Monday, June 13, 2011

Sorry, I've been busy...

Too much time out here:

Doing this:

I have a lot of new stuff to share. I hate to say it but this may turn into more of a rowing blog than anything else for a while. Stay tuned...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dynamic erg videos

As promised here are some videos of the different dynamic ergs I mentioned in my last post:

Here is the new Concept2 dynamic:

Next we have the Rowperfect:

Here is the Oartec Slider:

And finally the concept 2 on slides:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Product Review: Oartec Slider

I have been meaning to review this for a while but I am now finally getting around to it. The Oartec Slider is an example of what is often referred to as a "dynamic ergometer" or "dynamic rowing machine". In contrast a typical rowing machine like the Concept 2 is a "static" erg. The difference is in how the seat moves in relation to the flywheel. A common criticism of static ergs is that they do not mimic what happens in a boat. Instead the whole body mass is moved up and down the slide during the rowing motion and the feet remain anchored. On a dynamic machine the seat moves as does the the mass to which the feet are anchored. This is more like what happens in a boat. In addition there is data suggesting that the body (particularly the low back) is subjected to less stress on a dynamic machine. In this case the body is not slammed into the catch position as it is on the static.

Currently the rowing machine market is dominated by Concept2. Their traditional machine (currently model D and E) are commonly seen (but often neglected) in commercial gyms. These are the machines that are used for indoor rowing competitions. They are superb in quality and design and performance is standardized so what you pull on one machine would be the same as any other assuming you have the same drag factor set. Concept 2 has revolutionized indoor rowing and they provide outstanding customer service. Concept 2 though was late to the party when it came to dynamic machines to an extent. In fairness they offered an option to give their traditional erg a more dynamic feel with the addition of slides that can be ordered from their website for a few hundred dollars. The problem with these is they require a lot of space as they significantly expand the range of movement of the entire apparatus. In the last few months Concept 2 has brought to market their new dynamic erg. The design is interesting and the footprint of the entire machine is about 6 feet, this is nice if space is an issue. I haven't tried it but there are a few things I don't like about it. My main complaint is that the flywheel sit just beneath one of your arms so you will tend to sweat right into it. Also they replaced the chain with a cable. Reviews so far have been mixed. Given all that I decided to look at other options.

Another major player in the dynamic market is the Rowperfect. This is a very nice machine that is well liked. The major problem with this is its cost. It costs about 3x as much as either an oartec or a Concept2. My other issue was that I couldn't find anyone in the USA that had them available. Could be a problem if I need spare parts or a repair. That plus the price equaled a F-that according to rational fitness mathematics. This left the Oartec as the best option. Oartec is an Australian company but they are made in the States now and marketed by the folks at Waterrower. Waterrower is another brand of static erg. They make a really nice machine that looks more like a piece of modern art furniture than an exercise machine. It uses a water filled drum instead of a fan to generate resistance and it is actually pleasant to row. Never mind about that. Lets talk about the Oartec.

The Oartec is a very well constructed machine, solid, easy to assemble. It uses the same type of flywheel as the concept 2 and is reportedly calibrated the same as the concept 2, so theoretically 500m rowed on the Oartec would equal 500m on the static Concept 2. I say theoretically because I think they are actually a bit different. The Oartec is dynamic so the seat and the footstretcher/flywheel assembly move independent of one another. It is easier to increase your rating (strokes per min) on the Oartec but you pay a price in a very short time. I did a little experiment. I currently get my rowing workouts from (great site, first month is free so it is worth a try). To use this site you have to do two tests, one is a power test, the other is an endurance step test (not fun). I tested these on both the Oartec and the static Concept 2 a couple times. In both cases the power test results were nearly identical. It is a six minute test with 1 min splits at 20, 20, 22, 24, 26, and 28 strokes per min so not very hard. The results of the power test will tell you how to proceed on the endurance test. In both cases my endurance test ended much earlier with the Oartec because I couldn't sustain the power at the given rating as long. This fits with what others have said about dynamic ergs. Initially you can crank but it catches up with you quickly. I am not exactly sure why but I think it may have to do with additional mechanical factors with respect to the movement of the seat, flywheel and foot stretcher/flywheel apparatus and energy loss from this. Seriously I don't know, its just a good deal harder.

Ok lets review this bad boy. First the good: It is well constructed and nice to look at. Black and orange are a great color combination. I like the color orange for some reason. It is fairly easy to get a good dynamic rhythm going but if your technique deteriorates you will know immediately, it provides instant feedback. It is also great for technique drills like one leg rowing and strapless rowing. It can be stored vertically so if you need it out of the way, that isn't a problem. The handle is wide and comfortable. The foot stretchers are typical and not that different in function from the concept 2. However they connect to a solid plate and the overall effect is almost like you are getting into the machine rather than sitting on it. This thing is solid and the build shows quality. At the price point it is close to the static Concept 2, a little less than the C2 dynamic and way less than the Rowperfect. The monitor is easy to use and actually gives you some interesting features that the Concept 2 monitor lacks, for example stroke length, drive ratio, and you can have your distance in miles or other units. The drag factor is easy to get and corresponds pretty well with the Concept 2 (i.e a 150 drag factor feels similar on both machines).

What about the bad? Although the monitor provides some interesting new features it is nowhere near as good as the concept 2 monitor. It will only store your last sessions data. Want to race a previous performance or see a pace boat? Can't do it. Also with Rojabo I do a lot of intervals. If I want to see my stroke length I have to tell it that for each interval (i.e. when the next interval starts it won't tell me stroke length unless I tell it to again). Same problem applies to heart rate. You can use a polar HR monitor with a pickup device that plugs into the monitor (same as with the concept 2, unless you have a C2 PM4 monitor and a Suunto HR monitor, then you don't need a pickup on the C2). Also you are stuck with polar as far as HR monitors go on the Oartec, the Suunto strap that C2 provides with the PM4 is about 1000x more comfortable. In addition, you can't have two tech functions displaying at the same time on the Slider, you must pick between HR, stroke length, drive ratio, drag factor, or avg strokes per min (wtf is that there for?) I suspect that these issues will all be addressed soon as they are planning to release a computer program to interface with the Oartec. The website makes it sound like it is already available, it isn't as of right now. Also if you like to use other software like RowPro, the Oartec is currently not compatible. Other issues are minor. It is a bit louder than the the Concept 2. It has a throaty sound especially when you get cranking on it. This isn't a big deal. If noise is a big issue for you get a WaterRower maybe. One thing I didn't like that everyone else seems to like was the seat. It is soft (too soft) and comfortable but after about 10k it starts to chafe. I took it off and ordered a spare Concept 2 seat which I mounted. It cost me $15. Fifteeen bucks! Did I tell you Concept 2 had good customer service and good prices on parts? Well let me tell you, they are the cat's meow when it comes to that. Oartec also has been excellent as far as customer service goes. Initially I had a problem with my monitor and they spent a lot of time on the phone troubleshooting it. It ended up that they overnighted a new monitor because the first monitor would not allow interval programming and would not accept a software update.

Overall despite some minor limitations, I am happy with the Oartec. It does seem easier on my low back and I enjoy rowing it. I think the release of the new computer software will address any remaining problems and i can't wait for that. Bottom line though is, as they say, "ergs don't float". There is no substitute for being on the water but with the weather we have been having lately, the Oartec is the best game in town much of the time. Tomorrow or thereabouts I will provide links to videos of all the machines mentioned here. This post is testing the limits of the human attention span (mine in particular).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Re-post of Rostov program

Charge up the time machine... Here is one from the vaults. This is the Rostov program I did a couple years ago. The original post was 1/13/09 I still think this is a great 1 month training program for someone who wants to build up to a competition. So lets say you want to compete with 24kg bells, use those for the heavy set and 16s for the lighter sets. You can also adjust the reps based on your goals and current ability. Here you go:

Well Comrades the 4 week Rostov experiment is now complete and I will give you full disclosure here. Here is pic of Rostov -on Don for you to enjoy. Each microcycle is one week so it is a 4 week program as there are four microcycles. It is all 2 arm long cycle thus where you see 32 +32 would refer to a pair of 32kg bells. the numbers inside the bracket are the reps I was supposed to get. The time of the set is written next. For some of the sets there might be a situation where I would do multiple one or two minute sets. Here I will indicate the time between sets. If not otherwise specified I would rest 3 minutes between say sets with the 32 kg bells and the 24kg bells.

Microcycle 1
Day 1. 32+32 / 16 / - 2'00" + 24+24 / 30/ - 3'00" I got all the reps for these sets. (This turned out to be a rare event!)
Day 2. 32+32 / 20 / - 2'30" + 24+24 / 42 / - 3'30" I got all the reps with the 32s but 38 reps with the 24s.
Day 3. 32+32 / 24 / - 3'00" + 24+24 / 48 / - 4'00" I got all the reps with the 32s but only 42 with the 24s.
Day 4. 32+32 / 28 / - 3'30" + 24+24 / 60 / - 5'00" 26 reps with the 32s and 51 with the 24s
Day 5. 32+32 / 32 / - 4'00" + 24+24 / 72 / - 6'00" 27 reps with the 32s and 62 with the 24s

Microcycle 2.

Day 1. 32+32 / 10 / x 9 = 1'00", rest 1'00" Here I did 10/10/10/10/9/8/8/8/7 This was a bitch!
Day 2. 32+32 / 13-14 / x 6 = 1'40", rest 1'00" I got 13/13/11/12/12/10
Day 3. 24+24 / 48/ - 4'00" I got 45.
Day 4. 32+32 / 15-16 / x 5 = 2'00", rest 1'00" 15/15/14/14/13

Microcycle 3.

Day 1. 32+32 /4-5/ - 30" + 32+32 /12-14/ - 1'30" + 24+24 / 24 / - 2'00" I got the recommended reps (5/12/24)
Day 2. 32+32 / 9 / - 1'00" + 32+32 / 17 / - 2'00" + 24+24 / 30 / - 2'30" Came up a little short (9/16/28)
Day 3. 32+32 / 24 / - 3'00" + 24+24 / 42 / - 3'30" Recurring theme, short again 24 w/ 32s and 37 w/ 24s
Day 4. 32+32 / 38-48 / --- 5'00"-6'00" 39 reps at 6 min (6 min PR!)

Microcycle 4.

Day 1. 32+32 / 16-17 / - 2'00" + 32+32 / 16-17 / - 2'00" + 24+24 / 50 / -5'00" Came up short again (16/16/47)
Day 2. 32+32 / 22-24 / - 2'00" + 32+32 / 22-24 / - 2'00" + 24+24 / 60 / -6'00" This was insane what they are asking for (17/18/56)
Day 3. 32+32 / 56-64 / -- 8'00" 51 in 8 min

Overall Impressions:

This was tough. This is supposed to be a program for folks near or at the level of Master of Sport. Looking at the numbers I would think depending on one's weight class it could be a little more than MS for lighter guys. For example at my weight class 75 kg, 54 gets me MS. According to the template I would be hitting those numbers at 8 min. Two more min at that pace gets me close to MS world class. I can honestly say that isn't in the cards for me. One of my goals though is 60 reps and based on results through 8 min, it seems doable. So overall I am pleased. This offered a nice change of pace and it forced me to get faster. Now 6 RPM seems fairly easy,

I think I said before that for a beginner, I would not recommend this approach as the speed may foster poor form and the shorter duration doesn't teach you to go the distance. For me this was worthwhile. For the next couple months I will go back to the old training style. A main set of LC, then a lighter fast set with 24s or probably 28s. (My 28s are feeling a little neglected). Then some one arm work and some leg and back work and some rowing. About a month out from the Arnold I'll add back the jump squats. After yesterdays 8 min set I hit a couple other PRs. 25/25 Pistols and 12/13 One arm jerks with 48kg.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Just walk away

Sometimes it seems like my greatest breakthroughs occur by accident. As far as my training goes, well I have been on a serious rowing kick for the past several months. As I result. it was only recently that I picked up the kettlebells again. I am tentatively planning on going to the North American Outlaw Kettlebell meet in May so I felt like I should get back to the bells for a bit.

Getting back into long cycle this time was great. I say this for a few reasons. First it is nice to do something different. Don't get me wrong, I love rowing, I know it sounds totally perverse but I love the erg. I also like my ski erg. By the way, I still need to do a formal review of that along with my new dynamic Erg (which is really fun). Anyway, too much of the same thing equals no fun plus overuse injury. Crop rotation is your friend. I digress.... The other nice thing about this revisiting long cycle is that I am no longer chasing anything. Like the rabbits we talked about last post, anything you chase will try to run away. This time it just came right to me. Relaxed with no serious goal I noticed something. For the first time I was not using the alternating rack to rest. I am not sure why but I seem to be able to find rest in the rack now. I do not think I am more flexible, I have not been practicing the rack or really thinking about it at all. I am probably aerobically better conditioned from the erg and maybe less "tight" because I haven't been lifting as much. I think the real reason has to do with the fact that in the past I never really walked away from the bells for very long. It was a relentless death march of money sets and assistance work. I knew what to do but when the fatigue hit I resorted to what I had taught myself, the side rack resting position. I couldn't get away from it because there was never any distance between me and it.

It is hard to walk away from something you enjoy training with. It was only because I found something else I liked doing that this happened in the first place. In any case I think the result is kind of cool. I am working with my old friend, the Rostov program, again. Maybe I'll pull that one out of the vaults and post it here.

Bottom line I guess is keep up the variety, don't take training too seriously and if you aren't improving, walk away for a while.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Last week was a lot of fun. I spent it learning how to scull at the Florida Rowing Center. I felt itwas time and money well-spent. Unfortunately I think I may have been bitten by the rowing bug which has created a whole new set of problems such as: 1) How am I going to get a boat? 2) Where will I keep it? 3) Where and when can I row it? Honestly the big issue is where will I keep it. There are no actual clubs around me which is a little odd given that I live a few miles from one of the great lakes. This of course creates yet another issue. A sleek racing boat isn't going to cut it here on most days. Windy conditions and cold slightly choppy water is par for the course, even in the bay. Yep, I need a stable open water type boat. Having had the distinct pleasure of capsizing at rowing school made me realize that if that happened in my cold lake, I'd be in big trouble. I also got to row home during a sudden storm with 60 mph gusts. That was my second day on the water. Luckily I was in a stable boat that could handle the whitecaps in spite of my near zero skills. That's the boat I'm going to get. In a nutshell I loved it. I learned a lot and it will take me the rest of my life to get better at this. Sculling is sort of like golf. No matter how much you practice or play, there is always room to improve. For some reason I enjoy that sort of thing. The instructors were great and very patient with this novice. In fact the title of this post comes from something one of the coaches, Harvey, taught me.

As with any complex skill when you are learning you are doing many things wrong, in this case maybe it is using the arms too soon, not manteling, allowing the core to collapse, feathering out of the water, not waiting for the oars to fill, gripping to tight and about twenty other things. Harvey calls these things rabbits. Why? What happens if a fox chases 3 rabbits at a time? He gets zero rabbits. So it goes with learning. It is easier and more effective to focus on correcting one thing at a time and then moving on to the next rabbit. So take the golf swing for example. Perhaps you are struggling with a slice and usually there are several reasons why. A good place to start may be relaxing the grip so you can get the hands around a bit more. Once that is grooved move on to the stance or something. In any case if you try to do everything right all at once you won't fix anything. Food for thought.

If you are at all interested in rowing you might want to consider the Florida Rowing Center. www. It is near Palm Beach and I enjoyed the 85 degree temperatures whilst it was snowing back home. Here is the view of the lake we rowed on:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Regarding the "retro" material

After reviewing and saving the content of the old blog (took me all morning), I have a plan for what I will do with the old stuff. Every so often I'll just put up one of the old posts from out of the vault. Of course if there is a post someone wants me to put back up just let me know and I can do that too. I still want most of the stuff on here to be new but some of the old stuff was ok I guess.

I just can't believe how much stuff was on there, it was like a trip down memory lane. I might have to bust out the Barbara Streisand vinyl collection (I don't actually have any, don't worry its all on 8-track).


Recent kettlebell sport videos and intro to the concept (from 5/4/07)

Kettlebell sport or Girevoy sport as it is know in the former USSR is a challenging athletic endeavor consisting of two events, the double kettlebell jerk and the single kettlebell snatch. In competition for men both events are tested with a ten minute time limit for each event. In the Jerk the bells cannot touch the ground or the set is over. Rest can only occur in the overhead locked out position or in the racked position. In the snatch only one hand switch is allowed and the bell cannot touch the ground or any other part of the shoulder. Rest can occur in the overhead lockout or in the hang position (the latter position is not used because it is extremely fatiguing for the grip. Women only compete in the snatch. Competition weights are 12 or 16 kg for women and 32 kg for men. Senior men can compete with 24 kg bells. One additional category for men is called long cycle. This involves a clean before each jerk. The ten min time limit, rest positions and weights are the same, with the additional option of resting in the hang position. It doesn't get much tougher than this. I don't think most people will have any idea how hard this is until they try it. I think the potential carry-over of this type of work to other athletic endeavors will be dramatic. If you like hard work you'll love kettlebell sport!

Here are two videos from youtube. The first is Catherine Imes getting her Master of Sport in the Snatch event. Unbelievable as she is the first American born woman to attain this elite level. The second is Marty Farrell doing 61 Jerks in 10 min w/ 32 kg bells. An amazing feat for anyone but really outstanding considering Marty weighs around 155 lbs. He puts most people even twice his size to shame in this event! Check it out.

Till next time... Train Smart!


No excuses (originally published 4/28/07)

often do we come up with excuses for not training or we try to rationalizing half-assed attempts at training when we know we should be working harder? Common excuses are I am tired, or the gym is closed or I worked late. Note that these are excuses and not reasons. What's the difference? I left my gym bag at home is an excuse, I broke my leg is a reason. Bottom line: we call things reasons but they are merely excuses. If you wish to continue putting off the training you know your body needs, by making lame excuses.... go back to your blueberry scone and catch up on another episode of the Christopher Lowell show.

The truth is you can train pretty much anywhere and with a little bit of thinking you can do this with a scarcity of time, space or equipment. Got 15 minutes? I bet you do. Push ups, burpees, hindu squats, deck squats and jump rope. Mix them in a circuit for a body weight total body work-out. Got a kettlebell? Even better! Snatches, Swing-flip & catch squats, and presses, do a few circuits with those and have a wastebasket handy. Maybe there is a playground nearby with some chinup bars... great, do some chins, hanging leg raises and push-ups. Lot's of excuses just went up in smoke, like a joint in a Cheech & Chong movie.

We just got back from what has become an annual family roadtrip. Usually I will try to work in training to fit into this and sometimes it ends up being suboptimal. This time was different, I had some great workouts in a very small hotel room doing just pistols, swings and snatches. The above picture was taken during these sessions. I was sweating my ass off. Not much room to work and I was a little pressed for time as I didn't want to hold up everyone elses fun.... they think I am crazy anyway but that is a different story.

Till next time.. Train Smart!


Why Kettlebells (originally posted 4/16/07)

What is the deal with kettlebells and why do I use them in my training?
3 main reasons come to mind:
1. Versatility
2. Portability
3. Measureability

Lets start with versatility: I can easily work any muscle group with these weights. I can work groups in isolation if I choose or I can do drills that involve the entire body but may emphasize certain muscle groups over others. My preference is the latter as there is very little that is done in daily life that exclusively uses a single muscle group. Every sport involves use of multiple muscle groups and the body works as a unit. It makes sense to train using more "functional" or whole body drills unless you are a bodybuilder trying to develop a lagging muscle group. This probably sounds like blasphemy to those coming from a bodybuilding-type training background. That unfortunately would include most people, don't believe me? Think about it next time you are waiting in line for the cable crossover machine at your local gym. Why do most people train like this? Who knows? Why do whales beach themselves? I can't answer that either.

If you want an idea of the scope of exercises offered with kettlebell training check out some of Steve Cotter's work. It is at . Steve's Encyclopedia of Kettlebell Lifting has 7 hours of material covering various drills. That is just volume 1. Volume 2 provides an additional 9 or so hours of original material with even more exercises and variations. There are plenty of great exercises to keep you challenged for at least the next 200 years.

On to portability... I can grab a pair, put them in my car and take them anywhere. If I want a change of scenery, no problem. Train outside when it is nice. I do it all summer. Got a small apartment, no room for the home gym? Now you have no excuse. Packing up the minivan for the great american summer vacation? Don't forget your kettlebell! No more excuses, only more reasons to exercise.

Finally measurability... My interest in kettlebells focuses on kettlebell sport this is also known as Girevoy sport. This aspect of kettlebell lifting originates from the former USSR. The birthplace of the kettlebell. International standards exist and tables have been published. This is a great way to reference where you stand relative to the international standards.
Quite a bit of information on this can be found at the North American Kettlebell Federation website or at World Champ Valery Fedorenko's site Steve Cotter's site also has a great forum which has a lot of discussions regarding this. Frequent participants include some of the best American Kettlebell lifters. Check it out!

Please email me with any questions you might have.


Ok we're back

Here we have the first post in our new location. There may be a little trial and error here as I adjust to the new format but it has to be easier than the byzantine procedures required to blog on godaddy. Over the next day or so I plan to try and move some of the material from that blog to this one. Consider it a greatest hits of the RFP blog so to speak. I do not think I will be able to transfer the comments or pictures but oh well. I have lots of new material that I will be sharing over the next few months so stay tuned.... Meanwhile let me know what you think about the new blog.