If you were asked: What’s the connection between rigging and exertion in your rowing, would you be able to answer the question?
Chances are you might state some theoretical relevance but not what makes them truly impactful.
- What do you have to do to make the rigging work for you?
- What the heck is this thing called Rate of Perceived Exertion?
The parts of your rowing equipment that greatly impact the Leverage, and your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), are big factors. But chances are you might not know just how important.
Let’s explore that reality for a moment.
Leverage is the mechanical set up that allows the work to happen
In terms of rowing equipment and rigging when we mention Leverage we are referring to specific parts such as the:
- oar length
- blade shape
- positioning of the hips relative to the pin (aka work through).
These five adjustments (which I’ve written about recently) form the lever of your rowing.
Together they impact the wicked-important reality of your RPE.
Working the mechanical set up
Your equipment’s mechanical set up is designed to move a Load.
In our case the Load is the boat and you—being moved along the water past a point.
Here’s the interesting part.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a feeling
When you pull an oar—by, interestingly enough, pushing on the foot stretcher—you are using a lever. This action requires work from you.
The feeling of how hard (or easy) you are working is your RPE.
RPE has been around for a while, coming from scientific fields to to help qualify effort levels.
The cool thing about RPE is that it provides a tool for a rower to assess their effort, and train in the most accurate “challenge zone” possible. (For a solid article on using RPE for training read this article by Will Ruth )
Think of RPE as something subjective,
“Ugh…this feels heavy!” Or “Phew, this feels light, I can do it all day!”
Here’s a scale adapted from British Cycling.
An example from the world of two wheels might help.
Let’s go for a bike ride
It’s a beauty of a day. You decide to hop on your 10-speed bike for a workout.
The road ahead is flat—no wind, no traffic. Just a nice long peddle on a beautiful flat road.
Your workout plan is to stay at 92 rpm (peddle rotations per minute) for the whole ride.
Off you go and soon you’re cruising along in 7th gear.
Your RPE is right at steady state (Level 5) and you think to yourself,
“I could do this-all-day-long!“
Then…around the corner, gulp, you spy a hill ahead.
Up you go
Charging up the incline, staying in 7th gear at 92 rpm, you start to feel the effort.
*pant pant pant*”…this…is…getting…heavy…”
Your RPE is heavy, like Level 9.
Feeling the strain you realize you have a choice:
- I stay in 7th gear at 92 rpm, and work really hard, or
- I change to a lower gear, stay at 92 rpm, and don’t work as hard, and bring my RPE back to Level 5
Today is NOT your day for a grind-of-a-workout so you downshift to 4th gear —allowing you to keep your rpm at 92 and reduce your RPE level back to Level 5.
Change your Leverage or change your RPE
Because the terrain changed and impacted your RPE you had to adapt—you changed your gearing (Leverage) to keep your RPE level the same.
What goes up must come down
Not so bad…
…you think as you crest the hill.
Now comes the down hill.
As gravity grabs you and you start to zip down hill you notice something new, Whoa, this is toooo easy!
Staying at 92 rpm in 4th gear is getting you nothing. Jeez—your RPE is now at Level 2.
So you’ve got another decision to make to keep your workout going,
- I stay in 4th gear at 92 rpm, and work waaaay too easy, or
- I change to a higher gear, stay at 92 rpm, and bring my RPE back to Level 5
Because the terrain changed once again, you change your gearing to maintain your effort level.
You shift to 10th gear, keeping your rpm at 92, and your workout level at steady state.
Once you hit the flats again, you shift to 7th and bring it on home at Level 5.
See, it’s all a balancing act
That example is basically how Leverage, Load and RPE work in rowing—set a Leverage to move the Load and balance an RPE.
There are two interesting parts that we can tease out of this example and apply to our rowing:
- In rowing, we don’t have the ability to shift our Leverage on the fly, like a bike. So we need to make our Leverage adjustments BEFORE hand, making the best educated guess we can.
- We don’t have hills in rowing (waterfalls don’t count) but we do have wind and currents. Think of a head-wind or head-current as going uphill (which increases your RPE), and a tail-wind or tail-current as going downhill (which decreases your RPE).
Using our bike examples should help you make your Leverage adjustments so your RPE are balanced.
Rigging and Rate of Perceived Exertion in rowing
Leverage and RPE are a critical reality of rowing—whether you are chasing speed or just absorbing sunrises.
Getting comfortable with what they mean and how they impact you can help make your rowing more effective and enjoyable.
It’s (kinda sorta) just that simple, and we’ll be talking about them more.
Down the rabbit hole
If you’d like to go into more detail about rowing, Leverage and RPE, here are a few resources:
- Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale – British Cycling
- Using Percent of 1RM vs RPE for Rowing Training – Rowing Stronger
- LeoTraining – Joe Deleo