I took control of the leaderboard midway through the third run of my 1,200 meter series – and damn it, if I wanted to let go. Every time a competitor got closer, I put it into a new gear. In the fourth and final leg, I moved all-in and shot over the finish line. As I swallowed some well-deserved water and my chest slowed the irregular lifting, I saw the final score of my race. I was at the top there, 22 seconds ahead of the next fastest person whose screen name was … BARRETis11. So it seemed like I hit an 11 year old. No matter – a win is a win.
Ergatta Rower: What it is and who it is for
I’m working on Ergatta, a rowing machine and system that came out last year, just in time for the exercise to be largely indoor. Co-founder and CEO Tom Aulet tells me that he and his research and development partners created Ergatta for those who don’t necessarily like the Rah-Rah of group fitness.
Instead, they opted for a game-based system. Buckle up and launch the HD screen to log into your dashboard. You will first be asked to complete a series of workouts, adapt the Ergatta to your fitness level, and establish a baseline. You can choose from countless rowing patterns that test your endurance, interval strength, or both. You can also sort by percentage effort and time – between 10 and 60 minutes. These are great, and the multi-workout push programs will help you improve your rowing capacity and performance. If you want active recovery or have a specific push pattern in mind, the vacant row is for you.
But the real fun of Ergatta is in its races and games. The network puts you against other rowers on your skill level (not in real time). (One day I hope to be with the adults.) But the real advancement lies in Ergatta’s focus on gaming. It mixes rowing with video games to harness your competitive spirit – and keep your mind off your burning lungs.
I’m a big fan of “Meteor,” where your stroke is like a fiery ball zooming across the screen. The aim is to pick up coins along the way. In order to get high-up coins, you need to perform high-intensity intervals, even if you don’t register them as such. Twenty minutes on the rowing machine can be a straightforward ailment. On the other hand, playing Meteor for twenty minutes is an absolute blast. The graphics are nifty and dynamic enough to get your attention without complicating or distracting – like the old school Atari got a big boost. Ergatta plans to release around one game per month that will be automatically uploaded to your system via updates.
How Playing Your Workout Can Break Fitness Plateaus
There is a lot of science behind gaming and competition to help improve performance. Exercise physiologists and psychologists often work with professional cyclists as half a second can mean the difference between a first place and a non-podium finish. Adding a competitive element to training, even if it’s an invisible avatar, can motivate athletes to go faster. Take this study from Northumbrian University in England: Researchers had experienced cyclists revving up to 4,000 meters and repeated the test a few times on different days to get a good idea of the maximum effort each cyclist was making. Then they put the participants in a pseudo virtual reality situation where they competed against an avatar tuned for their best personal best while pedaling in real time to control another avatar. Except for researchers, the cyclists lied. The avatar they were up against should actually be 2 percent harder than their personal best, which is 1 percent faster. And you know what? The cyclists rose to the challenge and beat their best time.
This also works for non-athletes. Recent research from the University of Bath found that people wearing VR screens and biking against avatars improved their physical performance, were more motivated to work hard, and found their way into “flow states” – which meant they into one State got rhythm that is like workout nirvana.
So let’s talk to the elephant in the cardio machine room at home: the peloton bike. It’s not peloton. And that’s by design. If you like the sense of community and interactive motivation that attending a live remote class provides, this may not be for you – but for people who aren’t interested in this type of training. It’s not a slap on either method. More like different punches for different people.
As for the equipment itself, Ergatta has geared the market towards beauty. The Brooklyn-based company partnered with WaterRower, known for its signature hardwood frames and clear water tank. Fins create resistance against the handles and provide a smooth, natural pull. Like other WaterRowers, you can store it upright. And Ergatta’s service with white gloves is exactly that – premium.
If there is a knock, the speakers embedded in the screen are pretty lousy. The simple solution is that instead of selecting one of the music genre presets, I feed music through my living room speaker instead. Problem solved.
If you enjoy rowing and have at least a touch of competitiveness, Ergatta might be for you. Pro tip: Do yourself a favor and spend extra time opening your hip flexors. You need to stay lithe when rowing through space.[$2,199 plus $29/month or $290/year for membership; ergatta.com]
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