This is the third article in a series of 3. The first article focuses on the boats, location and equipment. The second article focuses on improving the drive and recovery to avoid boat checking. This third article shows how we analyzed and improved catch angle and drive length
Rowing Technique - YouTube
Our next rower. Let’s call her Helen. She’s a very good sculler. Her blade placement is exemplary. She has a smooth stroke and good boat handling.
We identified two points for Helen to work on. The first one is something that we currently don’t have sensors for. You can see it from the picture though. She has to relax the shoulders a bit around the catch.
The second point is about catch angle. As you can see in the still, her shins are not perpendicular to the boat. (This picture was taken on day three, when she already improved a lot, compared to day 1.) She can actually reach a bit further, and the thing that is holding her back is insecurity.
The tool we used was simply to install an Empower Oarlock and set the SpeedCoach to show catch angle. Helen would monitor the numbers and it would give her a target to work to, and motivation to try and improve the numbers. It’s extremely simple, but being able to see how far you are catching and pushing yourself to go further in small steps really helps. So this is a technique improvement where the Empower Oarlock really shines.
Rowers come in different sizes, ages and ability levels, and we were conscious of that when we were comparing numbers. With that disclaimer out of the way, there is a lot of value in just looking at numbers side by side and discussing why there are differences. We’ll focus on drive length, as it is one of the primary drivers of boat speed. We’ll also look at catch and finish angle, as it is something that is easily adjusted.
In the chart above, we are looking at drive length across stroke rates for four of our participants. We can see a couple of things. Mr Purple has the longest drive length, and it is pretty constant across the stroke rates sampled. Mr Orange follows. He is a bit shorter than Mr Purple. Green and blue are very inconsistent.
The next chart shows drive length and catch angle. The two metrics are strongly correlated of course, but you can see that Mr Orange is on a different curve than Mr Green and Mr Purple. This is related to footstretcher position, which we did end up changing a bit for Mr Orange. The same set of data, but now looking at finish angle. Mr Green is short, but he is on the same curve as Mr Purple. Mr Orange has a different footstretcher setting.
A third view on the same data set. Now we’re looking at the peak force angle, which we ended up moving a bit more in front of the pin after analyzing these data.
At the camp, we also went through some other metrics. Comparing rowers and discussing the values of different metrics is a great way to add some facts to your thinking about your boat setup. It forces you to articulate why you made certain choices, and opens your mind for the possibility to change.
Just knowing what the value is of the catch angle, how consistent it is, and how much you can improve can be enough to point a rower in the right direction and get them to improve.
This is the final article about the rowing camp. We have done much more than can be described in three short articles, but I hope you get the idea of how much can be achieved. In a relatively short time, we were able to get people comfortable using the rowing data and making real progress.
For me personally, there were a few important things I took out of the camp:
It is really fulfilling to see each of the participants and help them improve their rowing by selecting the sensor that gives them just the right information
Working with people who are new to rowing data. You need to take the time to set up their boat and get them up to speed on using the app or device during the row, getting the data off the device, and analyzing the data. We did have some user registration hiccups unfortunately. Also, the current apps and devices aren’t really “set-and-forget”.
I was amazed by how effective the video and data combination was. It worked two ways. Initially, we looked at technique flaws to work on and then showed the participants which metric they had to improve. But in the other direction, the data gave us indications on what part of the stroke to look at, and then we had slow motion video to analyze. This could be even more effective in the future if there was an easy way to get time stamped data aligned with the video in a fully automated way. Merging the data and video streams between the row and the video analysis wasn’t practically possible today. But if there was a way to automate that and look at the video annotated with the data, that would be hugely effective.
The camp participants should all be proud of what they achieved. They all worked very hard. Here’s what I think is most valuable for this group:
Thorough review of their boat rig, based on their stroke, body size, strength
World class coaching for multiple sessions per day – something that Masters rowers rarely get.
Learning how to use data to work on technique
Learning how to use data to track your training and progress against the plan
Any technique change takes tens of thousands of strokes to really settle in, but the first few thousand strokes were done during the camp and I am happy to say that the participants were very focused, and managed to make some real improvements.
On top of that, we made new friends, had a lot of fun together and enjoyed beautiful weather, good food, Czech beer and Moravian wines.
This is the second article in a series of 3. The first article focuses on the boats, location and equipment. This second article focuses on improving the drive and recovery to avoid boat checking. The third article shows how we analyzed and improved catch angle and drive length
“You want to put the blade in the water at the catch, relax and hang off it with as little tension as possible. Then you want to swing through the middle. You want to produce your power through the middle of the stroke, not at the catch.
The opposite being the bang and hang which only leads to a slower boat. You don’t want to bang otherwise you can’t hang. Banging means hitting the catch too hard or tensing or jamming it off the front.”
Here is one of our participants, let’s call him Bob:
Rowing Technique - YouTube
This video was taken on the third day. Bob is an experienced sculler, but hadn’t had the opportunity to scull in more than a year. It’s remarkable how quickly he recovered his technique, he made great progress during the week. On the first day, we pointed out that he was “skying” in blades on recovery and missing water at the catch. By the third day, he had made fantastic improvements.
When Bob didn’t have access to water, he spent a lot of time on the bike. Over that time, his legs got a lot stronger and his core and upper body didn’t. Our coach Adam felt that improvement in Bob’s core strength could help him unlock a lot of speed. In the gym, we demonstrated a strength program that should help him develop a lot more “boat send” in the second half of the drive.
The other thing that is slowing Bob down is boat stopping around the catch. He bangs, then hangs, to speak with Robbie Manson.
The charts shows boat acceleration (solid lines) and boat velocity (dashed lines) for four different outings. All four measurements were at 22 spm. The catch is at the left edge of the chart. We’re looking at boat acceleration. Here are a couple of points:
Notice the plateau at the base of the acceleration curve at the catch, and the deep dip in the boat velocity (dashed lines). This shows that the boat is stopping at the catch. You can also see it in the video. Bob slams into the front stops and pushes his legs pretty hard, but it’s not picking up the boat speed in the first part of the drive
Boat acceleration drops after the first peak (legs) and drops dramatically after the back swing is finished
Boat is slowing down during the first part of the recovery.
he Quiske app enabled us to compare how rowers with different techniques drove the boat acceleration and velocity through the stroke.
Bob (blue) and Alex (green), are rowing at the same stroke rate.
On the recovery, Bob starts accelerating the boat just before the catch, which you can see as the hump in the acceleration curve at the right side.
At the catch, Alex is losing much less speed. Notice how deep the dip in Bob’s boat velocity is compared to Alex. Also note the plateau at the beginning of the drive showing that Bob was missing some water before he makes the catch and picks up the boat. (This effect is less pronounced on the video which was taken on the third day of the camp after Bob had made some great improvements.)
Alex boat speed is higher, so the drive phase is a bit shorter than Bob’s. But you can see the gradual build of the acceleration through the drive, versus the double hump in Bob’s. This illustrates the difference between “Hang and Bang” (Alex) and “Bang and Hang” (Bob)
The Quiske app and RowP pod enabled us to also understand and work on the how our rowers were controlling their oars during both the drive and recovery phase of the stroke. There are a couple of important things that we were able to see from this view.
Alex blade curve (green) vs Bob’s (blue). Alex sweeps through a angle of about 95 degrees. Bob sweeps through about 85 degrees. That is basically because Alex is 186 cm (6’1″) tall and has a longer stroke than Bob at 164 cm (5’4″). That may be a simple reason for the difference in boat speed.
You can see that the height of Bob’s oars is increasing as he approaches the catch, where Alex is able to maintain a much flatter approach to the catch. This is the oar angle view of “skying” and usually means that the rower is skimming his blades on the water, and then lifting them off to square them before the catch. This contributes to missing water.
This chart is one of oar angle speed, again comparing Bob in blue with Alex in green. Two points:
The blue line starts at negative angular speed (handle still moving towards the stern) while the green line starts at positive angular speed (handle moving away from the stern). The time=0 point in Quiske charts are determined by the point of lowest boat acceleration (or largest boat stopping). For Bob, this moment is happening before the handle direction is reversed, while he is slamming into the front stops, and it takes some time after the handle has reversed before he is starting to accelerate the boat. For Alex it’s the other way round. I am not saying that Alex is the ideal rower (far from that), but Bob surely could gain a lot from being more efficient in the part of the recovery just before the catch.
In the second half of the recovery, starting at 80% of the total stroke time, Bob’s blade angle starts to accelerate into the catch.
The interesting thing here is that these points were hard to spot on the video, but once we had looked at the data, we were able to spot it by looking at Bob row. By using video, data feedback and live coaching, Bob was able to see and understand the specific elements of his stroke that could be improved.
During the camp, Bob focused on:
Eliminating boat stopping body movements during the recovery, especially just before the catch.
Picking up the boat a bit more subtly and changing his drive profile
Back to the boat acceleration and boat speed curves. The red curve was measured later in the week. Bob managed to change the profile and his boat speed increased, in identical (wind still) circumstances.
Notice that there is a much smaller plateau in the acceleration curve at the catch and the depth of the velocity dip is smaller. Also notice that he has started to minimize the initial peak in the acceleration curve, which means he was applying his leg power more smoothly in the drive. He still has work to do to improve his approach to the catch during recovery, because the acceleration still shows a hump at the right edge. But using the Quiske pod and app we were able to detect the effect, break it down into what’s causing it, and give him a tool to monitor it during subsequent outings.
Case Study 2:
Rowing Technique - YouTube
Here is a second case study from the camp. Let’s call him Arnold. The video was taken on the last day of the camp, and by then he had made some significant improvements.
Arnold has a smooth catch. Very smooth. Arnold hangs, but there isn’t much bang. That was his first priority in camp.
The second thing Arnold was working on was a strong position at the finish. He tends to look into the boat, and could lay back a bit more, especially with his upper back, lower back angle looks okay. Basically, he wanted to have a stronger second half of the drive, combined with a more dynamic recovery.
In Bob’s case, some of the improvements in technique require work in the gym to help his core and upper body “catch up” with his strong legs. In Arnold’s case, his leg strength, core and upper body are pretty well matched and the recommended changes to Arnold’s technique could be tried right away during camp. Making sure that the new habits stick will be a matter of monitoring.
The chart above shows Arnold’s boat acceleration, boat speed, and seat speed at 24 strokes per minute. Again, the catch is at the left edge of the plot.
You can see that the boat loses very little velocity at the catch. (The depth of the velocity curve is very shallow). That corresponds to Arnold’s smooth catches.
We were working on how to try to get more energy into the drive phase. Essentially this would fill in the dip of the acceleration curve.
You can see how little Arnold disturbs the boat run during the recovery. The velocity slowly trickles down and there is almost no bumps in the acceleration curve. This means that Arnold seat speed during recovery is very well controlled.
Arnold stroke looks pretty good, let’s directly compare it to Bob at the same stroke rate:
Arnold gets good blade placement at the catch and quickly starts to accelerate the boat. Bob misses some water, so the boat velocity dips lower, and starts to climb later in the drive. In the recovery, you can see Bob accelerating in the second half of the recovery. So, even though both rowers reached almost exactly the same peak acceleration, Arnold is going faster.
Now let’s compare Arnold and Alex rowing a 500m piece at full power and race rate, side by side during the last day of camp. They were well matched in boat speed. Using Quiske, we can compare their technique under race conditions.
Alex is the blue and red traces. Arnold is the green and cyan traces. At 30 SPM, you would expect that to see more of a dip after the initial leg drive, and more of an acceleration at the end of the recovery and both rowers show that. But you can also see some interesting differences.
You can see that Alex drive phase is longer than Arnold’s. That’s because Alex has a larger sweep angle. Arnold is now building power through and achieves a higher peak acceleration. These two rowers are are achieving the same boat speed through techniques that are matched to their strengths.
One effect of Alex’s longer drive is that he has less time for the recovery than Arnold. Therefore, he is accelerating the boat a bit more during the recovery.
After the row, we compared EmPower data between Alex and Arnold and during this piece they were generating almost identical power. Arnold made great improvements over the duration of the camp and the proof is in the data.
This article showed how we used the Quiske app and RowP pod to look at the details of stroke dynamics for three different rowers. Using Quiske helped us discover an aspect of Bob’s rowing that we missed on the water and even later, looking at the video, but once we had identified it we went back to video and data to work on it. From data to insight in one morning!
Arnold’s data shows great evidence of the improvement. Inspecting a video stream is always a little subjective, but having having the tools to see a great build of acceleration at 30 SPM showed that Arnold had quickly mastered his improved stroke. Seeing the data was a great motivation.
We are organizing a similar camp in September, and we still have place for a few more rowers. Check the details on https://pryglrowing.com
This is the first article in a series of 3. This article focuses on the boats, location and equipment. The second article focuses on improving the drive and recovery to avoid boat checking. The third article shows how we analyzed and improved catch angle and drive length
From June 2 to June 7, Brno, Czech Republic was again the center of the rowing data world. Collecting and looking at rowing data is nice, and satisfying for data geeks. Most rowers, however, only start to get interested when you show how they can use the data to improve their rowing. This is exactly what we aim to do on our rowing camps. During the week, we have a World Class coach analyze the participants’ rowing technique, collect data and take video of their stroke, and discuss the relation between the two. At the end of the camp, they take home tools to work on technique and boat speed improvements without needing a coach supervising each session.
Setting up the boats
You can only work on improving boat speed if the boat is rigged to get the maximum out of the rower. So, on the first day we kept the analysis to visual (inspection by our coach), feel (rowers’ feedback about how comfortable the boat feels) and (slow motion) video analysis.
It takes an entire day and three sessions on the water to work towards the ideal boat rig. For the rented boats, we start of with a standard rig. The participants who brought their own boats started with their normal setting.
We let them row and take video. Then, together with the participant, we discuss how changes in the rig can help them work on their technique flaws and get better boat speed. Some of these were hypotheses, and we had to try them out. Some suggestions were radical, and participants were uncomfortable rowing their new setup, leading to another round of adjustments. During the week, we kept making small changes, and we did get our participants to think about doing more radical changes in the future. Although we didn’t collect any data, this was a very important day.
Choosing the right sensor
Another thing that I have learned through working with people who are new to rowing data is that you cannot just equip someone with lots of sensors and expect them to make sense of it. Even for people who were already knowledgeable with data, we didn’t want them to be looking at their little screens during the entire row.
So we were careful to pick one sensor and one metric to focus on for each of the participants.
Also, there were technique flaws that can be spotted easily by a sensor that every participant brought to the camp: the human eye: If you are working on getting rid of catching with bent arms, you don’t need a sensor to sort the good strokes from the bad ones.
During the camp, we had two types of devices at our disposal:
Here are a few examples of typical sensor choices we made:
The person who was working on his bent arms was also really interested in measuring training intensity, so we gave him an Empower Oarlock to learn how to upload data to his training log
The person who was really insecure and had a short stroke was given an Empower Oarlock with the display set to Catch Angle. During the week, she would be challenging herself to gradually increase that number
A rower who had a small problem with bum shoving and also a relatively weak second half of the drive phase was given the Quiske pod under the seat
Another rower, who also suffered from a weak second half of the drive phase but had a problem skying his blades before the catch was given the Quiske pod on his right scull
The next articles in this series will go in more detail on some of the cases.
A typical day at the camp
After a breakfast at the hotel (with a view on the lake), participants would arrive at the rowing club around 8am, and we would all be on the water by 8:30. During this session, we would check in with each of the participants to capture them on video and give technique instructions.
After the row, we would have coffee and go through the videos together, pointing out our observations, study slow motion, and see the progress. Participants would upload the data from their morning row.
After coffee, we sent the participants back to the lake for a short session. The participants would do drills alternating with low stroke rate rowing. The coach would be checking in with each of them to give feedback.
During and after lunch, we looked at the data in detail. New insights were discussed, and in some cases we implemented some changes in the rigging, or changed the sensor or the metric to be displayed.
The afternoons were in general lazy. Participants enjoyed the hotel’s spa and wellness, or had a drink in one of the many places around the lake. A third, optional, session was used by those who wanted to get in some interval training or do start practice. During this session, I would row my training alongside the participants and coach them from my single.
In the evenings we had a social program. On Tuesday, we had a dinner in the Palava wine region. On Wednesday we had a seminar on rowing data, where I showed the participants more useful ways to work with rowing data. The seminar ended in time to watch the Ignis Brunensis fireworks competition from the best place to watch it: our dock. On Thursday, we fired up the barbecue and had a pleasant evening chatting about rowing and life in general.
The weather was great, so we didn’t really want to work out indoors, but on Thursday there was some chop, so we decided to take the opportunity to look at indoor rowing.
The Quiske pods have a fun feature called Virtual Coach:
The first thing we tried was to see how all our participants scored on the virtual coach. It was hilarious.
As you can see, we were studying the manual to check the meanings of the different colored balls and understand how Quiske wants us to row.
Of course, we also checked the seat and handle speed curves directly.
There will be a detailed conclusion at the end of the third article in this series, but let me write a few words here.
It was a great week. The setup worked amazingly well. Bringing together world class coaching, focus on rigging the boat to match the body shape and rowing style of the participants, then suggesting improvements based on video analysis and rowing data is a good formula. It works well with limited groups where you have enough time to spend with each participant and find the approach that works for them.
We have released a few cool improvements that make the Empower Oarlock force curve chart even more useful. This post explains what’s new and shows you how to use it.
In the recent article “Rowsandall and the EmPower Oarlock – Part 1 – Intervals, Flex Charts and Force Curves“, Greg Smith explains how to use Rowsandall.com to get the maximum value out of your Empower Oarlock data. Being a true beta tester, Greg also privately mailed me a huge list of suggested improvements, which are currently being implemented one by one. But some of his suggestions for the force curve were really great and I moved that task to the top of my priority list. Here’s the result. Force curve on Steroids. Tadaa:
Or would you rather have it like this?
Or perhaps like this?
Now, while all those variations on a theme look extremely cool (at least they do to me), they are also extremely useful because they provide a lot more information, at a glance. Let me explain, starting with this chart again:
As explained here, the red line connects average (or, rather, median) values for catch angle, slip, peak force, wash and finish angle 1, and you can use sliders to look at different subsets of your workout data (by stroke rate, by work per stroke, or by selecting a distance interval). What’s new?
To make the angle positions of the “slip” and “wash” a bit clearer, we have added a red dot to show their position. Do you see the red dots?
The red line now lies on top of confidence areas. The light red area shows you the range where roughly 90% of your strokes are, while the dark red area shows you the range where roughly half of your strokes are 2.
That last feature gives you a lot of information about stroke consistency. The narrower those areas, the more consistent your strokes are. To make it simple, you can say that the light red area contains all your strokes except outliers (paddle strokes, turns, etc) while the dark red area is a good indication of where your “typical” stroke is. Around the top of the force curve, it is interesting to compare the left side of the “triangle” with the right side. You can see in this example that the median peak force angle is -23 degrees, but the distribution is skewed towards the finish. So, while it is true that exactly half of the strokes has a peak force angle below 23 degrees, most of them are pretty close to that value.
Now, while those aggregate values are interesting, if you want to dive a little deeper, there are two ways to show the underlying raw data.
The picture here is what I call “Force Curve Collection” in the little form that allows you to change the look of the force curve chart. It’s basically the same plot as above, but I have added thin gray lines, each representing an individual stroke. This enables you to eyeball the chart and get a good feel for the shapes of different charts. It gives you a much better feel of what type of strokes you are making, i.e. how catch angle variations move around your peak force angle.
Please note that I have included all “rest” strokes in this chart, just to show you more outliers. Normally, I would remove these.
Let’s use the sliders to play with this chart. So, while Greg had to revert to browser screenshots in his article, I can show just the plot and still have all the information, because I have newly incorporated a note about the slider settings in the top left. In this case, I remove all strokes with a Work per Stroke below 410 Joule, which basically removes all paddling. You can see how the collection of force curves narrows, especially around the catch (left bottom of the chart) area.
As a side note, while the slider settings affect the collection of gray lines (individual force curves) and the red line (median), the red confidence areas are not changing. They are still reflecting the entire workout. Let’s play with the sliders a bit more:
Here I have selected all strokes between 21 and 23 SPM. I am interested in this because in this workout I rowed a few 2 minute sets at 22, 24 and 26 spm, so I want to see how consistent my strokes are in each set and between sets. Here are 24 and 26 spm:
One thing I notice is how the peak angle moves towards the catch as I rate up. Especially at 26 SPM, there seems to be a significant portion of the strokes that are skewed towards the catch. Interestingly peak and average force values, catch angle and finish angle are hardly affected, but the value of slip is decreasing as I rate up. Apparently I am pushing harder in the first part of the stroke, catching water hard, and it is open for debate whether that makes me faster. It may cause boat check which ruins my efficiency. I think that this is a valuable insight.
Here is some more slider setting play. Let’s look, for example at low rate work when I am fresh versus when I am tired:
Ouch. There is definitely an effect of fatigue and it looks like it makes the second half of my stroke weaker, moving the peak force angle towards the catch, and affecting Wash values.
Instead of looking at entire curve, we now also offer the option to only show the peak force position. Like this:
So now the position of your stroke curve peak (angle, force) is shown as a little gray dot. This allows you to see part of the underlying raw data, while still being able to see the red areas well. Playing with the slider setting again, selecting a distance section of the workout:
Finally, the chart itself is of course fully interactive, so you can for example zoom in and out without changing the underlying data selection like this:
Do you have an Empower Oarlock? Try out the Force Curve! And, if you are interested in feedback from the experts, post them on the Rowing Data Facebook group. Stroke curves are very individual and we love to look at yours and analyze them. The insights gained can help you row faster.
Finally, if you want to see a video of how the slider settings affect the selected data, click here.
We are connecting those lines to make the chart easier on the eye, but be aware that, especially around the top of the curve, the actual force profile will look slightly different. Unfortunately, NK Empower doesn’t provide more than five points. ↩
Geek side node. I am using the word “roughly” because the NK empower data gives you just five points (catch, slip, peak power, wash and finish angle, only one of which has a variable force value. So using proper statistics, I am able to draw a confidence ellipse around the peak force, while providing a confidence range around the four other data points. Connecting those ranges and showing an area is not mathematically or statistically correct. For presentation purposes, however, it really helps giving you a feel for where your curves are. ↩
This is the second installment of a multipart article describing how you can use rowsandall and the EmPower Oarlock to gain more insight into your rowing.
In the first part of this series, I discussed the parameters that the EmPower Oarlock measures and introduced some of the tools on rowsandall that let you dig into the data from your workout to get insight into your rowing technique and performance
Having the ability to easily analyze the data from a rowing session is great, but to get insight into you training, it’s helpful to be able to use the data from a whole set of workouts. Maybe you want to check if you are making progress over a season, understand how rigging changes impact your performance, or even just to look a specific measurement over lot of strokes in a bunch of workouts to see how consistent you are. Without rowsandall, it is incredibly hard to do this kind of analysis.
How does rowsandall help? Well, first, it provides a common destination for all your rowing data. You can easily get your workouts from the speedcoach to rowsandall from the NK Link (or NK Logbook) app on your smartphone or PC. And once the workout is there, you have all of your strokes in a database, stored in a way that lets you analyze multiple workouts at the same time.
Am I getting better?
Many rowers use training plans that progress through a set of workouts over a number of weeks, and then repeat the cycle. I’m one of them. My typical training plan is a mutant hybrid of the Wolverine Plan and the Pete Plan. I typically do three hard workouts a week, one short intervals, one long intervals, and one hard distance piece. I usually program three or four different sessions into each slot, so I can compare my performance roughly on a monthly cadence.
For example, last fall, one of my “go to” long interval sessions was 5 x 1500/5′.
I did it early September and then twice in early October. Here are the summary charts.
Looking at these charts, it looks like the heart rate is higher in the first one. I wonder whether I was just working harder and going faster, or if I was actually doing better a month later.
Rowsandall has a graphical tool to help out with these kinds of questions. It’s called “Compare Workouts”. It lets you pick a bunch of workouts, and plot out a single parameter from each one.
So, let’s start with heart rate. I just select the three workouts, I want, choose to plot HR versus Time, and I get this.
The plot shows the three workouts and it is just showing the “work” strokes, because I used the interval editor to pick out the intervals. The x-axis is time, and the y-axis is heart rate. The three different workouts are shown as different colors. The first one, from September is green, the October 1st in orange, and October 9th in violet.
My average HR was higher in the first workout. You can also see some of the realities of OTW training. I ended up with slightly longer or shorter rests to get myself turned around and positioned for the next rep.
Now let’s use the same tool to compare power.
The power data is pretty noisy, but the averages show a good story. My power increased 24W from September to October. Getting more watts with a lower heart rate is great news. Either through improved fitness or improved technique (or both), I was able to deliver more power. Let’s see if there were technical changes over the period. First, effective length.
I’m happy to see about a 4 degree improvement on effective length.
This brings up a question in my mind. Is the higher power just from rowing through a longer arc, or is there a change in my peak force too? That’s easy to check.
Wow. Nearly 70N higher in the last workout than the first. So, I was rowing longer and achieving higher peak force in the stroke.
You don’t have to compare the same workouts either. I can also compare how I did in that great interval workout with how I did in a head race a couple of weeks later. Both of them were in the same stroke rate range and with roughly the same target power. Let’s see if I was able to maintain the technical improvements between those two sessions.
I think I was pretty consistent between training and racing.
How Fast Can I rate?
Since every stroke of every workout that you upload to rowsandall is stored in a common database, it is possible to use that data to answer questions about trends. Since the analysis that I did on the 3′ interval workout showed an interesting relationship between stroke rate and my technique, I wanted to answer the general question. What is the rate where my technique starts to fall apart.
Using a tool on rowsandall called “Trend Flex Chart”, I can pick a bunch of workouts and plot the data. For this, I wanted to pick a broad range of workouts from last OTW season because I wasn’t sure which ones had what stroke rates. Then I just grouped the data by stroke rate and viola.
I have to say I was surprised by the analysis, especially the plateau from 23 to 25 spm. I was also happy to see good power increase all the way up to 29 spm. It looks like that is about the limit of my abilities.
Just for fun, I did a comparison to the prior season. I had troubles with injuries in the prior season and I expected it to be worse.
Look at the decline above 27 spm!
Looking at progress over time
The whole point is to get better at rowing. Rowsandall gives you a tool that can help you make sense of the changes that you are working one over weeks and months: boxplots. For those of you unfamiliar with box plots, you might want to check out the description of them on wikipedia
On rowsandall, I can use boxplot to look at my effective length over the whole of last season.
So, what’s going on here? The x-axis is date, and the y-axis is the parameter that you are analyzing. Each workout is represented by a box. The line in the middle of the box is the mean value for the workout, the vertical size of the box is the range of normally distributed data (about 80% of the data values fall in this range). and the little whiskers extend out to the minimum and maximum values.
So the plot conveys a lot of information. You can see a change in the July timeframe. That’s when my coach gave me some feedback to adjust my footplate a bit to the bow and shorten my inboard to give me a bit more room at the finish. She also asked me to be more careful about avoiding too much layback at the release. You can see my stroke shortened a bit, but became much more consistent (the boxes are smaller vertically).
Here’s another parameter from last season, my Work per Stroke (WpS). This is a measure of how consistent your stroke is across different rates. If it goes up, that means that you are consistently putting more oomph into each stroke.
In this you can see that I came into the OTW season in pretty good shape and improved over the first month or so. Then I had a period of time where my training was interrupted by a lot of travel and work stress and things got worse. You can see the rigging change resulted in a more consistent WpS value after the beginning of August, and from there to the end of the season, I had a great run improving my WpS as I was training consistently and highly motivated for head racing season.
In the next installment we’ll look at using EmPower and Rowsandall to bring one of the most “powerful” training methodologies from cycling onto the water.
This is the first installment of a multipart series describing how you can use Rowsandall and the EmPower Oarlock to gain more insight into your rowing.
If you are one of those lucky people that live in a place where you can row on the water all year long, you might not be able to identify. I live near Boston, Massachusetts and every spring I feel like I’m starting over.
My first outings of the season are messy. I have no sense of balance, so I am constantly dragging my blades. I have so much back splash that I have to be careful to avoid getting a shower when I lift my boat out of the water at the end of a workout. In each stroke, I am likely to be going deep at the catch and washing out at the finish. My rowing is so inefficient that my heart rate will be through the roof, even though my pace is decidedly sub-aerobic.
And so the process of learning to row starts all over again. Of course, the most important part of that is spending time in the boat. But it’s easy to pick up, or perpetuate bad habits unless that practice time is mindful. That’s where the EmPower oarlock and Rowsandall come in.
A Little Background on Rowsandall
Rowsandall is an online platform for rowers. It is centered around an online logbook, which you can upload workout data to from a number of different platforms.
But Rowsandall is a lot more than just a logbook. It has five major capabilities
Import / Export: You can easily get data from devices like NK SpeedCoach, smartphone apps like Boatcoach, or erg related apps like ergdata into Rowsandall. You can also easily import and export data from Rowsandall to and from other fitness platforms like Strava, Training Peaks and Sport Tracks
Analysis: Analyze your workouts using graphical tools to gain insight into your performance and monitor your progress toward training goals
Training Plans: Plan your training sessions and monitor how well you are implementing your planned sessions
Competition: Race against other rowers both on the water and on the erg. This is similar to Strava Segments. Users can plan competitions and users can upload entries which are ranked. Participants can go and check out other racers entries to understand tactics and strategy.
Coaching: Rowsandall is a great way for local or remote coaches to communicate training plans and review training results. It also enables athletes to submit test results online and enables coaches to compare athlete performance. The platform includes the ability to comment on workouts to enable direct feedback between coaches and athletes on each session.
Rowsandall offer basic functionality for free. A Pro membership enables additional capabilities (like support for EmPower data) for 25 Euros a year (pricing at time of writing, March 2019). Coaching functionality is a paid subscription and varies by team size.
Rowsandall has over 2000 active users and over 50000 workouts have been logged so far.
To learn more about Rowsandall, head over to the website.
For more on the EmPower Oarlock, skate on over to the NK website.
EmPower and Rowsandall really are an ideal combination. The EmPower oarlock with the SpeedCoach GPS provides a fantastic tool to use in the boat. Using the skill screens you can focus on many technical elements of the rowing stroke. You get stroke by stroke feedback in real time so you can set and practice against specific goals. But how do you figure out what to work on, set your improvement goals and how do you measure progress against them. That’s where Rowsandall comes in.
To make all of this work, you do need to part with a little more money. In order to get access to the data that the SpeedCoach saves, you need to spring for the “Training Pack” option for the SpeedCoach ($50 as of March 2019), and a “Pro” level subscription to Rowsandall (25 Euros a year as of March 2019). For anyone who has already plunked down $400 bucks for a SpeedCoach, and $650 for an EmPower oarlock, this small additional investment increases the value of what you have enormously.
SpeedCoach and EmPower gives you a great tool to use in the boat. Combining it with Rowsandall lets you use put the data that your SpeedCoach and EmPower oarlock are generating to work to help you measure your improvement and guide your training.
What gets measured?
The basic SpeedCoach provides this data. (The following tables are from the NK website, and just reformatted to fit the screen a bit more easily)
When you add the EmPower Oarlock, you get these additional measurements.
The way you get this information straight from the SpeedCoach is in the form of a “Comma Separated Value” file or a “.csv”. This is a file that excel can read and when you open it, it looks like this…
Now for the truly hardcore, you can dive into this file and use excel to make graphs. But seriously, is that any way to live? Do you really want to be that guy? (He says, knowing that he was, literally, that guy)
With Rowsandall, you don’t have to worry about .CSVs, or how to plot in excel, because Rowsandall understands EmPower data and helps you do actually use it to get faster.
What is good rowing?
An incredible amount of time and energy has been spent by rowers and coaches around the world to figure out how to row fast. If you have a good coach, they can drive a launch along next to you and provide real time feedback to help you modify your technique. They can tell you to stop doing things that slow you down, and let you know when you are doing things that help you go fast. But even if you have a coach, they can’t watch you all the time. And it is incredibly hard to keep all the elements of good form in mind as you row. It is so easy to fall back into bad habits.
The great thing about EmPower is that it can provide you consistent feedback, and is much less effected by wind and water conditions than working off of just pace, heart rate or “feel”. You can measure what “good” is and then adapt you training to move towards that ideal.
NK has published a very useful, and at least for me, a very depressing definition of what good is.
It shows what you should hope to see for oarlock measurements broken down in sweep and scull, men and women, open weight and lightweight, and by different experience level. Here is an excerpt of the table for open weight men’s sculling.
From comments that I have seen on line, I am not the only one who sees these to be somewhat aspirational numbers. Frankly, on some parameters, I am pretty solidly a novice after 5 years of rowing.
Of course, some of these numbers are very strongly tied to personally physiology. If you are taller, you will be able to row through a greater length. If you have a lot of muscle mass, you will be able to generate greater peak force. But, as a beginning guideline, it’s really handy to have.
In addition to this, Dr Valery Kleshnev has spent his career working on the biomechanics of rowing. He has a great book, not surprisingly called…
Which helps to define the terms and also provides some guidance about what “good” looks like. For example, the book includes this plot of target and actual oar parameters.
EmPower can’t provide all of the data in this plot. For example, it will not provide the oar vertical angle shown in the bottom plot. But the measurements that it provides can give you a very good idea of the force curve. I’ve annotated it below.
How can Rowsandall help?
To show some of the capabilities of Rowsandall, I’m going to use a workout I did last fall as an example. The workout was defined at 4 sets of 3 x 3′ intervals. The rest between 3′ pieces was 1′ and the rest between sets was 2 minutes. In shorthand notation: 4x(3×3’/1′)/2′.
If you are curious about that specific session, you can read about it here:
In Rowsandall, it’s easy to generate a summary plot to show what basically happened over the entire session.
In the plot, heart rate is at the top, then boat speed (in time/500m), then stroke rate, with power from the EmPower oarlock at the bottom. The summary plot shows some of the challenges of analyzing rowing data. For any on the water session, real rowing data is messy. There’s a warm-up and cool-down. The 2′ rests are a bit sloppy because I needed to turn the boat. The pace is different between sets because I am either running into or with the wind, and even the power data has weird peaks and dips. That comes from going around curves in my bendy little river.
If I want to get insights out of this data, I need a way to deal with all of those confounding factors.
The first challenge is to get rid of all the strokes in the workout that are not meaningful. I only care about the strokes that I took in the twelve 3′ intervals. I don’t care about the strokes that I took when I was warming up, or the strokes between the intervals or the strokes in my cool-down.
Since Rowsandall was designed by rowers, there is a quick and simple tool to let me identify and isolate intervals. All I need to do is plug in a pace or power level, and it will consider everything above that to be “work” and everything below that to be “rest”. The analysis tools on Rowsandall understand the concept of work and rest so you can make valid conclusions about your sessions. In this case, I defined a slice level at a pace of 2:25/500m, and Rowsandall neatly sliced my workout into these intervals
Using a tool in Rowsandall called the Flex Chart, you can easily look at all the data saved by the SpeedCoach. Let’s start with something basic to illustrate one of the best reasons to use an EmPower oarlock. Let’s use the flex chart to show both boat speed and power.
So, there’s a lot going on here. Let’s take it step by step.
Down in the lower left is where you select the data that you want to plot. It’s a pretty extensive list.
Unlike most other analysis tools like Training Peaks and Strava, you have a LOT of choices about what to plot. Another big difference is that those tools generally let you look at stuff with either time or distance on the x-axis. Rowsandall let’s you choose basically any variable for the x-axis. This is critical for a technical sport like rowing, and I’ll show you a use for it in a little bit.
On the plot you can see the two variables selected, and the average value for these variables.
Under the variable pickers there is a check box to let you plot all the data, or exclude the rest strokes. Want to know what your average power was for all your work intervals? Easy, just plot power as a variable and exclude the rest strokes and it’s right there on the screen.
You can also change the plot format from scatter plot to a line plot. I tend to like the scatter plots better, but that’s a matter of personal preference.
Above that are a set of sliders that allow you to filter the data and watch the plot change in real time. Also, the average values change so they are correct for just the plotted points.
Last thing are the little icons above the plot. These let you zoom and pan the plots without changing the data that is plotted. And for me, the all important “save” button, so I can capture the plot and put it in my training journal.
This specific plot is a pretty good illustration of why training with power is a great thing for rowing. If you are trying to implement a training plan, generally you are trying to achieve a specific intensity in each workout. There are a bunch of ways that rowers do this.
Feel: This is usually described in terms of pressure: paddle, firm, race, all out
HR: Usually defined by particular training zones
RPE: Self evaluated perception of the exertion
Stroke rate: Since rowing at higher rates is faster but more taxing
Pace: If you have a SpeedCoach, other meter or a rowing app, you can use pace targets, usually relative to the pace for a threshold test, or a 1K or 2K time trial.
These methods are useful, but have disadvantages. A similar situation existed in cycling, and the sport was transformed by the introduction of practical and accurate power meters. The same thing is true of rowing. By using a power meter, you can prescribe intensities and row to them independent of conditions.
This workout shows how consistent power can be, even when conditions are causing a variation in boat speed.
In this workout, my pace was around 2:10 going downstream, and 2:20 going upstream. But you can see that the average power was a lot more consistent.
You can also see one challenge with using power in a boat right now. Turns. Since the EmPower oarlock goes on one side of the boat, the power measurement is effected when you have different pressure between port and starboard. Take a look in the green oval. That is showing the power as I go around a bend in my river.
Here it in the map view (also from Rowsandall). I have the oarlock on my port oar, so as I go into the curve, going from the bottom of the map toward the top, I am putting extra pressure on port, then I switch over to put more pressure on starboard, and the power measurements drop way down.
We’ve recently added some new capabilities to Rowsandall to support training groups. We are very excited about this functionality, and want to get it right. So, if you have any ideas or opinions on what you would like to see implemented, let us know! Our tagline is “For rowers, by rowers”, and we mean that.
The purpose of training groups is to share workouts, tests, and results through the site. You can use them to coach a rower or group of rowers, or to set up an informal training group where you share rowing data among a group of peers, which is especially fun when you are one of those rowers who need a bit of peer pressure to do your workouts.
The coolest thing about sharing and discussing training results is that you can link up with people from all over the world. Even if you are a lonely athlete living far away from anybody who uses an erg or rows on the water, there are people in the world with a similar skill level and similar goals. Connecting through the site and encouraging each other can really increase your commitment.
This post shows you how to set up training groups on Rowsandall.com. The purpose of a training group is to share workouts, tests, and results with other people. You can use training groups to (remote) coach a rower or group of rowers, or create an informal training group for sharing rowing data among a group of peers, which is especially fun when you are one of those rowers who needs a bit of peer pressure to do your workouts.
In this article, I will use the words Group, Training Group or Team interchangeably. In the context of Rowsandall they mean the same, a group of rowers who share data and work together.
So here are the requirements:
If you have a “Coach” paid plan on rowsandall.com, you can create any number of training groups. Any other rowsandall.com user can be a member of your training groups, even if they use the free version of the site. You can create have teams (or training groups) as well as planned sessions, for all users in your training groups. For a specific number of athletes (the number depends on which version of the coach plan you have paid for) you will also have “athlete management”. This means that you can do a lot of stuff on behalf of your athletes, like adapting their power and heart rate zones, and running analytics for them. More about that below.
If you are on the “Self-Coach” plan, you can share your training plans with your friends, provided they have a “Pro” membership. You will have planned sessions and can set up a training group for Pro (and higher) users. The number of groups is limited to 1.
If you are on a “Pro” plan, you can share your workouts with your friends, provided they have a “Pro” membership. You can set up a training group and invite other Pro (or higher) users to join. The number of groups is limited to 1.
So the difference between Pro-to-Pro versus Self-Coach to Pro sharing is that only the Self-Coach can create and share planned sessions, where Pro-to-Pro can only share workouts.
Pro-to-Pro and Self-Coach-to-Pro sharing is a new functionality, which we are currently testing and polishing. We are very excited about this functionality, and want to get it right. So, if you have any ideas or opinions on what you would like to see implemented, let us know! Our tagline is “For rowers, by rowers”, and we mean that.
So what are “Groups” and “Planned Sessions”?
Workouts, sessions, what’s in a name? Most people use them pretty much for the same thing. But when you’re analyzing your data, you have to become a bit more precise.
Here’s what things are called on rowsandall.com.
A Workout is a record of training data that was uploaded in one go (as one file, or imported from some external site or app). Sometimes, depending on which device or app you use, data that you created during one outing or erg session ends up broken up into different files or records. In other words, what you think of as a single “workout” (I went to the erg room and did three sets of intervals) will show as multiple workout items in your workout list on rowsandall.com (a warmup, three intervals, and a cooldown). Luckily, there are handy glue and split functions allowing you to glue two or more workouts into one, or, conversely, split one workout into several separate workouts. A workout always belongs to one rower.
This screenshot shows a list of workouts belonging to user Lizette Obdam
A Planned Session is a training session that you designed ahead of time, usually as part of a training plan. Usually, a planned session includes the entire amount of training work you intend to do in one sitting, including warming up and cooling down, but that is not required. Once you execute your training plan, you can link any number of workouts to a planned session. A workout can only be linked to one planned session. A planned session can be shared among a number of athletes. It has a manager (the person who created the session, the only one who can edit it), and rowers, the people who can link their workouts to the session. To create a planned session, you must be on the Coach or Self-Coach plan.
A Team (or Group) is a group of rowers who work out together. A team has one manager, the person who established the team, can edit it, and manages the membership. A rower can be invited to join a team, or he can request to be added. More about that below. A planned session can only be shared among rowers who are in teams linked to the person who created the planned session.
Bernd, Lizette, Sjoerdje, Leslie and Hiên are a training group (“The Courageous Dinos”) and they have set up a Group on rowsandall.com. The group was created by Lizette.
So if Bernd, Lizette, Sjoerdje, Leslie and Hiên decide to do a “8x2min/2min” interval session, the Planned Session is something like this:
Warming up for 12 minutes
8×2 minutes at 2 minutes rest
Cooling down for 10 minutes
Because Lizette has a Self-Coach paid plan, she could set up the planned session on rowsandall.com and assign it to the Courageous Dinos. Everyone in the group would see it in their list of planned sessions. (If they have rowsandall configured the right way, it will appear as a calendar item on their calendars.)
Suppose Sjoerdje executes this workout on an ergometer using ErgData. She rows a “Just Row” for approximately 12 minutes, then programs the PM for the interval workout. Finally, she paddles the cooling down in “Just Row” mode. ErgData will create three records: one for the warming up, one for the cooling down, and one for the interval session.
Sjoerdje is smart. She has set up “auto import” from the Concept2 logbook, so when she goes to rowsandall.com, five minutes after finishing her session, she will see three Workout records on rowsandall.com. She can now link all three of them to the Planned Session created by Lizette.
Repeat for Bernd, Lizette, Leslie and Hiên. As each member of the Group completes the intervals and links their Workouts ot the Planned Session, they can compare data and analytics – as described below.
Setting Up a Group and Inviting New Members
So you are on one of the rowsandall.com paid plans and want to start a team. Click on the Groups link on the top menu, and click the “New Training Group” button in the left menu.
In the picture below, you can see what a typical Groups page looks like:
Here’s a quick list of what you see, from left to right and top to bottom:
Open Groups. These are groups that you could join. You can see the famous “Courageous Dinos” under the management of Lizette Obdam, which we have encountered earlier. You can also see that a Lola Lawson has a group called “The Great”.
Groups I manage. Here are the groups that you (here, the user “Robert”) are managing. There are currently none. Robert can click on the “Create New Training Group” link to create one. There is a link with identical functionality on the left menu.
Group Invitations and Requests. Robert has already requested to become part of “The Great” but the invitation has not yet been accepted. At this point, he can revoke his request. If Lola invites Robert to join the group, the invitation would show up in this part of the page to be Accepted or Rejected.
Coaching Offers and Requests. More about this under “Athlete Management” below. Robert has asked Lola to be his coach. Here, he can revoke the request before it is accepted.
Coaches who could coach you. Robert has asked Lola to become his coach, but he can still add Sander and Brittany to his list of coaches, by clicking on the “Request Coaching” link on this part of the page.
Robert decides to establish his own group, so he clicks on “Create New Training Group” and sees this:
Fill in the team name and determine if you want the team to be visible to all Rowsandall.com users or not (‘open’ vs ‘private’). If you’re on the Coach plan, you can also create a team where members cannot see each other’s workouts. For training groups among Pro users, like Robert, this functionality is not available. Here’s the Groups page after Robert’s new team was created:
Once you have created the team, the team name will appear under “Managing” on the left menu. I recommend that you explore the items on this menu. The “View” menu item shows you the current members of the team, and lets you invite new members. Just put the new member’s email address in the form and hit the “Submit” button.
Your friend will receive an invitation email with instructions. If you change your mind (before your friend accepts the invitation), you can revoke the invitation from the groups “Overview” page (top item on the left menu, or click on Groups in the top menu). Here’s an example where Robert has invited his friend Nile, but Nile hasn’t accepted yet. I also show the email that Nile received (with links to my local environment, in reality the links will be to the main site rowsandall.com):
Let’s log in as Nile and check his Groups page:
Finding “open” Groups and joining them
So you are not interested in setting up and managing your own team, but you want to join an “open” team. Just click “Groups” on the top menu. There will be a list of teams. You can click on the team name to go to the team page and see some information about the team. On that page, you will also find links to request to be admitted to the team. Clicking that link will send an email to the team manager, who will have to accept (or reject) your request. You will get an email once that happens.
Here’s Nile looking at the group “The Great” by Lola. There are already a few people on that team! Hitting the “Join” link will send out a notification to Lola Lawson.
Now you’re on a training group, so what do you get?
As a team member, some parts of the site will have new functionality. Here’s a list:
On the Workouts page, you will see a “Groups” menu item in the left menu. When you click it to open the menu, you will see a list with the names of your groups. Click on the name and instead of only your own workouts, you see a list with all workouts by members of groups you are in. You can now very easily see what work your friends have done. In the image below, Sjoerdje Varekamp is, looking at workouts for her friends in “The Courageous Dinos”.
Clicking on the name of a workout opens it in a summary page mode. Here’s Sjoerdje looking at one workout by Lizette:
You also have access to Stats and Comments for your friends’ workouts
You can run interactive charts on your friends’ workouts
You can comment on each other’s workouts
If you’re on a Pro plan or higher, you can compare your workouts with those of your friends in your training group, like this:
Planning a Session
If you’re on a Self-Coach plan or higher, you can create planned sessions for yourself, but also for friends in your training group.
You cannot, however, set training targets, training plans, and macro, meso and micro training cycles for your friends. To do that, you need to upgrade to the Coach plan.
Lizette is the manager of “The Courageous Dinos”. She is on a “Self-Coach” plan and this is her view of her “Plan” tab:
Because Lizette is also the manager of the Courageous Dinos, she has a new cool “Group Members” menu on the left.