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Indoor Rowing – A Community for All

Truly passionate about indoor rowing and the erg, Lindsay Hay, from New South Wales – Sydney,  has trained and competed in the UK, Europe, New Zealand and North America winning races and setting Australian records along the way.

For Lindsay, the beauty of the erg is how measurable it is and how it is impossible to trick – the total truth machine especially if you like the numbers.

The personal bests and the camaraderie of a friendly, supportive community are some of the things that drew Lindsay to the indoor rowing community. This community is one that shares an interest and understanding of the pain that the erg inflicts when you are at the limit and encourages you to push through to get that next PB. This sort of community helps build World Records holders; several which Lindsay Hay holds.  There is a worldwide community of indoor rowers that you can feel a genuine membership.

Competing in his 12th Australian Indoor Rowing Championships (prior through C2) we talk to Lindsay about what it means to row, how he prepares for race day and what he focuses on in the last part of the race.

  1. Why indoor rowing?

I discovered the erg in the gym during a competition there about 12 years ago – I have been a pretty obsessive gym attender since I turned 30 and decided I wanted to be fit in the long term.  Mainly cardio classes with some weights as well. I quickly discovered that I was pretty good at it and had a previously undiscovered competitive streak and started racing – I was about 58 at the time. The other good thing about indoor rowing for me now is that I can still be quite competitive despite very significant osteoarthritis in my knees.

  1. What is your best 2000m, and what is a standard 2000m?

My 2k PB is a 6:46 when I was 63 and I did a 6:47 at 65+ at the World IRC Boston in 2017which I guess is the one I am most pleased with after nine  months of quite specific training  (came second to a guy who set a WR). My racing 2kms in the past 18 months have been mainly between 7:00 and 7:08. Although I still harbour a thought of sub 7 at 70 years old. (One year to go!)

  1. To complete and compete in a 2000m, 1000m and 500m in one day you must have a great recovery and warm up strategy, how do you manage it?

Firstly, you have to be confident that you have the foundation fitness and then have a process of training for race days that starts about two months prior, so the second thing is planning. Sessions get shorter and harder as you get closer then the last five to seven days is a relatively formal taper process.
On race day, I will normally go hard on the 2km which is usually first and then use whatever is left for the others knowing that you won’t be in PB territory. I try to ignore thoughts around holding back. I have done up to five races in a day at a Masters Games. I just think that if you are there then it’s better to be racing than watching.

  1. Do you follow a training program?

Yes, although it is more instinctive than written down except when I went to the Worlds and kept to a specific six day a week plan for eight months all documented.
The macro plan is what is called periodised – blocks of less intense longer slower foundation metres for maybe three months before a period of more intense harder pieces including hard intervals. I train to heart rate using the HR bands to keep aerobic/cardio for the steady metres and a combination of heart rate and watts to get anaerobic. This approach is called polarised – the theory is that you do you hard training hard and the slow training slow – racing your training is a big mistake and I try to follow that mantra and avoid the zone just above aerobic threshold. About 80% of training volume should be aerobic below threshold.
I also try to do a weights session at least every week or two depending on time available and stage of training.
I have several sessions that I use regularly and kind of rotate through to make it easier to set comparable paces/times.

  1. Do you use the same damper setting/ drag factor for every distance and training?

I have over the years found a drag factor sweet spot for the 2k of 130, so a lot of training at 130 as well as racing. I go to around 134/5 for the 1k and 138/140 for the 500m. For the sprints of 100m and one minute around 150/160. My steady state training pieces are around 125 for say 5k to an hour which would be as far as I would go. My hard intervals are at 130 to be similar to racing. I will also drop the DF for rate restricted pieces like 30’/sr20 and the like to say 124.

  1. What is one piece of knowledge you would give to someone competing in an indoor rowing race for the first time?

Two things – check the drag factor before you start and don’t panic – going out too fast and hitting the wall is by far the most common mistake – have a race plan that is doable and stick to it. Don’t get excited and try to race others – stick to your plan and go hard at the end not the beginning.

  1. Where has indoor rowing taken you, and where do you see indoor rowing in five years’ time?

The erg has given me a real focus for my lifelong commitment to fitness and has taken me all around the world. I have raced and trained in UK, Europe, New Zealand and North America.
It seems to me that increasingly, indoor rowing is being embraced by rowing organisations all around the world. And that on water rowers are perhaps seeing it as a legitimate part of what they do, although that part is slow in parts. My observation is that a lot of new ergers have appeared with COVID-forced isolation. Some of them are very strong athletic younger people as well new seniors. Some of them will get the bug and keep at it and some will start racing as well. I can see a growing sport.

  1. What is your ‘favourite’ / default erg session?

Not one I guess but a few that I return to – 45’ steady, 30x 1’/1’R both free rate and sr20, 6x 8’/2’R and 15x 3’/1’R hard.

  1. Have you ever rowed on water?

Never been interested really – early morning on water sessions would clash with work and I get seasick as well, very easily.

  1. What’s the best tip you have been given about indoor rowing? 

If you want to go fast over 2k then you should do a lot of longer slower steady cardio pieces to get fit.

  1. What do you enjoy most about indoor rowing?

Two things – having a long-term way of maintaining a high level of fitness regardless of age and weather conditions. As well as being a respected part of a community of like-minded, inspiring, supportive and friendly people.

  1. Who inspires you?

The indoor rowing day at the Sydney Invictus Games was extraordinary and inspiring. I have also seen some amazing seniors’ racing hard all the way up to 95 years of age. I have also seen and met some of the very fastest in the world as well.

  1. How often do you train?

Four to six times a week pretty much every week for the last 40 years. The erg is my total focus for about the last 10 years as my knees prevent other weight bearing cardio classes and the like. My longest period of not training is about three weeks whilst travelling.

  1. What do you tell yourself in the last 30secs of a test?

I count down strokes and time, so the internal self-talk is both “30 seconds to go, so go for it as hard as” and the strokes counted in groups of 10. (10->>1) starting about 400 out.