Best Shoes For Erg – 3 Every Erger Must Try

It might be a surprise to know that when it comes to footwear for Erging the less cushioning the better. Many Ergers have their favourite shoe that they consider the best for Erging and decide on comfort. This normally means a pair of running shoes. While it’s fine for most erg workouts have you ever thought about the energy you could be losing through all that cushioning?

The power you apply to the foot plate on the erg is crucial to the power you are can transfer through your body and on to the handle. But imagine if a small percentage of the power you apply was being absorbed in your shoes? This can add up over a long training session and cause a lot of your rowing power to be absorbed by the cushioning of your footwear.

Cyclists and weightlifters wear flat stiff soled shoes with very little cushioning. There is good reason for this – to transfer power efficiently without any waste. Imagine trying to cycle a bike with a big pair of spongy shoes. It’s not difficult to see that there would be a delay and loss of efficiency in the transfer of your leg power to the pedals.

Imagine an Olympic Weightlifter attempting to break the Olympic Record in the snatch. He squats down, grabs the bar and lifts. Before the weights even move off the ground his leg power must be transferred to his feet and levered off the ground.

If he were wearing a pair of spongy well cushioned shoes what would you say are his chances of getting the weight over his head?

But you and I when we are Erging are no different. The force applied on the footplate might be less but the loss in efficiency could cost us as much.

Now we Ergers do need a little more flexibility so that we can slide up to the catch and the beginning of the rowing stroke without ankle discomfort. But it still doesn’t mean we need the protective cushioning of a running shoe designed for running. The shoes in a rowing boat don’t have much cushioning – just enough to make things comfortable. So why should Erging be any different?

Here’s what I recommend are the best shoes for those big erg test days:
1. Track shoes without the spikes
2. Weightlifting shoes
3. Sneakers without the insole
4. Tennis or Squash Shoes

Or alternatively there is the option of Erging without shoes or erg barefoot. Some Ergers find that this gives them more of a feel and a more efficient power phase. You could use a pair of socks to try prevent the discomfort of blisters, although there is little you can do about them. Like your hands, it will take some time to toughen them up.

Erg training with just a pair of regular sneakers for training is fine, but to get the most out of your legs and transfer some great rowing power to the erg footplate for erg tests – think about trying out my recommendations.


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  1. Try martial arts shoes (Tae Kwon do, etc). Thin, light and flexible, with almost no padding in the soles. Flat sole with very little lift to the heels. Wrestling shoes are also great for the same reason and often more commonly available at the local sporting goods store.

  2. Great article, thanks! Not the best place for this question, but… sometimes during a 2k erg I slip on the seat. I don’t fall off but I have to quickly readjust. Any tips on what to wear? Or technique improvements?

    • Brandy Mulligan

      November 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      Hey Begley,

      You ask a good question.
      And it comes up here a lot.

      Here’s what I think:
      So in the past, I’ve used double sided tape. It helps, but it’s not the perfect solution.
      It took me some time but I learned to lighten my weight on the seat during the drive phase without falling off.
      Focus on using your body to swing back in time with your leg drive.

      It’s all about the timing of the power.

      This article here is a good place to read more about what I mean.

      Good Luck.

      Rowing Brandy.

  3. “5 Fingers” protect your feet from the ridges on newer foot pads and there is no padding to lose power on the drive phase

  4. got into rowing thru the gym I used to belong to — now have my own and really just starting to get everything together. been a cyclist for years and just got into Olympic lifting — hooked like a crack addict. try out old school “Chuck Taylor Converse” shoes; the ones I use to wear when I was a kid. they are fantastic for rowing and lifting — and a lot cheaper. it amazes me how all three of these disciplines are so inter-connected. I also like lift barefoot — get’s you closer to God.

  5. For someone’s who’s flexibility is pretty poor, would a raised heel not be more effective as they can compress more with their heel still being in contact (indirectly) with the foot plate.

    Case in point. I can squat down fully, below 90 degrees, in a running shoe with the whole sole of the shoe in contact with the floor (simulating more compression at the catch). Whereas in a shoe with less sole, my heel raises and I can not squat down as low. This, i assume is why weight shoes have a raised heel. Granted- weight shoes are more effective in their raised heel as they use a stronger wooden heel to push off from.

    • Brandy Mulligan

      December 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Great comment Paul.

      For sure, wearing weightlifting shoes and performing a squat (with or without weight) creates a real ‘free’ sensation of being able to squat effortlessly (and more importantly – without using forced energy)

      I too had the problem of flexibility. As my rowing career progressed, I wanted to raise my heel height so I would be pushing more horizontally with my legs. This created a big problem with flexibility.

      In time it loosened out (taking at least 1 year) and it became natural.

      But, as you say, I did have my favorite running shoes (they had a higher heel) for erging and it created that feeling of freedom sliding forward towards the catch.

      To recap:
      It made the latter part of the recovery:

      • Free
      • Comfortable
      • Waste less energy over longer pieces
      • Helped the initial part of drive
      • Made a more natural long stroke

      Good Luck!

  6. I like to use my water shoes. They are perfect as they have holes so your feet are kept cool and you get direct contact with the foot stretcher.

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