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Why Weight Adjusted Ergs Are a Game-Changer for Athletes!

Why Weight Adjusted Erg Scores Are a Game-Changer for Athletes!

Weight adjusted erg scores are a hotly debated topic in rowing – some coaches absolutely love them and use them regularly in crew selection, some cannot stand them!

In this article, I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of weight adjusted scores in erging, and give you my preferred alternative that’s going to help you get fitter, faster, and stronger!

What Are Weight Adjusted Erg Scores in Rowing?

A weight adjusted erg score is an estimate used by most coaches to compare the potential speed of rowers by taking into account the rowers’ weight, instead of using erg scores only in assessing and selecting their crew.

When a boat is on the water, adding weight to the shell causes the boat to sit deeper in the water. Consequentially, larger athletes will cause the boat to have more water resistance (drag).

A larger athlete generally has the potential to produce more power on the erg through the rowing stroke, but the rower’s heavier weight counteracts the effect of this power. Thus, although a larger athlete’s potential is greater, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to greater boat speed.

Weight adjusted erg scores aim to solve this problem. With a weight adjusted score, coaches are able to compare larger athletes to smaller athletes by considering their ‘water times’—the effect (on paper) that they would have on boats.

Use Our Simple Weight Adjusted Erg Calculator:

Watts Per Kg Calculator
Enter your score in watts:

Enter your weight in kilograms:

Enter your weight in pounds:


How Do You Calculate Weight Adjusted Erg Scores?

what are weight adjusted erg scores according to Max Secunda - UK Rowing Coach

Most coaches will use an online calculator to estimate the weight adjusted score for their athletes. Many of these calculators use a similar formula that ultimately considers an athlete’s weight as a function of a typical heavyweight rower’s weight, and then compares the times in seconds and ‘equalizes’ the times.

The output gives the athlete a score that they could (in theory) get if they were an equal weight to the ‘typical heavyweight’.

The Concept 2 weight adjustment calculator is my go-to.

What Are the Limitations of Weight Adjusted Scores?

This type of weight adjustment formula makes a lot of assumptions, which is why I tend to avoid this type of comparison.

Firstly, weight adjusted erg scores assume an equal and perfect technique. As we all know, this is an absolutely ridiculous assumption to make!

We’re all aware that the rowing stroke is very simple yet highly complex at the same time. It takes years of rowing to develop something that looks vaguely correct and years more to fine-tune and perfect it.

Max Secunda working out on a Concept 2 rowing machine

Just today, I sat down with my coach and pulled apart a video of me erging—making me feel like I was miles from perfection (and I’m well into my 7th year in the sport!)

This isn’t to say that one can’t have good technique in a short time—please don’t see this as demotivating! I’m just emphasising the point that having two athletes taking the exact same stroke is a ridiculous assumption, let alone two athletes taking ‘perfect’ strokes!

This calculator also assumes you’re using an eight-oared shell, so eight rowers in an Eight with a cox or four rowers in a Quad. This rules out many different boat classifications!

Is There a Better Method for Calculating Weight Adjusted Scores?

Yes, there is another way to calculate weight-adjusted erg scores, and it is a system called Watts per Kilogram (W/kg).

I prefer using the Watts per Kilo method. This system allows a coach to compare the fitness of athletes on a much more level playing field. There are some limitations to the W/kg system for high-end heavier rowers—I’ll come onto these later.

A coach using W/kg can compare erg time and athletic performance across athletes of different weights and heights.

an athlete using a Concept2 indoor rower in a gym

Typically, a coach will consider someone’s power to weight on a certain erg—for example a 2K or a 5/6K (see 2k Test Training Plan ). It’s a really great way of motivating athletes who are not ‘perfectly built’ for rowing and have to work harder to pull the same erg times as a 6’7″ athlete (not to discredit the work of those blessed with ideal rowing builds!)

What Are the Limitations of Watts per Kilo?

A downside to watts per kilo is that it tends to favour lightweight rowers—although if you mention this to a lightweight rower, they’ll happily argue that this isn’t the case!

The system also disadvantages heavier rowers—it’s far harder to hit 5W/kg for a heavier rower—as the extra weight requires you to pull faster raw times (which get exponentially harder due to the nature of erg splits).

That said, however, it’s approximately true to say that a weight-adjusted erg score using this method really levels out the playing field between lighter and heavier rowers.

How to Work Out My W/kg?

This is really easy to do!

First of all, you have to pull an erg score for a set distance or time. For example a 1K, 2K, 5K, 6K or 20/30 minute piece. I’ve used these as they tend to be the ergs that most people use for comparisons between crews—but this can work on any erg.

Monitor on Concept 2 rowing machine showing times

Monitor on Concept 2 rowing machine showing times

Once you have your erg score, convert or calculate the average split time into watts. This is shown on most ergs on the results screen but can also be calculated using a web-based calculator if you’re using an old score.

Then simply divide your score in watts by your weight in kilograms.

For example:

My most recent 5k score was 16:53 — this translates to 336.7W.

I was 85kg when I pulled this score, so I calculate my watts per kilo by doing the following computations:

336.7 / 85 = 3.96 W/kg

What Is a Good W/kg Score?

This question is one of those “how long is a piece of string?” type of questions. This is where we have to remember that our main competition when we sit on a rowing machine is ourselves.

When we start comparing scores to other people, you need to remember differences between people such as age, height, weight, years of training, and sex, to name just a few things we need to consider.

So, on the whole, I’d encourage you to just consider your own W/kg score and try to improve it by getting faster on the rowing machine or losing weight if it’s healthy for you to do so.

That said, however, I will provide some W/kg targets for top ‘Club’ level athletes that are a good target to aim for to try and get yourself into the top crews:

(W/kg Target)
(W/kg Target)
2K 5 W/kg 3 W/kg
5k >4 W/kg >2 W/kg

Just to reiterate, these are not targets for everyone! Watts per kilo is just a good way to check if you’re getting fitter and faster. Also remember that ergs don’t float!

You’ve got to make sure that you’re working on your on-the-water technique as much as possible—even a small difference you make to your technique can lead you to getting much faster on the water times.

A Final Note to Coaches

To coaches out there reading this article, please remember that when assessing and selecting your rowers, you must not only compare their W/kg or weight-adjusted erg scores. There’s far more to crew-based rowing than these figures.

Action shot of a men's Eight sweep team in a rowing competition

Despite the fact that both methods can give a pretty good estimate of where athletes stand in terms of physiology, you would have to make a lot of very unrealistic assumptions if you wanted to use either to purely select your crew. These methods assume perfect conditions and techniques resulting in perfect rowing effectiveness.

Although I hate to admit it (because it doesn’t always favour me!), it’s best to use a range of data to select athletes for boats. These data points should be sourced from physiological assessments (including W/kg calculations), seat racing, and putting crews out to see how well the crew work together.

Remember that sometimes on paper, the crew members with the best erg scores and the best average adjusted scores don’t necessarily row well together as a team.

I’d also urge coaches not to pressure crews into worrying about their body weight—it’s a recipe for developing an unhealthy environment. If you want your crew to get faster (even if they are carrying a little extra weight), encourage them to enjoy rowing!

If your squad rowers are addicted to rowing because they enjoy rowing, the rest of the jigsaw will fit together eventually!