The COVI19 pandemic has scuppered all of our club competitions and training for the foreseeable future, and for some without a rowing machine at home, it has eliminated nearly all training. A number of athletes do own their own ergs, and some clubs like Marlow RC are letting their members take home the club’s ergs on loan (on an application/lottery basis since there are many more members than machines).
As it turns out, nearly all of the Marlow Adaptive squad have their own machines at home, and as a result they have been experimenting with virtual training sessions. Here are a few of the learnings for other folks that are interested in following suit:
- APP: Marlow tried both Skype and Zoom. Zoom seemed to provide better quality with less feedback (really had to mute users on Skype when they started the erg because the flywheel made so much white noise that drowned everything out, but Zoom didn’t seem to have this problem), lower latency and the ability to see all rower images at once (Skype only allows 4 at a time and you can swap other participants into view). The biggest problem is that Zoom requires a commercial license that costs money if you want to have a session for over 40 minutes. Fortunately, Marlow RC invested in a number of commercial Zoom licenses for squads to use for this purpose. Alternatively, many companies are buying Zoom licenses and might allow employees on your squad to use them for such sessions.
- ACTIVITIES: Marlow has tried a number of different type of workouts:
- Warm-up/Warm-down: Everyone checks in to the video conference and once the technical glitches are ironed out, then everyone gets on their erg for a 5-10 minute warm-up. We keep the microphones open during this period as it is a good chance for a bit of social chatting.
- Handicapped Racing: To bring everyone together, we held some erg challenges using the Time Handicapping concept to level the playing field across the diverse squad. But instead of setting people off at different times (like we do with river racing), we just plugged in different distance to the rowing machine of how far they would go in a 2 minute race if they rowed at their PB pace. That way we could start everyone at the same time and have an even race to the finish. One issue is that with their microphones mute, they had to “announce” their finish by putting the handle down and waving their arms (with a good number of people on a screen, it’s hard for the adjudicating coach to spot who has finished). This virtual format was so popular that the whole Marlow RC adopted it now holding weekly erg challenges between all the squads (Junior, Seniors, Vets, Recreational, Master, Para) with each squad putting forward one representative to compete against each other. Whether it is competition or training, 2-based intervals help to keep the distributed group in sync.
- 500m Guesstimate: A fun challenge is to put the erg on “Just Row”, hide the screen (either covering it or pushing it back out of sight), set everyone off at once and then have people try to row as close to 500m as they can merely by guessing how far they have rowed (thanks Ben Marsden). If you did this exercise in the gym, then you get the issue of some people stopping and then others being influenced by seeing them stop. But in the virtual environment, its harder for them to see when people stop (given the small icon and their devices being a bit away from the rowing machine).
- ACOUSTICS: Marlow tried having tried emulating the gym ambience by having a music track played over the coach’s microphone, but the sound quality on the athletes’ end was just too broken up. As a result, the athletes who wanted a workout mix just plugged into their own playlists with headphones. It would be a fun feature if some conferencing app allowed for the integration of a music app like iTunes or Spotify and let the host stream a soundtrack to all participants.
Of course, in the virtual world, there is no distance so anybody can come together to join training sessions. Marlow’s first v-session included Mark Delahunty from Maidenhead and other joint sessions are planned. One issue is that it is harder to “get to know” people through such v-sessions. For starters, the interaction between the athletes is limited as they are sitting on their ergs and most of the communication is from the coach to the group. The squad enjoys the bits of banter among themselves at outset, during breaks, and at the finish. But it benefits greatly from knowing each other well so short quips and comments are understood and land well. If you don’t really know someone, then it is harder to make such off-the-cuff remarks and connect in this way.
Finally, if you are getting your split times down, there are a number of virtual competitions cropping up all around the world (but on the Internet it doesn’t matter where you are). There are v-regatta’s like Tennessee Rowing’s Coronavirus Quarantine Regatta. Also, Concept2 has introduced it 2020 Spring VIII Series which features a number of “challenges” that you can take on as a part in as a squad.
See you on the safe and civic-minded digiverse!
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