In various papers and research articles, the differences of the kinetics and kinematics between ergometer rowing and water rowing are highlighted.
First of all on an ergometer, the handle force has a higher peak and develops later, the stroke length tends to be 3-5% longer and the curve of foot stretcher force is considerably moved towards the beginning of the stroke. An important point is that the legs:trunk:arms proportions of power development on an ergometer are 37% : 41% : 22% compared to 45% : 37% : 18% for on water rowing. This means that the trunk is doing a larger proportion of the work on an ergometer. All of these factors potentially lead to an increased load applied to the structures of the trunk, and particularly the spine. Greater work done by the trunk could produce earlier fatigue of the trunk muscles, placing the spine at risk.
Interestingly, Holt et al (2003) studied the effects of prolonged ergometer rowing. Over a 60 minute piece there were significant changes in the way the athletes moved. Lumbar spine range of motion at the catch and total lumbar spine range of motion increased during the piece. The gradient of force production decreased, and the ratio of drive to recovery time increased, over the piece. The authors attributed these changes to fatigue of the trunk muscles during the piece, reinforcing that fatigued trunk muscles may lead to low back injury.
In addition, Teitz et al (2002) conducted a retrospective study of 1632 US intercollegiate rowers. By the use of detailed questionnaires they established that 32% of these athletes had experienced back pain of at least one week’s duration during their rowing careers. The use of rowing ergometers for greater than 30 minutes per session and free weights were the variables most consistently associated with back pain.
This research suggests that there perhaps is a link between the amount of time the athletes spend on the ergometer (under greater trunk load than when on the water,) with less desirable technique and postural positions. The end result is an increased load on the spine which may increase the risk of injury.
It is therefore essential coaches have the ability to coach the correct technique on the ergo taking into account the difference forces impacting on the body compared to rowing on the water.