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So You Want To Be A Rower?

It took me about a year after I learned about CrossFit to actually try CrossFit. Why? Myself and many rowers I know have been reluctant to try CrossFit because it’s not uncommon to walk into a CrossFit box and see someone on the rowing machine hammering away with little technical understanding of the stroke. Rowing is used frequently in CrossFit WODs, but people rarely take the time to work on their technique as they do with other movements. Anyone can hop on a rower and row, but if you want to be fast at rowing and prevent injury you need to work on your technique just like with gymnastics and lifting skills.

The great thing about rowing is it’s relatively easy to learn no matter what fitness level you are at, it just takes a little time and effort. To someone not familiar with rowing you probably wouldn’t see a significant difference in how an elite rower rows compared to a high school rower. Rowers spend years and years fine-tuning very small parts of their stroke. Luckily for CrossFit’s purposes, you can improve your stroke significantly and become an effective rower by spending just a small amount of time understanding and working on your technique.


The Basics of the Stroke

The most common misconception of rowing is that it’s an upper body movement. While rowing is a full body workout the legs make up most of the power for your rowing stroke. Rowing is about pushing with your legs, not pulling with your arms. The stroke can be simplified into 4 basic parts.

  • The catch position is when you are up closest to the monitor. Shins are perpendicular to the floor, shoulders out in front of the hips creating forward body angle and arms are be fully extended.
  • From the catch, first, drive the legs pushing the heels down on the foot stretchers. Once the legs are almost all the way down start to swing the back, and finally follow through with the arms drawing the handle straight back into your sternum. This sequence of movements is referred to as the drive.
  • This creates the finish position. Legs are fully extended, the body is slightly leaning back and the arms are pulled into the body. Ideally, the handle is drawn into the bottom of your sternum, not to your belly button or up to your chest.
  • From the finish, first extend the arms, then pivot the body at the hips so the shoulders are out in front and finally compress the legs to the catch position. This sequence of movements is referred to as the recovery.

Rhythm and Pacing

Now that you know the sequence of the stroke the next thing to work on is your pacing. Your pacing mostly comes from the recovery of your stroke. The recovery has two main purposes; allowing yourself to breathe and pace and setting your body up to be in the best position to have a strong drive.

The rowing stroke is one continuous cycle and there is a great rhythm to the stroke when you master it. Part of that rhythm is the ratio; your recovery phase should always be slower than your drive phase. This serves several purposes when you’re in an actual boat, but is also helpful when on the rowing machine. When you go fast up the recovery you don’t have a chance to catch your breath and often are wasting a lot of energy. A good rule of thumb is to have your recovery take twice as long as your drive.

-Coach Jackie

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post that feature Coach Jackie’s rowing drills!