Indoor rower

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Several Concept2 Model C indoor rowers

An indoor rower, or rowing machine, is a machine used to simulate the action of watercraft rowing for the purpose of exercise or training for rowing. Indoor rowing has become established as a sport in its own right, drawing a competitive environment from across the world.[1][2] The term "indoor rower" also refers to a participant in this sport.

Modern indoor rowers are often known as ergometers (colloquially erg or ergo), which is technically incorrect, as an ergometer is a device which measures the amount of work performed. The indoor rower is calibrated to measure the amount of energy the rower is using through their use of the equipment.


Chabrias, an Athenian admiral of the 4th century BC, introduced the first rowing machines as supplemental military training devices. "To train inexperienced oarsmen, Chabrias built wooden rowing frames on shore where beginners could learn technique and timing before they went on board ship."[3]

Early rowing machines are known to have existed from the mid-1800s, a US patent being issued to W.B. Curtis in 1872 for a particular hydraulic based damper design. Machines using linear pneumatic resistance were common around 1900—one of the most popular was the Narragansett hydraulic rower, manufactured in Rhode Island from around 1900–1960.[4][5]

Gjessing-Nilson rowing ergometer, showing helical pulley and flywheel

In the 1970s, the Gjessing-Nilson ergometer from Norway used a friction brake mechanism with industrial strapping applied over the broad rim of the flywheel. Weights hanging from the strap ensured that an adjustable and predictable friction could be calculated.[6]

The first air resistance ergometers were introduced around 1980 by Repco.[7]In 1981, Peter and Richard Dreissigacker, and Jonathan Williams, filed for U.S. patent protection, as joint inventors of a "Stationary Rowing Unit". The first commercial embodiment of the Concept2 "rowing ergometer" was the Model A, a fixed-frame sliding-seat design using a bicycle wheel with fins attached for air resistance. The Model B, introduced in 1986, introduced a solid cast flywheel and the first digital performance monitor, which proved revolutionary.[8] This machine's capability of accurate calibration combined with easy transportability spawned the sport of competitive indoor rowing, and revolutionised training and selection procedures for watercraft rowing. Later models were the C (1993) and D (2003).[4][9]

In 1995, Casper Rekers, a Dutch engineer, was granted a U.S. patent for a (US 5382210A) "Dynamically Balanced Rowing Simulator".[10] This device differed from the prior art in that the flywheel and footrests are fixed to a carriage, the carriage being free to slide fore and aft on a rail or rails integral to the frame. The seat is also free to slide fore and aft on a rail or rails integral to the frame.


Motion type[edit]

Modern indoor rowers have their resistance provided by a flywheel.[11] The indoor rowers which utilise this flywheel resistance can be categorised into two motion types. In both types, the rowing movement of the user causes the footrests and the seat to move further and closer apart in co-ordination with the user's stroke. The difference between the two types is in the movement, or absence of movement, of the footrests relative to ground.

The first type is characterised by the Dreissigacker/Williams device. With this type the flywheel and footrests are fixed to a stationary frame, and the seat is free to slide fore and aft on a rail or rails integral to the stationary frame. Therefore, during use, the seat moves relative to the footrests and also relative to ground, while the flywheel and footrests remain stationary relative to ground.[12]

The second type is characterised by the Rekers device. With this type, both the seat and the footrests are free to slide fore and aft on a rail or rails integral to a stationary frame. Therefore, during use, the seat and the footrests move relative to each other, and both also move relative to ground.[12]

Damper type[edit]

Piston resistance comes from hydraulic cylinders that are attached to the handles of the rowing machine.[13]

Braked flywheel resistance models comprise magnetic, air, and water resistance rowers.[14]

Magnetic resistance models control resistance by means of permanent magnets or electromagnets.[15][16][13]

Air resistance models use vanes on the flywheel to provide the flywheel braking needed to generate resistance.[15][13]

Water resistance models consist of a paddle revolving in an enclosed tank of water.[15][13]


One of the most common brand of ergometers is Concept2.[17] The company offers multiple types of models, including the Model D, Model E, and the dynamic rower. An updated Rowperfect brand of dynamic rowers, RP3, produces ergometers that more naturally mimic the feel and resistance of rowing in a shell on the water. It additionally, shows a dynamic force curve of power that provides the rower with detailed information about their stroke which they can use to improve technique and rowing efficiency in terms of energy output.[18]


Sometimes, slides are placed underneath the erg to try to simulate the movement of being on the water. It allows the machine to move back and forth smoothly as if there were water beneath the rower. The slides can be connected in rows or columns so that rowers are forced to move together on the ergometer, similarly to the way they would match up their rhythm in a boat.[19]


An extremely efficient method of exercise, rowing uses 86% of muscles when done with correct form.[20] Indoor rowing primarily works the cardiovascular systems with typical workouts consisting of steady pieces of 20–40 minutes.

The standard measurement of speed on an ergometer is generally known as the "split", or the amount of time in minutes and seconds required to travel 500 metres (1,600 ft) at the current pace. [21]Other standard measurements units on the indoor rowing machine include calories and watts.[22] Using the Concept 2 PM3 model rower, calories are calculated based on a standard 79.5kg person. The formula used to calculate calories burned per hour is .[23] The formula used to calculate watts is .[24]

Ergometer testing[edit]

Although ergometer tests are used by rowing coaches to evaluate rowers and are part of athlete selection for many senior and junior national rowing teams, "the data suggest that physiological and performance tests performed on a rowing ergometer are not good indicators of on water performance".[25]

Some standard indoor rower ergometer tests include: 250-m ergometer test, 2000-m ergometer test, 5km ergometer test, 16000-m ergometer test and the 30 minute ergometer test.[26]

Rowing technique[edit]

Rowing on an ergometer requires four basic phases to complete one stroke; the catch, the drive, the finish and the recovery. The catch is the initial part of the stroke. The drive is where the power from the rower is generated while the finish is the final part of the stroke. Then, the recovery is the initial phase to begin taking a new stroke. The phases repeat until a time duration or a distance is completed. At each stage of the stroke the back should remain in a neutral, flat position, pivoting at the hips to avoid to avoid injury.[27]


Knees are bent with the shins in a vertical position. The back should be roughly parallel to the thigh without hyperflexion (leaning forward too far). The arms and shoulders should be extended forward and relaxed. The arms should be level.[28]


The drive is initiated by a push and extension of the legs; the body remains in the catch posture at this point of the drive. As the legs continue to full extension, the hip angle opens and the rower engages the core to begin the motion of the body levering backward, adding to the work of the legs. When the legs are fully extended, the rower begins to pull the handle toward the chest with their arms, completing the stroke with the handle half way up the body and the forearms parallel to the ground.[27][29]

Finish (or release)[edit]

The legs are at full extension and flat. The shoulders are slightly behind the pelvis, and the arms are in full contraction with the elbows bent and hands against the chest below the nipples. The back of the rower is still maintained in an upright posture and wrists should be flat.[27]


The recovery is a slow slide back to the initial part of the stroke, it gives the rower time to recover from the previous stroke. During the recovery the actions are in reverse order of the drive. The recovery is initiated by the extensions of the arms until fully extended in front of the body. The torso is then engaged by pivoting at the hips to move the torso in front of the hips. Weight transfers from the back of the seat to the front of the seat at this time. When the hands come over the knees, the legs are bent at the knees, moving the slide towards the front of the machine. As the back becomes more parallel to the thighs, the recovery is completed when the shins are perpendicular to the ground. At this point the recovery transitions to the catch for the next stroke.[27]


The first indoor rowing competition was held in Cambridge, MA in February 1982 with participation of 96 on-water rowers who called themselves the "Charles River Association of Sculling Has-Beens".[30] Thus the acronym, "CRASH-B". The core events for indoor rowing competitions that are currently competed in at the World Rowing Indoor Championships are the individual 500-m, individual 2000-m, individual 1 hour and 3 minute teams event.[31] Events at other indoor rowing competitions include the mile (e.g., Evesham), the 2500 meter (e.g., Basingstoke—also the original distance of the CRASH-B Sprints).

Most competitions are organised into categories based on sex, age, and weight class.[31] While the fastest times are generally achieved by rowers between 20 and 40 years old, teenagers and rowers over 90 are common at competitions.

In addition to live venue competitions, many erg racers compete by internet, either offline by posting scores to challenges, or live online races facilitated by computer connection. Online Challenges sponsored by Concept2 include the annual ultra-rowing challenge, the Virtual Team Challenge.[32]

Not all indoor-rowing challenges are competitive. Some are about minutes not metres such as; the World’s biggest, fully-inclusive, indoor-rowing event for charity. A hybrid virtual and live event rowed around the world concurrently over 4 hours, it's open to able-bodied and adapted men, women and kids meaning everyone, everywhere pulls together.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rowing Australia (2021). "Rowing Australia - About Events".
  2. ^ World Rowing (2021). "Indoor Rowing".
  3. ^ John R. Hale, "Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy"
  4. ^ a b The Independent Rowing News, 22 February 2002, retrieved 3 February 2012
  5. ^
  6. ^ Koch, Tim (2011). "Tim Koch on Land Rowing".
  7. ^ Unknown (2018). "SynergyAIR CVT and air displacement dynamics" (PDF).
  8. ^ Concept 2 (2021). "Model B Indoor Rower".
  9. ^ "RowHist-Equipment". Archived from the original on 13 July 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  10. ^ Rekers, Casper (17 January 1995). "United States Patent US5382210A" (PDF). Google Patents. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  11. ^ Mao, Helen (2021). "The Best Rowing".
  12. ^ a b Krishna Prasad, S; Megharaja, M; Abhishek, M; Chandan, S; Prashanth, N (August 2018). "Design and Fabrication of Rowing Human Powered Car" (PDF). International Journal of Engineering Science and Computing. 8: 18840–18844.
  13. ^ a b c d "Rowing Machine Resistance Types". Rowing Machine Reviews 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c Palmer, Roy (2021). "Types of Rowing Machines - Advantages and Disadvantages of Resistance Mechanisms". Rowing Machine Reviews & User Guides. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  16. ^ Emerson, Heather M. J. "Air Vs. Magnetic Rowing Machine". Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  17. ^ "Home | Concept2". Archived from the original on 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2017-01-26.
  18. ^ "Design of the RP3 | RP3 Rowing Machine". RP3 Rowing Machine. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2017-01-26.
  19. ^ Concept 2 (2021). "Rowergs - Slide".
  20. ^ Ingham, Stephen; Carter, Helen; Whyte, Gregory; Doust, Jonathan (March 2008). "Physiological and Performance Effects of Low- versus Mixed-Intensity Rowing Training". Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 40 (3): 579–584. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31815ecc6a. PMID 18379224.
  21. ^ "How to Use Your PM3 - Understanding Splits". Concept 2.
  22. ^ "How to Use Your PM3 - Viewing Calories or Watts". Concept 2.
  23. ^ "Calorie Calculator". Concept 2.
  24. ^ "Watts Calculator". Concept 2.
  25. ^ Ed McNeely, The Sport Journal, Jan. 2, 2012
  26. ^ Gee, Thomas; Ohlsen, Peter; Golby, Jim; Thompson, Kevin (March 2011). "Strength and Conditioning Practises in Rowing". The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25 (3): 668–682. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e2e10e. PMID 21311351. S2CID 207503192.
  27. ^ a b c d "Indoor Rowing Technique". British Rowing. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  28. ^ Caroe, Rebecca (2018). "The Catch in Rowing Technique".
  29. ^
  30. ^ Concept 2 promotional booklet, year 2000
  31. ^ a b "2021 WORLD ROWING INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS, PRESENTED BY CONCEPT2 COMPETITION SCHEDULE" (PDF). World Rowing. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  32. ^ "Online Challenges". Concept2. Concept2. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  33. ^ Rowing Factory, "Rowing Machine Benefits", Rowing Factory, 10th April 2020