Years ago rowers had a dryland option for sweeping that didn't require an expensive tank to be installed. Along came the Concept Ergometer and the world made a move to a (near) standard indoor trainer - apologies to RowPerfect -(see Xeno's blog for more) and others who struggle to build a better erg. Today we enjoy fairly easy comparisons physically between athletes around the world, but one of the major criticisms of these machines is the inability to train proper technique.
It was interesting to come upon the "OarTec" the other day which seemed to be trying to add proper sculling and sweeping technique to a machine that otherwise bears a resemblance to the Concept II machine. I got in touch with the developer, Matt Roach, and he kindly offered to answer a few questions. He has also promised to send me some photos and video of the Oartec in action so stay tuned for more.
Matt Roach of Oartec in Australia has kindly agreed to an interview for Rowing Science. In addition to developing hte OarTec, Matt is a former Australian International who now coaches at the Sydney Grammer School in Australia. Matt, thanks for doing this. I have to admit, I only recently learned of the Oartec...how long have you been in business? How did you get started?
The Oartec was launched in Australia in January 07 so we are right at the beginning of introducing this new and unique rowing machine to the rowing market. Our office and main factory is located in Sydney, Australia.
I started by working through some ideas and concepts with a fellow coaching colleague in his garage. Early prototypes were built using a combination of available rowing boat parts such as oars, riggers, seats and feet and rowing machine parts such as flywheels and seat rails. I then teamed up with an industrial designer and engineer to solve some of the design issues and to evolve the Oartec into what it is today.
Can you tell us a little about the simulator? The similarities, and the differences from the Concept II seem quite apparent in the photos. Do you see it as a replacement for the CII, or an addition?
The Oartec has been designed primarily for rowing clubs, schools, universities and elite rowing programs as a training tool to help rowers improve and practice correct rowing technique. Coaches can use this machine to teach beginners the rowing basics, demonstrate a preferred style of rowing, or help with the identification of individual faults and the process of correcting them. As a training substitute we believe that the Oartec adds better value to indoor rowing training by accurately replicating the actual rowing strokes of sweep and sculling.
We see the Oartec complimenting any rowing program and happily sitting alongside the Concept 2 in the boathouse. The Oartec has been specifically designed to be a rowing simulator as opposed to just another ergometer and is therefore a very different machine to the Concept 2 in design, capabilities and benefits. Ultimately it will be up to the rowers and coaches to determine how best to utilize the Oartec for their training and coaching needs and we can only hope that the Oartec becomes as an essential piece of rowing equipment as the Concept 2.
Is there any way to describe the feeling on your simulator, for those used to other ergs?
We worked very hard to make the Oartec feel as smooth and comfortable to row as possible. It was important to get a good feel at the catch with a quick pick up and a strong finish at the end of the stroke. To achieve this we tested a number of different flywheel types experimenting with blade size and shapes, overall weight and housings to get the right feel and range of adjustable resistance that suits both sweep and sculling.
Feedback from all that have rowed it, from Olympians to beginners, say that it has a natural and realistic feel and doesn’t feel much different to real rowing. The resistance is consistent throughout the stroke and responds well to the application of power or rate.Assuming you see it as replacing many of the CII functions - how do you as a coach justify replacing the CIIs in your boathouse when so many programs select athletes based on this almost universal tool? Even if you have an amazing product - how will you fight the near-monopoly of CII?
As a coach you are always on the lookout for new coaching techniques or equipment that can help make your crews go faster on the water, or that can make training more effective and enjoyable. Our aim is to provide an indoor rowing machine with the capability to simulate the actual rowing strokes of sweep and sculling for the benefit of rowing programs worldwide. It is not our claim to be a replacement for the Concept 2 or to necessarily be in the gyms or general fitness market, but more so for the Oartec to be used as an effective tool to help rowers and coaches in their pursuit of better rowing.
Obviously, as the C2 is so well established as the worldwide testing benchmark for rowers, there would have to be a very convincing argument to change the status quo. We believe the Oartec has the potential to have a role in the selection of athletes because of the ability to evaluate sweep and sculling technical performance as well as the score, but one mountain at a time.
How is it fitting into your school program? Are you seeing technique benefits?
The Oartec is used regularly across all age groups and crew levels in the school program. In Australia, the first two seasons of school rowing are in sculling boats (quads) and the Oartec is great to use to teach the beginners the sculling basics such as the coordination of the crossover, hand grips and feathering as well as introducing the rowing terminology before they get on the water for the first time. We found this greatly reduces the time it takes to grasp the complexities of sculling in a crew boat and makes the job of coaching beginners how to row a little easier. In the third season they switch to sweep rowing and we use the machine to teach the principles of sweep technique and to help determine the rower’s preferred or natural side.
The main use for the Oartec in our program is for coaching and improving technique where changes can be made and understood almost immediately. The coach can get straight to the problem and quickly show where improvements are necessary. The design of the Oartec gives direct access to the rower from any angle and allows the coach to use a hands on approach to reposition or isolate the rower’s movements without hindering the stroke. We also use video cameras to show live footage to the rower by connecting the camera to a television and placing in front of the machine for instant feedback and visual references.
The Oartec has now become a vital piece of equipment in our rowing program and the benefits are now being seen in better rowing and coaching techniques.
The proper sculling technique looks like a real bonus. Can you address concerns people might have about injuries from even more asymmetrical sweeping now that you have brought it onto dry land?
In Australia, the first two years of sculling at school level is to allow the symmetrical development of the body at a young age in response to arguments that rowing sweep too early promotes unbalanced muscle development and is the possible cause of future complications such as back injuries and poor flexibility. This argument is now widely accepted although many still have concerns about rowing the same sweep side for consecutive seasons thereafter.Is it available in North America yet? or anywhere outside Australia? If so, how would someone get one?
This is where the versatility of the Oartec can be best utilized. The fact that you can practice sweep rowing by yourself and not need a crew is a huge bonus. The Oartec can be used to compensate for the lack of time on the opposite side and because it is stable and comfortable to row, it is easier to build competence, confidence and strength on the other side. At the same time, rowers can also improve their chances for selection by becoming proficient on both sweep sides, and even better still, use the sculling to develop skills, symmetrical strength, coordination and flexibility.
We will be expanding our distribution network to North America, UK and Europe soon but in the meantime will ship direct to the customer from Australia on an individual basis. We plan to be exhibiting at some major European and North American regattas throughout the year. If people are interested to purchase or would like some more information they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time for our readers Matt. We all look forward to seeing more of the OarTec.