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Erging, the Beautiful Indoor Cardio

I would encourage everyone to learn how to erg. The reason I say this is because unlike other cardio, erging has a steep learning curve. You learn how to run at a young age, while there is limtless fine-tuning that can be done depending on your level of interest/committment, basically everyone gets the idea.

Erging is different. Learning to erg is necessary before you can even begin to attempt to reap the huge benefits available from this exercise. Although it can take a while to pick up, using the resources on this Web site and a little patience will go a long way in getting started.

Watching the video on this page will help you learn how to erg. However, written directions can be useful also. According to Sara Brubaker, a rower and the instructor in the video, the rowing stroke, and subsequently the erg stroke, has four basic parts; the recovery, the catch, the drive and the finish. I will break down each part of the stroke and offer some advice.

The Recovery

The recovery is the part of the stroke in which you are not applying pressure to the handle, you are "recovering" and preparing for the next stroke. From the finish position, legs straight, erg handle touching the chest and body slighty beyond a ninety-degree angle, the first move is your arms moving away from your body. Many recreational ergers like the first move to be a bending of the legs so as to release the tension in the hamstrings. While this may be tempting it is not correct. Bending the legs early will hinder both flexibility and strength gains in your hamstrings, as well as prevent you from executing a smooth hands away.

Once the arms have been extended the next motion is to bring your body over. Keeping your back straight, pivot from your hips to bring your body forward. It is important to avoid slumping your chest and/or shoulders as this will put you in a weak position when it comes time to catch. It is useful to imagine that there is a perfectly straight pole running through your chest. You can only move forward and back, not up and down.

Once the body is over the next step is to bend the legs and move toward the catch. The leg part of the recovery is one of the most important parts of the entire stroke. If your legs come up too fast, or if your body moves during the leg recovery or if you allow your legs to bow out the stroke will be ruined. Slowly bend your knees and allow your still body to slide forward toward the catch. Your hips, knees and ankles should remain in line, as if you were doing a squat. One of the benefits of erging is that it is essentially a zero-impact exercise. However, if you allow your lower body joints to become misaligned you will put pressure on the offending joint when you drive away from the catch.

The Catch

After you have gone through the recovery you get to the catch. In rowing the catch is vital for timing, achieving a higher rating and balancing the boat. In erging the catch is not so vital, but it does play a part in rating (how many strokes you take in a minute) and is a part of having good form. As you slowly bend your legs and move closer to the front of the erg you should start mentally preparing to catch. The first thing to remember about the catch is that it is important not to over-extend your body. Your shins should never go beyond perpendicular to the ground. Also, you should not roll your shoulders or curl your back at the catch, your body should remain as still as it was throughout the recovery. When your shins are perpendicular to the ground raise your arms slightly and then push off with your legs.

I will talk more about the push in a moment, but first let's talk a little bit more about the catch. One of the worst things you can do in terms of making erging harder than it needs to be is having a slow catch. You should try to make the time from when you raise your arms to the time you begin driving your legs as short as possible. If you hesitate or wait to begin driving your legs then the weight on your legs will feel heavier than it needs to. Also, try not to jerk at the catch. Although the erging stroke can be broken down into seemingly infinite pieces, it is still a fluid motion. If you are too violent at a place in the stroke then it will be harder to erg and also more frustrating to learn.

The Drive

The drive, the part of the stroke that is the most physically demanding, is what makes crew and erging difficult. However, once you have the sequence down, the drive is also the most fun and least mentally taxing part of the stroke.

Once you have finished your catch, you drive with your legs, then back, then arms. The push from the drive should start in the balls of your feet and end up in your quads. Over time the drive will become an explosion where you are exerting maximum effort to get your legs down as fast as possible. When you are still learning to erg the drive will be much slower and more about following the correct sequence than power. The most important thing to remember about the drive is that it is the opposite of the recovery. The first thing that moves are your legs. With your arms extended and your body forward the legs should be straightened until they are nearly flat. Once your legs are fully extended you should swing your body back to just past perpendicular to the ground. After you swing your body your arms should bend and pull the handle toward you as you finish the stroke. Until the drive sequence is ingrained in your mind, after many hundreds or even thousands of repetitions, you should not concern yourself with pressure, that will come later.

The Finish

Not unlike the catch, the finish is not as important in erging as it is in rowing. However, it is still important to finish properly in order to maintain the natural flow of the stroke. You should think of the finish as including everything from the time from your body swings backward during the drive to the time your arms are fully extended during the recovery. As you bring your hands toward you to finish you want to keep your writsts flat. Pull the handle in until it is just short of touching your chest, somewhere just below your pectorals. Use your elbow to move the handle down slightly, and then extend your arms back out toward the catch. It is important to remember that you want to feel tension in you lats, the muscles in your back, behind your shoulder joint, and not in your trap, the muscle around your shoulder joint that goes from your neck to your shoulder.


The erg stroke can be confusing and frustrating at times. It takes a lifetime to perfect. However, with patience and some key points, you will be well on your way to erging for fun and fitness.