Speed Tips Learned at NW Ergomania
At last month’s NW Ergomania – the NW Indoor Rowing Championships sponsored by Concept 2 – I had the benefit of warming up under the watchful eye of way-of-life rower Dale McKinnon. She knew I was new to the sport and that I’d had exactly zero formal instruction on technique. So after a couple minutes of cranking on the machine, she gave me the following pointers:
1) “Get more leg power by sliding forward further, so you’re lifting your heals off the foot plate.” Having been a kayaker for nearly 20 years, I’ve all but forgotten how to REALLY bring my legs into the power-phase of a stroke. OK, Yes, you do drive with your legs while paddling a surfski or kayak, but with very, VERY little range of motion compared to rowing. On the rower, I’m still consciously reminding myself about every 5th stroke use the legs, use the legs!!! And Dale’s heal-lift tip gave me one more means of paying attention so I could gain a handful of meters on the competition.
2) “On the handle return, don’t pause, and keep the path straight.” At the end of my stroke, with arms bent and the handle tucked just under my sternum, I’d pause there for a moment of ergo-“glide.” Dale said to forget that and to get started smoothly returning the handle as soon as I finished the stroke. Then she pointed out some other rowers nearby, and the somewhat-convoluted path they guided the handle through on the return, such as up over their knees as their legs bent, then tightly down along their shins, then back up to the starting position, in a wave-pattern.
“Forget that, too,” she said. “It’s wasted movement. Keep the path straight and short.” Making these two changes to my stroke, I immediately felt more natural and efficient, and another speed-bump had just been pulled from the race course.
3) The final speed tip came just before I raced the Men’s Open 1K. I asked Dale, “If I’m half-way through, and I just start falling apart, what one thing should I do to get back to good?”
Dale didn’t hesitate with her answer, “Lift up your chin, open your chest, and get breathing to get the oxygen flowing!” It made perfect sense. In all the types of racing I’ve done, consciously re-setting my posture and breathing has been a universal speed booster. Interestingly, even after a lifetime of athletics, whenever I do a mid-competition audit of posture and breathing, I always, always find room for improvement.
(NOTE: Great Minds Think Alike! After Dale had delivered the final tip on posture and breathing, I walked across the auditorium to multiple world-record holder Luann Mills and asked her the same question about what to do if I was falling apart mid-race. With the same dead-pan, no-hesitation style Dale had just displayed, Luann said, ““Lift up your chin, open your chest, and get breathing to get the oxygen flowing!” Alrighty, then.
By the end of the day, with Dale’s guidance on the basics, I walked away from NW Ergomania with two gold medals and feeling totally inspired to get more professional guidance on my form and training routine. In February 2011, at the tail-end of my thirties, I plan on traveling to the CRASH-B Indoor Rowing World Championships to see how I stack up against the sport’s elite.