Erik Borgnes Winter ERG Coaching – Absolutely The Best Kept Secret to Improve your Paddling!

For those of you who may not be aware,  Erik Borgnes (TC SURFSKI Immersion Camp Coach and  pioneer of SURFSKI paddling in the Great Lakes) runs a Yahoo News Group that provides weekly coaching guidance for those dedicated souls training on the ERG from November through March.   I can’t claim to have committed to Erik’s program,  but there is no doubt in my mind, if you do, you will see significant results.   The most I  typically manage in the winter  is about 30 minutes once a week,  but even at that short amount of time, doing intense powerful intervals and following Erik’s tips, has definitely improved my paddling performance.   I know that Erik’s off-season program will be an absolute mandatory requirement next season  as I prepare for the Ultimate Challenge at the US SURFSKI Champs in 2017

I highly encourage everyone to sign up,  even if you aren’t training on an ERG, there is a wealth of information in the ERG News Group, which can be accessed here

Typically Erik will send out an e-mail that includes a combination of technique tips as well as a specific number of intervals, level of intensity,  etc..    Below I have simply copied and pasted (in no particular order) a few of the tips Erik has provided this season.   There is an immense amount of  great information to be gleaned from these, and all for FREE!!!

Weekly Tips

Don’t Dip the Paddle Side Shoulder

This week, think about NOT crunching your side muscles as you pull the stroke on that side. To be more specific, when you pull on the left side of the erg / boat, the distance between your left hip and left shoulder should remain unchanged – don’t dip that shoulder down and don’t let that side of the erg / boat tip up. Instead, think about slightly dipping that left hip down ever so slightly by pressure on the boat / erg with the left leg. By thinking about dipping that side down, you’ll likely keep the erg / boat level on the water and not allow that side to rise up.

Breaking it down: During the catch phase on the left, the foot pressure is being transferred from the right foot to the left. As soon as that left lower arm activates and grabs onto the water, the left foot starts to pressure the footboard and the pressure increases through the pull all the way through the exit phase. As the blade exits the water on the left, it’s still the left foot pressuring the footboard as you continue counter-rotating into the setup for the next stroke. As the paddle then crosses over to the right, left foot pressure lessens, and at the next catch on the right, the right foot begins to pressure the footboard so that the moment the catch transitions to the pull, the right foot is solid on the footboard and ready to “push past the paddle blade.”

I know that this is repetitive, but again, don’t underestimate the importance of keeping foot pressure late into the stroke and through the exit phase as this will counter-rotate your torso for the next catch phase. In other words, if you release foot pressure too early, you’ll likely have your torso (and shoulders) facing directly forwards (as opposed to counter-rotated) at the next catch.

Lower Arm/Elbow Straight at the Catch

This week, while you’re concentrating on muscle-ing through these intervals, keep yourself in a “strong” position with your top arm elbow bent it’s hand close to your head and ear at the catch and ready to drive downwards right into the catch.  The lower arm elbow should be very nearly straight at the catch.  Make certain that your pulling side shoulder is forwards at the catch, too.  I like to feel like my top arm palm is facing forwards almost like I could momentarily wave at someone in front of me – this position feels strong to me.

The catch part of the stroke is initiated by the top arm and then that “baton” is immediately shared with the lower pulling arm. So, make sure that when you have just moved into the catch position and the catch phase is imminent, that you feel your top arm muscles activating first. The lower pulling arm muscles activate microseconds later – it’s almost like a very quick “1, 2” or lub-dub. The first activation is of the top arm powering down and forwards into the catch and the second activation is the lower pulling arm grabbing onto the water. Remember to keep the top arm downward pressure all the way through to the mid-stroke when it begins to lighten as the lower arm prepares for the blade exit. This part of the technique can be trained the same way on the erg as on the water.

Focus on Muscling Through your Intervals

This week, think about “muscle-ing” the paddle during the interval using your large arm and core muscles, as opposed to paddling with soft or weak arms and relying on a high stroke rate and momentum to get you through each one. While the latter is still important, it’s more important when you’re tired or when you’re trying to save energy in a race. Each of these intervals on the erg, though, are to be paddled by muscling through them. Again, a bit higher than normal resistance from the fan/flywheel is the way to go.

It’s easy to falsely think that the momentum of the paddle stroke is side to side because that’s what it looks like and what it sometimes can feel like, but side to side isn’t where we want to direct our swing and our flow. We want front to back, because that’s the direction we’re traveling.  As a dryland drill, face forwards and swing your arms front to back, allowing your hands to come up to about eye level. If you swing hard enough and allow your torso to rotate as much as possible with the swinging arms, then you can feel the front-to-back momentum that we need to have. Next, allow your shoulders to rise up a bit and your spine to feel like it’s lengthening at the front and back part of the exercise, and let them drop down through the middle swing part of that exercise. Remember this pattern of front to back swing with full torso rotation and its up and down momentum.

In the boat we’ll add the leg movement by pressuring the footboard one side at a time, and very importantly, allow the other other leg to relax so that the knee can rise up as needed. The former supports the stroke and the latter gives you pelvis rotation on the seat. Putting it all together, the front to back arm flow creates the rhythm. The torso rotation allows the shoulders and spine to add an up and down pattern that supports the paddle-work. The legwork supports them both by pressuring the footboard / raising the opposite knee and allowing a bit of rotation at the pelvis. Think “front to back” and “up and down”, and allow the rotation to take place. This is very much like when you push your child on a swing, the swinging child is the “driver” of the rhythm (armwork), but the support or power (legwork) ultimately comes from the precisely timed pushes from the parent doing the pushing.

Here’s another visual exercise that might help: Visuallize a horizontal figure “8” in front of you while you’re paddling. The round or curvy parts of the “8” are naturally made up of the path of the blade as it goes down and out and then up and forwards – that gives you your two circles on the sides. The centerpiece is the transfer of swing or momentum through the paddle shaft, and visually, when you think about your view forwards when paddling, you “see” the paddle shaft like an “X” – or made up of two diagonals. When the paddle shaft is oriented one way, the left hand is on top and the energy and the momentum is transferred through the shaft down to the other hand. So, picture in your mind’s eye, the energy and momentum flowing from the left blade through it’s circle, then instantaneously through the paddle shaft to the right blade, around its circle, and again back through the shaft, just like a horizontal “figure 8”. From the paddler’s perspective, the horizontal “figure 8” is right in front of you and stretched out to both left and right sides. From the view above you, though, the “figure 8” is bent back along the left and right sides of the boat and so it’s really backwards and forwards like in the paragraphs above – but that doesn’t really matter here. What matters is to use the visual to create that circular momentum.

Keep the Pulling Arm Rigid

This week, think of keeping your pulling arm rigid from the catch through the pull all the way until you’re ready to begin the exit. What you do not want to do is to bend at the elbow too early mid-pull, because that will cut down on the amount of power that you are applying into to the water – it’s one of the many “cheats” that our brains sometimes have us do to make the stroke easier.


Many thanks to Erik Borgnes for taking the time to share his infinite knowledge with all of us.   Hopefully these tips have inspired you to at least check out the News Group and if you’re truly inspired and want to invest in an ERG, the KayakPro Speedstroke is the ultimate top notch training machine and worth every penny!

Tagged with →