Rowing Gear

Rowing Gear Trial-and-Error.

Having been a rower / sculler for years, I have collected and tried many different types of gear pertaining to safety, gloves, monitoring and tracking. In this post I highlight the types of equipment I regularly use both for outdoor sculling and indoor ergometer rowing. I preface this post by stating that I am not advertising for a particular product and am not receiving a commission from any product in particular. I merely highlight those that I have converged on over the years.

Oxford Shell

Seat pads.

I have tried many. Those who have been rowing understand the numbness that can arise in legs related to sciatica. There are natural methods (massage, exercises) to ameliorate or rid this issue. But, what helps is a good rowing seat pad. I have found the seat pad offered by Revolution Rowing to be comfortable and durable. I have several of these, one of which I use for my Oxford Shell, one for my Concept II Model D Ergometer, and one for my Oar Board SUP rower.

Seat Pad
Oar Board Standup Paddle Board Rower


I have tried many different varieties, including sailing gloves and retail store apparel. I have converged on the CrewStop glove. I have found it to offer the most protection and most comfort, particularly for long-hauls on either water or Erg.

CrewStop Glove

Rearview Mirrors.

I have used many, and you should use what works. I have found the sculling mirror sold by Coxmate to be of superior value for me as it is a large yet light mirror and enables me to see peripherally.

Coxmate sculling mirror

Personal Flotation Device.

I wear one…most of the time. There are exceptions. The hip-surround units like the one in the photo do not get in the way of the arms, oars, or motion. I have two of them. They can be obtained through West Marine or other favorite sources, including



I am into data…bigly :-). The most reliable technology I have found (…and I have tried many…) is Polar H10 heart rate sensors and chest strap together with the Polar beat app. I include the photo again which shows the seat pad and the Polar chest strap on top. I keep my iPhone in a waterproof case on-board and this allows integration of the heart rate measurements (1-second increment) with the GPS location. I know how far I row, what my heart rate is wherever I am, and I get real-time feedback audibly in the boat.

Polar Beat Chest Strap.

Peripheral Equipment and Epilogue.

I maintain an attachment for GPS (GPSMap 78sc) mounted on my outrigging together with a camera mount for photos of the scenery. These come in handy on occasion, particularly for obtaining unique shots here on the Elk River in the northern Chesapeake Bay Area.

Despite the above and the available software for rowers on iPhone, Android and iPad, I am writing my own rowing application as I have not found anything yet that meets my specific requirements. As this develops and becomes available for testing, I will write a post entry on that, as well.

Introducing the Oxford Shell

I have been a water enthusiast my entire life–from power boating with my father as a child to sailing small sailboats as a teenager and eventually owning two sailboats (one large, one small) as an adult. I have also been an avid fan of rowing & sculling since my freshman year in college some thirty…. er, ah…a long time ago.

21 foot Oxford rowing shell – view 1

I recently acquired a stick-built Oxford shell (depicted). This is a wooden vessel… weighs somewhere on the order of 50 lbs or so… and is beautifully finished by the builder with multiple layers of varnish and a professional paint job below the water line. She is approximately 21 ft in length and a joy to row.

Some other photos follow this.

21 ft Oxford shell – a view of the Pantedosi rowing drop-in.

She features a Piantedosi rowing rigging (seat, stretchers, outriggers) and I have added a few things onto her, like a holder for my Garmin GPS unit and a seat-saver seat on top of the slide.

21 ft Oxford shell – in the water awaiting the rower.

She rides true and fast. I normally pace at about 20 strokes per minute, but have sprinted up to 24-26. She has just about a 2 ft beam. The key to stability is making sure the oars are in the water on the feather when getting in and out. Stability, balance and grace are the essence of rowing and it is like meditation rowing her.

Oxford shell on the Elk River; Elkton, MD

I am developing some rowing apps in iOS and Swift to assist in guiding and tracking her motion. As these are developed and rolled out, will be writing about them and sharing, as well.

Garmin Vivoactive HR & Polar H10: Which measures heart rate more accurately?

Figure 1: Polar h10 chest strap and garmin vivoactive hr smart watch were used in the comparison.

Heart Rate Measurement Using Garmin & Polar Wearables

A study was made of the Garmin Vivoactive HR and Polar H10 chest strap in terms of comparative heart rate assessments. Three different types of tests were conducted while the author wore these devices. The units are shown in Figure 1. The Garmin unit is able to be used with a number of sports, including rowing, and provides measurements of heart rate, stroke rate, distance per stroke, split times, and also provides for location tracking during the workout. Data can be uploaded to are also available for download in TCX (an XML format) as well as splits downloads in CSV format. The Polar H10 is strapped around the chest just below the level of the breast bone. This unit, too, can upload data to the site, where data can be downloaded in TCX format, as well.  In order to provide some variety, I considered three different activities:

  • General workout, involving weight lifting, sit-ups, squats;
  • Walking for 1 mile; and,
  • Indoor rowing for 15 minutes.

In all cases, both the Vivoactive HR and the H10 were attached, with the Vivoactive HR snuggly affixed to the left wrist. Both watch and chest strap were properly attached with no movement between these devices and the skin. Data were collected and then downloaded and processed through a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The data were time-synchronized so that corresponding data points from each device were associated in time. Plots of the measurements were made.

Time-Based Plots of Heart Rate

Overlay scatter plots of heart rate measurements versus time were made of all three activities, shown in Figure 2 through Figure 4. Data were downloaded from the Garmin & Polar cloud sites and were uploaded into MS Excel. The data were then time synchronized using visual basic to align the measurements.

Figure 2: Heart rate measurement while walking 1 mile. Scatter overlay of Garmin Vivoactive HR and polar h10 heart rate versus time.
Figure 3: Heart rate measurement during general exercise activity. Scatter overlay of Garmin Vivoactive HR and polar h10 heart rate versus time.
Figure 4: Heart rate measurement while  rowing indoors on Concept 2 ergometer. Scatter overlay of Garmin Vivoactive HR and polar h10 heart rate versus time.

Heart Rate Comparison: Walking

Measurements of heart rate were taken during a one mile walk. The heart rates were plotted against one another and the correlation coefficient was computed between the two sets of measurements. In the case of the comparison shown in Figure 5, the correlation among measurements was rather poor: the correlation coefficient was determined to be -0.54. Perfect correlation is given by the diagonal line in the figure. Interesting to note is that the data points taken from the Vivoactive HR time variance. In the case of the Vivoactive HR, in some instances, the time between measurements was as high as 47 seconds with 62 measurements in the 12-14 second interval range, whereas in the case of the Polar H10, all measurements were 1 second interval. Thus, the number (quantity) of measurements taken by the Polar H10 were far denser than those of the Vivoactive HR.

Figure 5: Scatter plot of heart rate measured while walking one mile using the Polar H10 versus Garmin Vivoactive HR. The correlation coefficient of -0.54 was determined between the two sets of measurements. Perfect correlation is shown by the diagonal line.

Heart Rate Comparison: General Activity

In the case of general activity, which included some weight lifting, sit-ups, leg raises and standing exercises, the heart rate comparison is as shown in Figure 6. The correlation coefficient among these measurements is a bit higher at 0.60. The variation in measurement collection time associated with the Garmin HR was even higher here, with one measurement interval as high as 88 seconds!

Figure 6: Scatter plot of heart rate measured while performing weight lifting, sit-ups and general standing exercises using the Polar H10 versus Garmin Vivoactive HR. The correlation coefficient of 0.60 was determined between the two sets of measurements. Perfect correlation is shown by the diagonal line.

I have hypothesized that the wide variation in data collection time may be due to arm motion that is not experienced to the degree in walking. I also have hypothesized that the improved correlation may be due to the higher heart rate, which is more easily detected by the Vivoactive HR. We will see some supporting evidence of this in the final section on indoor rowing.

Heart Rate Comparison: Indoor Rowing

Rowing on the Concept 2 PM5 unit while wearing both the Vivoactive HR and the Polar H10 produced the results as illustrated in Figure 7. The correlation between the Vivoactive HR and the Polar H10 is much higher here, with a correlation coefficient of 0.95. Several items of note: the variation in measurements with the Vivoactive HR is much lower, with only two measurements 19 seconds apart and most measurements having 1-2 second intervals. This complies much more closely with the 1-second measurement intervals of the Polar H10. Furthermore, heart rate measurements are much higher here: some measurements as high as 165 beats/minute (during sprints). In general, corroboration between the two units is better as heart rate measurement is higher. This could be due to more accurate peripheral measurement.

Figure 7: Scatter plot of heart rate measured while performing indoor rowing using the Polar H10 versus Garmin Vivoactive HR. The correlation coefficient of 0.95 was determined between the two sets of measurements. Perfect correlation is shown by the diagonal line.


Based on the limited sampling and workouts thus far, the general conclusion regarding heart rate measurement “trust” is that the Polar H10 is more reliable based on several observations: (1) data collection time variation remains consistent at 1 second; and, (2) data density remains high with no dropouts in any of the workouts. This is not a surprise in general as the conventional wisdom is that chest straps are much more reliable. Yet, I wanted to quantify this reliability using some objective measures. It should be noted that while heart rate remains somewhat questionable with the Vivoactive HR, I have found that stroke rate measurement in comparison with the Concept 2 PM5 measurement is dead on accurate (at least based on the data I have observed).

Rowing Data Analytics: Reducing and Studying the Rowing Workout

In my last post (“Rowing Data…”) I discussed the steps associated with downloading the Garmin Vivoactive HR data from Garmin Connect to an Excel spreadsheet. In this post, I’m going to take the reader through the analysis of the data as a tutorial and guide for assessing certain elements of these data.

Raw data in Excel format are shown in Figure 1. I am going to focus on distance (column M), speed (column N), and heart rate (column O).

Figure 1: Downloaded rowing worksheet from Garmin Connect

I normally like to study discrete, time-based data by translating the time component from the Zulu time (column L) into a relative time from the start of the workout. Furthermore, I like to translate these into units of seconds as the base unit.

To do so, we can take advantage of some powerful capabilities contained within formulas inside of Microsoft Excel. For example, the start time listed in column L begins with the entry:


The next entry is:


These are “Zulu” time or absolute time references. We wish all future times to be keyed or made in reference to the first time. In order to do so, we need to translate this entry into a time in seconds. We can do so by parsing each element of the entry. These entries are listed sequentially in column L2 and L3, respectively.

Each element is translated into seconds by parsing the hours, minutes and seconds using the following formula:


The first component extracts the time in hours and translates into seconds. The second component extracts the “minutes” and translates into seconds. The third component extracts the “seconds” element by itself. The total time is the superposition of all three individual components.

Thus, what I normally do is to copy the contents of the initial spreadsheet into a new sheet adjacent to the original and then begin working on the data. Presently, I am in the process of developing an application that will perform this function automatically. Yet, here I am “walking the track” associated with analyzing the data in order to chronicle the mathematics surrounding the process.

The hour, minute and second can be extracted as separate columns. Let us copy the contents of column L in the original spreadsheet into a new sheet within the existing workbook and place the time in column A of that new sheet. Thus, the entries in this sheet would appear as follows:

ns1:Time Absolute Time (seconds) Relative Time (seconds)
2017-07-08T14:09:31.000Z 50971 0
2017-07-08T14:09:34.000Z 50974 3
2017-07-08T14:09:35.000Z 50975 4

The Absolute time in the middle column is the time in seconds represented by the left-hand column relative to Midnight Zulu time. The right-hand column is the time relative to the first cell entry in the middle column. Thus, zero corresponds to 50971-50971. The entry for three seconds corresponds to the difference between 50974 (second entry) and 50971 (first entry), and so on.

I also created some columns to validate parameter entries. For instance, the reported total distance and speed (in units of meters and meters per second, respectively), in column M and N and the heart rate, in column O, are referred to next. I created a new column O in the new spreadsheet to provide a derived estimate of total distance, which I computed as the integral of speed over time. The incremental distance, dS, is equal to the speed at that time, dV, multiplied by the time differential between the current time and the previous time stamp, dt. Then, the total distance is the integral, or the summation of this incremental distance and all prior distances. I reflect this as column G in the new worksheet, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Modified rowing spreadsheet with derived time, range and longitude-latitude calculations.

What follows now are plots of the raw and derived data. First, the heart rate measurement over time is shown in Figure 3. Note that the resting rate is shown at first. Once the workout intensifies, heart rate increases and remains relatively high throughout the duration of the workout.

Figure 3: Workout heart rate (pulse) versus time.

The total distance covered over time is shown in Figure 4. This tends to imply a relatively constant speed during the workout due to the linear behavior over the 8700+ meters.

Figure 4: Workout range versus time. Note linear behavior, indicating relatively constant speed.

The reported speed, as measured via GPS, shows variability but is typically centered about 1.85 meters per second. The speed over time is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Workout measured speed versus time. Average is 1.85 meters per second.

The GPS coordinates are also available through the Excel data. I have subtracted out the starting location in order to provide a relative longitude-latitude plot of the workout, shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: relative longitude and altitude of the workout.

In my next post I will focus on the athletic aspects of the workout related to training.

Garmin Vivoactive HR for Rowing & Sculling

Vivoactive HR

Sculling and Rowing

I am a rower and sculler. I first cut my teeth in the sport over 30 years ago while at college rowing on the Charles River. I had been looking for the longest time for a device that I could use to track my heart, stroke rate, and also support GPS mapping of my workout while on the water. There are professional devices that track stroke rate and the like, such as Speed Coach GPSStroke Coach and Coxmate GPS. These are all excellent pieces of equipment, by the way. But, I am not in varsity rowing any more and I was looking for a piece of equipment that could support my rowing “habit” both for indoor and outdoor rowing (aside: I also possess a Concept 2 ergometer, which I love) while also serving the utilitarian purpose of being a good watch that can track heart rate full time.

When I row, however, I am really interested in being able to map the analytics to the motion. The Vivoactive HR enables me to do this as well as to post-process the data. I am into data. As a Chief Analytics Officer in the healthcare field for a medical device and real-time patient surveillance company, it is important to me to be able to access and understand the information collected during an activity. The connectivity and access to data provided by the Vivoactive HR are phenomenal.

Data view from Garmin Connect web site.





The figure above details an example analytics screen, which shows the map of the workout, heart rate, stroke rate, distance traveled at each measurement point, and allows tracking the entire workout with a cross-hair that is dynamic and interactive on the web screen. The unit supports many other types of workouts, including running, biking, pool, golf, walking, indoor rowing on ergometer, SUP rowing, XC skiing, indoor walking, indoor biking, and indoor running, and tracks sleep. The unit can be submerged in water and the battery life is amazing. I normally live with the unit on my wrist, and after 3 days of continuous use, battery is down to, perhaps 80%. I will take it off for an hour or so to charge, and it is good-to-go. I highly recommend this unit for the avid professional or veteran rower (like myself).

Update June 29th, 2017: Comparison among NK, Coxmate, Minimax

Robin Caroe of RowPerfect kindly left me a comment to this post last evening and provided an updated article on comparison among the NK, Coxmate GPS and Catapult Minimax which contains quite valuable data on performance related to these products. I have provided the hyperlink to the article above. Technological differences in sampling rate (e.g.: 5 Hz for NK versus 10 Hz for Coxmate) are important for accuracy. I must say that I was very close to purchasing the Coxmate GPS prior to investigating the Garmin. Upon reading the brochure for the Minimax S4, I am intrigued. The Minimax offers an update rate on the GPS that provides for precision in terms of location. In the Rowperfect article, of the key measures of performance identified, (1) heart rate & heart rate variability; (2) force and length of stroke; and, (3) GPS update rate are important measures for the elite athlete. In the case of the Minimax, GPS update on the order of 100 times per second (10 milliseconds) can reveal boat pitch, roll & yaw. Highly impressive. I would agree, though, that this level of accuracy and precision would be important for the competitive athlete. Yet, in my case (non-competitive, casual athlete), I still love my Garmin. I am able to see and track my position very accurately, monitor my stroke and heart rate, and in terms of heart rate variability, I can write an algorithm in R or Matlab to monitor that measure fairly directly.

As an added resource, has posted a comparison between best rowing machines for training and rowing experience. You can read that review at this link: The Best Rowing Machine: get a total-body workout on dry land.