The Benefits of Using an Erg Seat Cushion

Rowing machine newbie or veteran rower, there comes a time for all ergometer users when that hard seat has become the rear end’s worst nightmare. 

That means it is also time to invest in an erg seat cushion. Beyond the pure comfort factor, using a seat pad for your rowing machine benefits both your body and your rowing form in many ways. Let’s take a look at some great advantages to using a high-quality rowing machine pad.

Top Reasons to Use an Erg Seat Pad

Comfort, Comfort, Comfort

If you are not comfortable on your rowing machine, you won’t use it. Simple as that. Concept2, Water Rower, NordicTrack, RP3 Dynamic, Hydrow—no matter which brand of rower you have, the bottom line is that the seat was not designed specifically for your body. And no two rowers are exactly alike. 

Adding a layer of cushy material between your sitz bones and the hard machine seat will go a long way in alleviating pressure. Once you feel more comfortable on the seat, you will also feel more positive about each workout and, ultimately, able to row for longer set pieces.

Relief for Back Pain and Sciatica 

Many rowers find a session on the erg triggers a flare-up of back pain or exacerbates chronic back issues like sciatica. While RowingPad does not purport to “cure” back pain with our pads, many customers have told us that using a pad on their ergometer has relieved back pain and allowed them to continue to row.

Consider this: When rowing in the boat, there is a constant up and down motion happening. This is due to the buoyancy of the boat in the water and the changing of your body weight (up and down the slide) and speed of the hull. It provides an opportunity for your back muscles to load and unload throughout the stroke.

However, as the late Larry Gluckman, former coach at the Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont (with numerous accolades to his name), said, “On the erg there is no buoyancy.” There is only hard, firm floor. The spine has no opportunity to unload. “But by rowing with a pad and pivoting on your sitz bones,” he said, “there can be a bit of unloading, particularly if the athlete swings the body from body angle position to layback.” 

Our high-density polymer foam is layered (soft/firm for the 20MM pads and soft/firm/soft for the 30MM pads). This creates a thick barrier to absorb a lot of the pressure generated by the erg and allows the back some relief. 

The soft/firm/soft construction of our three-layer 30MM seat pads

John Maslowski, an avid rowing machine user and former member of the U.S. National Rowing Team, told us, “The erg has been part of my workout routine for the past 30 years. As the years went by I was always bothered by lower back tightness after every workout. It got to the point where I was only rowing one day a week because of the lower back pain. I was turned on to a cushioned rowing pad from RowingPad. I felt immediate results…no more lower back pain! I even carry an extra one with me in my gym bag for my occasional workouts at the local gym. For any of the ‘older’ rowers still ‘cranking’ on the erg, this accessory is a must!”

Improved Flexibility and Range of Motion

Finding proper alignment and positioning on the erg is no easy feat. It’s also an ongoing process—as your body gains or loses strength and flexibility, your ideal rowing geometry changes. You might think flexibility is a young rower’s advantage, but in fact, many high school and collegiate rowers struggle with flexibility—something to do with those fast and furious growth spurts! A rowing machine seat cushion can help increase their range of motion so they can overcome tightness in the hips, hamstrings, and lower back and row a longer, more complete stroke.  

A rowing coach spends significant time and energy helping rowers achieve their optimal catch-drive position. Adjusting their height on the seat with a shim pad is a common tactic. For those training on an erg without a coach, thinking about your body’s unique proportions can help you understand how a seat pad might improve your form. 

Photo by Ed Moran; courtesy of Rowing News

For example, a rower with long legs and a short torso often needs some assistance getting their body weight in front of their hips. Why is this important? A powerful drive depends on a rower’s ability to get their shoulders in front of the hips during the recovery, and for rowers with long legs, that can be a struggle. (If this sounds familiar, try a RowingPad 20MM ErgPad—see if the additional height improves your motion.) 

Take it from Coach Gluckman: “I noticed that my range of motion on the ergometer (seat-to-heel compression and effective body angle) was less than it had been in recent months. Understanding the value of the hip/heel height in achieving proper body position at the front end (entry), I began to experiment with trying different pad thicknesses, since my heels were in the lowest setting. The 30MM ErgPad™ from RowingPad™ helped me restore that range of motion. Plus, it provided an increase in the seat-to-shoulder height, giving a longer upper body lever arm. The extra benefit was that it provided a little additional comfort on my bottom.”

Designed for Rowers by Rowers

Of course, not all rowing butt pads are created equal. A simple Internet search for “the best rowing seat pads” will yield plenty of options, including cushions made from silicone, gel, rubber, and memory foam. But quality and design are incredibly important. Consider the amount of work you expect your seat cushion to do…a couple intense, long erg set pieces a week can put a lot of wear and tear on a pad. 

RowingPad uses durable, high-quality polymer foam that can stand up to all that use and still provide incredible cushioning and protection. Our pads were designed for rowers by rowers—with input from some of the sport’s most revered collegiate rowing coaches as well as professional and Olympic athletes. RowingPad ErgPads are designed to stay put (no slipping and sliding on the seat). They also come with or without comfort cutouts and in several thicknesses so you can find the best fit based on your height and body proportions. 

Explore our ErgPad collection and please reach out with any questions. Our team is always happy to assist new customers in finding the right seat cushion for their needs.