is about great songs for the erg.  Now a large list was compiled on Row2K recently and here is the link to that.  I came up with my own list and you'll see a few songs that they mentioned on Row2K but naturally my list is different better ; )

1.  "In Your Honor"  Foo Fighters --  Who doesn't like this one.  Particularly good as a warmup for a race

2.  "Paper Planes"  M.I.A.  -- Gunshots used as percussion, samples The Clash.  Its all good.

3.  "Pinpricks"  You Am I -- The best band no one in the USA has ever heard of.  I am not kidding.  Did I mention they are the best band you've never heard of?  They are that.

4.  "My Body"  Young the Giant--  "My body tells me no but I won't quit cuz I want more"  Has a more erg-appropriate song ever been written?  I think not.

5.  "Rusty Cage"  Soundgarden--  No explanation needed for this one

6.  "If You Want Blood"  AC/DC--  yeah because at the end of a hard 2k you are gonna be tasting it.   I have no idea why you taste blood after a max 2k but most people do.  Does anyone know why this is.  Pulmonary capillary congestion?  I never cough any up or anything though.  What gives?  Anyway almost anything by AC/DC is good for the erg or anything else.  If You am I is the best band you have never heard of well AC/DC is the best band you have heard of.  If you don't own all their albums I pity you.

7.  "Wolf Like Me"  TV on the Radio--  Pretty visceral and quite good

8.  "Where the Streets Have No Name"  U2--  Amazing song from an amazing album by an amazing band.  'nuff said

9."Submission"  Sex Pistols--  For a band that allegedly couldn't play their instruments this is pretty good.  Excellent choice for those lower rate higher drag pieces, which by the way you should be doing

10.  "Ain't No Right"  Jane's Addiction--  Its a song about pain tolerance.  You'll need it.

11.  "Surrender"  Cheap Trick--  Make sure its the live version from the Budokan album.  Cheap Trick is one of the few bands that sounds way better live than in the studio.  In fact for a longer steady state session you could throw the whole Budokan concert on and have an nice time.

12.  "Lit Up"  Buckcherry--  Good stuff right here

13.  "Aneurysm" Nirvana--  Make sure it is the live version from "Muddy Banks if the Wishka"  They play this one so hard that it seems like at times its gonna fall apart but it doesn't.  Kinda like the way you should feel on a hard interval.

14.  "I Turn My Camera On"  Spoon--  This is a good one.  There are so many Spoon songs that deserve honorable mention here it is ridiculous.

15.  "Jail Break"  Thin Lizzy--  One of the best bands ever.  This is a classic.

16.  "Police on my Back"  The Clash--  The thing speaks for itself

17.  "Teenage Riot"  Sonic Youth--  "You're it"

18.  "B.O.B."  Outkast--  Maybe a little fast but what a great song.  Might get you up to 40 SPM

19.  "Sweet Emotion" Aerosmith--  Phoned it in on this one cuz its a no-brainer plus there are a lot of rowers in Boston.

20.  "Till I Collapse"  Eminem--  Arguably the best erg song ever.

So there it is.  20 erg-tastic songs....Now off you go to itunes, spotify or wherever to make your playlist.