NK Empower gate starts to ship

Buff said really, NK have started to ship their gates out to people who have already pre-ordered 

As I’m in the U.K. I’m hoping there will be an announcement of availability over here soon, plus announcements from data management companies (Rowe.rs for example) how users can start using the power data in training since a major part of using power data is the analysis between rowing 

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HOCR and hands on with the NK Empower Oarlock

Last weekend I was able to attend the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, Massachusetts in the USA – I was excited to go, both because I was racing in the Club 1x event but also because I knew that NK would be there and they would be displaying their new NK Empower Oarlock. Long time readers may remember it was this time last year that the oarlock was first announced and was on display then, albeit a non-functioning mock up. This time round it would be a fully functioning unit and so I was keen to get some time to get some hands on use.



As mentioned before, the NK Empower Oarlock is a wireless power meter that is designed to work with their current NK GPS 2.0 device, their own website has a lot of information listed here so I won’t go into too much detail other than listing some of the main points that came across in the discussions and that I found interesting when talking to the NK staff

  • BATTERY LIFE – The Empower gate is powered by a single AA battery which can last for around 8-20 hours depending on the quality of the battery, they admitted that currently a low battery warning is only displayed on the back of the gate with a flashing red light (less than ideal) although they are working towards having the GPS show a low battery warning with a future update
  • MULTIPLE CONNECTIONS
    • One NK GPS connecting to multiple Empower Oarlocks (e.g. a sculler with two gates) – Technically possible, however at launch NK is limiting this so that you can only connect one Empower Oarlock to one GPS at a time, which I think is fair –since when you are sculling the output of the two gates would be largely similar (otherwise you wouldn’t go in a straight line) I would say even if it were possible it would only be worth the cost if you were seeking the highest world champ/olympic levels, the rest of us would get plenty of important data from just the one gate. One Empower Oarlock  connecting to Multiple NK GPS (e.g. a rower and a coach seeing the same data) – This is where the discussions got interesting, currently it is not possible due to the use of Bluetooth smart which only allows a 1:1 linked relationship (see the description of disadvantages of BT smart here) and so if the empower gate is broadcasting to the rowers GPS, it cannot broadcast to the coaches. This, however doesn’t mean that the proposal of a coach seeing the data at the same time as the rower isn’t possible and couldn’t be added in the future (I talked through a couple of options with NK with how this may work in future, for example adding adapters to the GPS which can re-broadcast to the coaches device) it would just require additional hardware. Plus, as they described to me there, there is nothing stopping the rower and coach handing over the one NK GPS during an outing so that the rower or the coach is getting the data at different points in the outing.
  • CALIBRATION – There are two measurements that need calibration
    • Power – Measured through the pin and it is calibrated in house before the product is shipped, no need to re calibrate once this has been done in the shop
    • Angle – Measured in relation to the metal plate at the bottom of the gate, this does need calibration but only once when the gate is added to the boat, first to align the plate at the bottom then you attach the adapter (included) which is used to set a couple of calibration positions and then it doesn’t need calibrating again unless you move the gate to another boat

  • DISPLAY – There are two main ways that the data can be displayed, either the “classic” view or, as I think of it, the view which includes rate/split, or the “skill” view where it doesn’t show rate/split – removing rate/split might seem a little odd but often in a crew boat you might not want to see that and rely just on the power details. There are around 20 different data fields you can present and you can choose the one to display and then also scroll through the fields using the buttons on the GPS 2.0 – note that you can’t set the fields to automatically scroll through the fields, but NK are looking into doing this in the future and I think
  • IN USE EXAMPLE – They actually described an example of how the demo units are being used now – the coach starts off with the unit and watches the crew to see what technical improvements can be made, as an example say the finishes are off – the coach can view the finish slip/angle whilst watching the crew and decide who should change and by how much – they then stop the crew and hand over the GPS along with the numbers they have to hit so that now the rower can row and see the numbers they are getting and aim to get the correct ones


Overall – I am still quite positive about the NK Empower Oarlock, yes there are some drawbacks to the product as a whole (mostly around people wanting more complex set ups like connecting multiple gates and overlaying multiple rowers data) but given the slightly technophobic rowing market they are entering (and also the complexity of the product in general) it is definitely wise for them to start with a simpler product and focus on easily quantifiable numbers first (watts, degrees).

On the cost of $649 – The cost may seem relatively high but is actually pretty comparable to cycling power meters and its generally a given in cycling that if you are looking to reach your peak potential, that using a power meter is the best way to do it,  and in rowing you will actually also get the additional support for technical improvements (like being shown your catch slip and being able to work to improve it) in a way that cycling power meters cannot – essentially making the Empower Oarlock even better value for money than cycling power meters

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Power Measuring in Rowing – Book Review of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” with a rowing angle — Rowsandall

A good overview of using power meters in cycling and how that theory could be used in rowing – If you haven’t already come across Sander’s blog id recommend following it for interesting insights into training and excellent reviews of races that he goes to.

The main point I especially like is the focus on just the wattage rather than the additional telemetry details (like stroke length, timing etc) – these can be important details to review for the highest performance, but really the main benefit of rowing with a power meter is being able to measure your actual input into moving the boat (i.e. rowing power) rather than relying on measuring one of the outcomes of the input (i.e. boat speed)

Power is unaffected by outside factors like stream/wind and so is a much more reliable measure of performance improvement over time and training at the right intensity, and this is the main benefit that power meters bring to rowing

A few weeks ago, I ordered “Wattmessung im Radsport und Triathlon“, the German translation of the book “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan. The book is an interesting read for rowers, because I believe that power measurement systems for rowers are about to make the jump from Olympians…

via Power Measuring in Rowing – Book Review of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” with a rowing angle — Rowsandall

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Garmin Vivoactive HR – Review of a GPS watch when used for rowing

Although it continues to grow in popularity, rowing has never have the levels of popularity that sports like running and cycling have, meaning that often the bigger sports tech manufacturers previously haven’t included rowing features in their products and so rowers have missed out the on wide range of newer GPS devices that have been coming out that promise so much for athletes who run/swim/cycle but ultimately hasn’t been able to track rowing in a way that is useful. Recently however this has looking to change as Garmin recently began to add more sports to their line of GPS watches, with indoor rowing and outdoor rowing being two that are now listed as officially supported by Garmin, so I wanted to check out these features to see how they work and if they are suitable for rowing.

The rowing activities currently are only officially supported in Garmin’s newer range of watches – namely the 735XT, Fenix 3 (and the HR version) and the Vivoactive HR – There are other sites that discuss these watches in general, and even one that compares all 3 watches, so I will focus mainly on using the watch for rowing – and I decided on getting the Vivoactive HR, partly because it is the cheapest and smallest of the three, but also because if you are mainly focused on rowing training, then most of the additional features in the other two watches are more specific to runners/cyclists and not so much rowing.

Out of the box, the Vivoactive HR is quite a sleak looking watch – looking more like a wide activity tracker than a full watch due to the rectangle screen. Many people may not like the design and prefer a round face (and if so you’d probably want to look at the Fenix 3) however I personally like the shape as I think the narrower profile helps keep the watch out of the way of your hand as you flex the wrist at the catch and finish,  I certainly find it quite comfortable to wear when rowing and sculling. The watch itself has the screen is very good in direct sunlight with no viewing issues even on the sunniest days and works as a touchscreen – there are two physical buttons on the front of the watch as well for menu navigation and starting/stopping activities


The Vivoactive HR has a number of activities available to run, although the two that I am focusing on are the indoor rowing and outdoor rowing, the main difference between the two being whether the GPS is activated to not. Now, just to nightlight some important points

  • Although the Vivoactive HR defaults to picking up HR using the wrist optical sensor, the HR data it picks up is junk it does not work whilst rowing – I’ve never tested a wrist based optical HR sensor that has worked and I am pretty sure I never will, the reason it works for running is because the muscles in the arms/wrist aren’t really used so the sensor is able to get a clean reading, in rowing the load being out through the arms, muscles, tendons seems to mess with the signal meaning you will never get a clean reading – on the plus side the Watch is able tom pick up readings from an ANT+ chest belt, so using a garmin belt means you will get correct HR for your data
  • The watch picks up stroke rate really well, however it only seems to work on your wrist – not if you attach it to your footplate or wing rigger, also it tends to lag 3-4 strokes behind when you change stroke rates, possibly due to smoothing – I don’t find this an issue however as due to the fact it is on your wrist, it’s not great for a stand alone stroke meter, it’s best as a workout logger and use a stand alone stroke meter like the active tools rate watch

The activities work very easily – press the right hand button on the front, select rowing, then the app has loaded.

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If you press and hold on any of the info points on the screen, it will load the menu where you can select whichever data field you want it to display, and there are three pages of data fields that you can swipe through during the activity – You are able to also lock the screen if you are worried of water hitting the screen.

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To start the activity – press the right hand button again on the front and it will start, press it again and it will stop and ask if you want to save/delete the workout

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Once you have completed the workout and saved it, the radioactive HR will automatically connect and sync with the Garmin Connect app when it next connects to your phones bluetooth – This tends to happen automagically so I am not sure how much storage the watch has and how many workouts it can store, but I haven’t had any issues so far with losing workouts and whenever I open the Connect app the data is usually there for review or if not, it is after a short Sync with the watch.

The connect app is very feature packed but doesn’t seem to have the best UI to some other apps I have used and it does seem to focus mostly on the triathalon sports with most of its features – for example It has useful “snapshots” which pop up information about the day so far, how many steps you’ve take, your 24/7 heart rate etc which is useful,  however the only sport related snapshots are running, cycling and swimming which is a shame.

Going  into the calendar view is probably where you will spend most of your time as here you can look at each day in more detail – how many steps you’ve taken, claroies burned etc – then if you click on the workout more details about that workout

Here is a sculling workout for example – the first page gives an overview of the workout, how long it took, how far and calories burned – the map is a useful addition and it also helpfully shows what the weather was doing at the time – here you can see it was sunny but with a light wind from the south south east

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next page is more specific details which includes stroke rate, distance per stroke, 500m split and heart rate

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Next are the laps, and neatly the Garmin seems to be able to automatically set a lap from your GPS location, I certainly never set a lap manually!

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And finally some nice graphs, again showing pace (500m split), heart rate, stroke rate, distance per stroke and time in HR zone

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The Indoor rowing app basically does the same but without the GPS – Unfortunately it doesn’t connect directly to concept 2 so currently you don’t get the splits/wattage directly on the watch – you can edit the workout later to add the average wattage if you wanted.

On this point of connecting to the Concept 2 erg its worth highlighting that the Vivoactive HR supports Garmin ConnectIQ – this is Garmin’s app development system which means people are able to create “apps” that can run on these watches to track other non-officially supported activities – one example is a weight training app that you can download which you can run to remember your reps and sets for each exercise. I mention it as although Concept 2’s PM4&5 monitors support ANT+, currently none of the newer Garmin watches have apps supporting ANT+ FE so they cannot get the watts/split directly from the PM, but potentially a ConnectIQ app could be developed which could connect and sync the wattage/splits. ConnectIQ certainly has a number of intelligent developers already working on apps, for example the Beer Tracker which shows how many beers you’ve earned/burned that workout, so I am hopeful more support may come for rowers down the line.

All in all, I am very happy with the Vivoactive HR’s ability to track rowing, it accurately tracks stroke rate both on the erg and the water and because it automatically syncs with your smartphone, is a great way of backing up all your training data so that you have a log rather than having to write everything down or manually download files from your GPS/speedcoach to upload manually.

To to summarise then, here are the main points and some considerations

  • As mentioned (but will mention again) the wrist HR does not work whilst rowing, you still need  a chest belt to get accurate HR
  • The Vivoactive HR picks up strokerate very well but appears to have smoothing/lag of 2-3 strokes – plus it only picks up strokerate when worn on your wrist so I don’t consider it a replacement for a standard strokemeter
  • On the stroke rate – if you look at the graph of stroke rate you can see funny peaks every so often where its up in the 50’s, 60’s – this is because I wear the watch on my left wrist and when I am turning the boat round I tap with the left blade, meaning it registers a high stroke rate! I don’t see that as an issue but it is funny to see in the graphs
  • The GPS doesn’t have as much smoothing as the NK GPS, so it tends to jump around as you row due to the fact you are accelerating/decelerating every stroke and it just depends when in the stroke it takes the reading – this isn’t an issue over a whole outing/piece as it averages out, again however I don’t recommend relying on it as a live speed indicator while rowing
  • On the GPS as well, I tend to leave the watch running throughout without pauses as this is a lot easier, however it does means that it includes all the time spent turning which the Garmin doesn’t see as “stopped”since the boat is turning and also drifting with the stream, means the average is skewed slower
  • The app – although feature rich, isn’t as well laid out as I would like – for example although it contains all the data of the outing, it is difficult to review in detail what is going on as you cannot “zoom” into parts of the outing in the app (and even through the desktop app its still not ideal) – however I personally use Sportlyzer to review on the water sessions since it is developed with rowing in mind and automatically syncs with Garmin meaning if I wanted to zoom in at a part of an outing for more details, I could do it there

To Summarise then – the Vivoactive HR is the best GPS watch I have come across that works well as a support device for a rower. I don’t see it as a direct replacement to a speedcoach/strokecoach, instead I see it as a companion device to, say, the active tools rate meter  or the NK stroke coach so you can focus on the rowing specific device during the outing, the Vivoactive is good for logging your workout in the background for later review and also tracking all the other activities you do day to day so you can keep tabs on everything you do and hopefully work out what you can do increase the efficiency of your training.

 

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NK open pre orders for Empower oarlock

NK have just announced that pre-orders of their empower oarlock are now open, details of the oarlock and how it works are here

http://www.nkhome.com/rowing-sports/empower-oarlock/?platform=hootsuite
And the pre-order page is here

http://www.nkhome.com/rowing-sports-products/empower-oarlock/

The announced price of $649 plus delivery per oarlock 

General thoughts – Aside from the relief that of one of the many promised power meters is now actually going to hit the market, the price  they are aiming for is a good target as its significantly lower than all of the current power meters on the market, which brings using power to improve your rowing into range of club athletes – particularly if you already have the NK GPS stroke coach which is used as a screen for the oarlock
Looking forward to getting hands on with one!

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New Kickstarter launched – The Rowing App

Launched today is a new Kickstarter for a product called The Rowing App

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1605381989/the-rowing-app?token=3836a4d1

To summarize some of the main offered features

  • Able to log workouts on the erg and on the water in the same place
  • For water outings – Phone can be attached to the blade where it will track the GPS of the outing, but also track the position of the blade in/out of the water for later review
  • For erg sessions – Uses Optical Character Recognition to record the workout details
  • Calendar for planning sessions
  • Monthly subscription charge for using the Premium analysis part of the app

My general positive thoughts about the kickstarter are that it looks like quite a nice app, it has a number of big names behind it in the rowing world, it has been well thought out and a very good User Interface and there are a few nice features like being able to use OCR and photos to record erg sessions (meaning no need to faff with cables/firmware/monitors pre erg), and being able to add photos of the conditions for the log

On the downside, although I like the idea of tracking the blade path through the stroke, I feel that attaching a phone to the blade will be making it somewhat unweildly – particularly one of the narrow shaft sculling blades that are becoming more and more popular. Assuming that it is the phones accelerometer that they are using to track the blade path, an easy solution would be to use a separate accelerometer device (something like the wahoo cadence sensor) and connect that to the phone, that would be much smaller and easier to manage – adding ANT+ would also bring the added benefit of meaning in crew boats (with multiple sensors) all the phones in the boat would be able to recive the data from all the sensors, so blade paths could be overlaid – i.e. if each rower in a pair had a phone and sensor each, using ANT+ they would be able to see each others blade paths on their own phone, not possible with bluetooth smart which is 1-1 connection only.

In addition, there is the point of making sure that even though the data is being collected is presented in context – there is no point in seeing what your blade path is doing without seeing an example of what it “should” be doing or where it is going wrong, here I would hope the devs are using their big name rowers to install a number of “ideal” curves that people are able to follow and I suspect this is what the “premium features” will be that are being offered, however apparently the final feature set is to be confirmed after crowdfunding

In summary, I very much like the concept of the app but have not completely bought into the idea of using a phone on my blade as it is currently suggested, I will be putting my points to the devs and also closely following the project as I do think the app in particular looks very well put together and could be a useful way to track land and water training in one place

 

 

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Coxing magazine suggest summer release for NK Empower oarlock 

Another rowing magazine has entered the market with its first issue and, like row360, I’d recommend checking it out if you can as they often offer interesting and useful insights into rowers, coaches and companies lives and practices, often releasing small bits of information not previously seen or confirming one of the many rumours about rowing.

Coxing magazine has just such a piece of information in their article with NK where, alongside a picture of the NK Empower oarlock  it is mentioned that they are targeting a summer release. That alongside a demo unit being on display during Henley regatta (shown below) does raise hope it may be sooner rather than later that they becomes available 

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