How do you track your on water performance in rowing? In rowing we usually refer to performances over a set distance on a local piece of water (for example between two land marks on your stretch of river) or perhaps a measurable within the boat like heart rate or 500m split using an NK speed coach or GPS. These all give you numbers that you can work with, but all these solutions have at least one problem in that they are all affected by outside forces which can affect the result, be it the stream on a river or the wind having an affect of slowing or speeding up the boat, making it difficult to accurately measure the performance.
So what can be done? In looking for a solution we could look at other sports to see how they deal with issue of environmental influences. Cycling for example has similar issues in that cyclists are at the mercy of wind and hills, not completely dissimilar to wind and stream that we face, and cyclists have got around the problem of these factors affecting their tracked performance by changing the focus of training from speed or heart rate to measuring the amount of watts that they produce. This article explains very well why measuring power is more beneficial than measuring other factors because it removes a large number of external environmental factors and means that the cyclists can compare two sessions irrespective of whether the wind was blowing stronger later in day.
For an example how this could work in rowimagine that you do two pieces in a single where you produce exactly the same amount of force for the two pieces, but the wind changes from a headwind to a tailwind between the pieces. If you were measuring boat speed using an NK speedcoach or timing the pieces from the bank then it would be very difficult to compare the two pieces or judge any kind of performance from those pieces as the two times would be completely different, however if you we’re tracking performance using a power meter then you would be able to see that although your time was slower, your power output was the same for the two pieces. That is the main advantage of training on a power meter, it excludes the environmental factor in measuring your performance. But how to measure power in a boat? The cycling world there are many commercial solutions available for measuring power produced directly (like the garmin vector) or by calculating power from the torque produced on the crankset, however in rowing the number of solutions is considerably less, and I have outlined the current range of options here, and although there are some great products out there coming to the market to me what is striking in the difference between what is available in the cycling world and the rowing world is that currently all the products for rowing use proprietary systems for communication and logging of the rowers power output, this is a real shame in my opinion because in the cycling world there is a real drive towards power meters supporting communication protocols like ANT+ or Bluetooth where any device can communicate with any receiving device (like a smartphone or dedicated head unit) which allows costs to be cut at the end user side (especially if you already own a smartphone) and also tends to mean that a user interface is easier to construct and implement since a touchscreen smartphone already has a well known interface that people are comfortable with.
That is why the recent announcement between rowing in motion ios app( read my earlier app review here) and Oarinspired (one of the power meter options mentioned in my comparison post earlier) sounds like a really great development for rowing. It suggests that in the near future there will be a product that will allow rowers to measure what forces you are putting into the boat (power curve, catch and finish angles) and what you are getting out of it (boat acceleration, boat speed, video analysis) and will then allow the rower or coach to then analyse it all, all using a well established smartphone platform that will help cut end user costs and simplify the user interface, allowing rowers to track and judge their training much more effectively than they currently do.
Power meters have been available to cyclists have had for a number of years and have allowed there to be a number of leaps and bounds forward in the quality of training at both the professional and the amateur level, and in my option this proposed arrangement and product has the potential for revolutionising rowing training in a similar way to that seen in cycling.