Walk into any CrossFit box, home or affiliate, and just about any other type of gym these days and you’ll have to waste little or no time locating “the machines.” They’re usually near a “warm-up” area or stacked up against a wall (hopefully) neat neat as it goes for boxes. If you’re in more of a globo-gym setting, they’d be interspersed within the treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes. Now, when I say machines, I’m intimately referring to the erg rowers and airdyne bikes. The ergs, which from now on in this piece, will be referred to as rowers regardless of any naysaying from college or club crew members, have been a staple of the CrossFit landscape since Coach Glassmen got his band of merry-men together in his garage and starting hammering people with couplets, triplets and AMRAPs. The airdyne, and namely the Assault bike, have recently become regulars in just about any box you come across the last couple of years, and now with their official sponsorship of the 2016 CrossFit Games, appear to be here for good (to the dismay of many).
But I’m not here to talk about the significance, importance or history of these machines. This is just a quick intro before I divulge into what you need to focus on when using the machines for working out and improving different aspects of your physical competence, read also as FITNESS. But before we get into this…
*DISCLAIMER* I have never been on a rowing crew team, owned a rower or assault bike, read instructional manuals, or even gone to a specialty course pertaining to either of these implements. I just workout a ton, train classes and clients full-time and have been using these machines for the better part of ten years. I am simply sharing what has worked for me and what I think can help others. If you disagree, congrats for having your critical thoughts, move on…
When it comes to the rower and all the numbers in your face on the screen with different feedback options. You can see a lot of data with the screen option that displays many items with over 5 measurements constantly adjusting on each pull. You can use the bare-minimum display, with the screen option that displays time, stroke-rate, the measurement of choice (usually meters or calories) and then the average split of your measurement of choice. Depending on what your workout calls for, a certain calorie mark or meters to be rowed in different time domains, you should be focusing on and constantly digesting data with the different feedback options. Whether you are rowing for meters or calories, in an AMRAP workout or for time, I think the most important data point to use to gauge where you’re at and what you’re trying to accomplish is not simply your “500m split pace.” From a basic CrossFit standpoint, we are taught that doing the most amount of work in the given time domain is work capacity. Economy and efficiency of movement has always been a focus and definite point of emphasis.
Taking the strokes/minute rate into account allows you to gauge how much bang you’re getting for your buck. A sprint situation is one thing, but any extended effort or repeated effort on the rower should be paced with your rate of pulling taking into account. For example, I know I can row a 250m or 500m pace just as fast or faster than most people I will compete with a stroke rate in the 30-35 range. However, when I go to row longer pieces like the recent 3000m trial I did to help qualify my team for Wodapalooza, I knew I had to keep that stroke rate below 28-29 if I wanted to survive at my aggressive pace goal. Focusing on the stroke rate as it pertains to your 500m pace or power output (watts measurement when you’re rowing for calories) is the most effective way to structure your rowing work to not only increase your knowledge in your capabilities to create workout strategies but also progressively challenge yourself by playing with the variables with interval work, and building your engine!
The bike, in my opinion, is simpler to wrap your head around. I know it is nicknamed the “Devil’s Tricycle” in just about every circle I’ve come into contact with that deals with them on a regular basis. The bike is a painful comparison to the rower because unlike the rower with the pulling work phase followed by the recovery phase, there is no opportunity to let up without it affecting your performance, output, time or score. The bike display is not adjustable and the data points are always the same (outside of changing the distance from miles to kilometers #ThanksAlotCastro). I’ve heard people focusing on one of two numbers to gauge their bike work. There are the folks that use the RPM (rotations per minute) reading as their all-telling feedback to how they’re doing, how they’re pacing, or even the structure for their output goals in interval work. RPMs are how “fast” you’re peddling the bike. I’m not convinced this is the BEST way to keep track of how effective you’re being on the bike when the typical data measured are calories. I’ve personally done 95% of my bike interval training focused on the watts (again, power) feedback. More times than not, the bike portion of a workout is focused around calories. Regionals last year was the first time I can remember seeing a distance goal used in a workout on the assault bike. I know when I’m sprinting for that fast calorie mark (0-50), I’m expecting to push that watts number over 1600. When it’s a sustained effort, repeated effort, or long workout, I will try and fight to hold an uncomfortable pace. I recently did a workout from @crossfitlinchpin that was:
For time: 10 rope climbs + 100 calorie assault bike + 5 rope climbs + 50 calorie assault bike
I couldn’t remember any time I had done 100 cals for a true test, and I knew I had never done 100 calories after pushing the pace on 10 rope climbs. So I hit the first 25 cals at an “uncomfortably maintainable” pace and knew where I needed to be. I ended up finishing the 100 in 4:53, and wasn’t completely ruined for the back end of the workout. All because I spend a ton of time on the bike and know where I can push and what my numbers look like in different situations. This is important to note. No matter what you’re self-conceived notion is about how you handle the rower and the assault bike are, experience will lend itself at least a ton of experience and understanding. Add mental variables like that to an improved conditioning level and pacing intelligence, and you’re starting to sound like a more well rounded CrossFit athlete. At least when you get your legs and soul taken by the bike, you’ll know why and know when to expect it.
EMBRACE THE MACHINES and they will take care of you #engineswinchampionships