Finding A Solid Indoor Rowing Coach (Hint: It Ain’t Easy)

Rowers these days are laughing fit to kill because indoor rowing is now way trendy. (Who da thunk it?!) Sample workouts show up in Men’s Fitness, while Harper’s Bazaar calls rowing “the new spinning.” CrossFit gyms around the world include rowing in their daily workouts and in 2014, for the first time, rowing was part of the CrossFit Open (which I loved, but a lot of my fellow CrossFitters did not).

If you’d like to try indoor rowing, by all means, find a gym, find a class, and go for it. But if you also plan to learn to row in the great outdoors, please be picky about your coaching.

Would you take spinning classes from someone who had never been on a bike? I think not. Is your rowing class led by a coach who has never rowed on the water? Same principle applies. You might want to step away from the erg, or risk learning bad habits that could take weeks or months to un-learn.

My current coach maintains that everyone can look at rowing and tell if it’s being done right. It’s totally true. Everyone knows that good rowing should look effortless. Smooth. And (dare I say it?!) easy (but remember, it’s not!). So let’s have a look at skilled erging vs. unskilled erging, shall we? Dear Novice Rower, you be the judge of which is which.

Here goes.

Indoor Rower #1 is a guy you’ve likely heard of. He’s Cam Newton—you know, star NFL quarterback Cam Newton. Dance-in-the-endzone Cam Newton. He and his NFL friends are erging. Use this link and have a look-see(Go ahead. I'll wait....)

Not pretty, is it? Neither rhythmic, nor smooth, nor effortless. Guess what? It also isn’t fast. At. All. (But don't worry. He’s making a solid living doing other stuff.)

Let's meet Indoor Rowers #2 and #3. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you’ve never heard of either of them. Eric Murray and Hamish Bond are from New Zealand. Have a look at their erging: 

Eric and Hamish (let’s assume we are on a first name basis, because I wish we were) rowed together in the 2012 London Olympics in a pair (two guys, each with one oar, no coxswain—arguably one of the most difficult boats to row). And they won the gold medal. (In their heat they broke the world record. They don’t mess around.) Both have also set numerous indoor rowing world records. In this video, they are trying to (surprise…!) break world records. Because that's what they do for fun, I guess.

My favorite takeaways from this video? (1) Note how strong and consistent they look at various stages in the test. They hang onto their form and rhythm until almost the bitter end. Lovely, gorgeous rowing. (2) Note the ghastly tan lines on their fans at around the 2:00 mark. This, my friend, is a look all rowers sport during the summer months. You’ve been warned.)

The moral of this post? Take a peek inside the door of the indoor rowing class you’d like to join. Do most of them row like Cam? (Does the coach?!) Or do most of them have some of the smoothness and rhythm of a Hamish or Eric? Choose the coach who can get you where you want to go. Then go!


We wind up Erg Week in our next post with erg testing <insert scary laughter here>. Why rowers take them, why all rowers hate them (except for maybe Hamish and Eric), and why your rowing friends get soooooo wound up over them.

photo credit: Alignement via photopin (license)