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.