Efficient Rowing

“Rowing will never be easy, but you can become more efficient.”

This statement was one of the opening remarks made at the CrossFit rowing clinic as the importance of strong rowing skills are often minimized. Crossfit athletes often approach rowing as a means of getting from one movement to the next.  They don’t see the value in the movement itself.

Most of us are guilty of just taking a seat and yanking away at the handle without considering what proper form entails. The meters and calories tick away regardless of whether we know what we are doing or not. However, if we want to gain a significant advantage both on how we perform on the erg and how we feel when we get off it to transition to the next movement, we need to do things properly – just like we do when we perform a heavy lift or a gymnastics movement!

Here are 3 tips that you can focus on to help improve your rowing technique and efficiency:

  1. DRIVE (Don’t Pull!)

Rowing is not a pull. Yes, you pull for a short stroke at the end of the drive, but it’s not meant to be a full pull. The portion of the stroke where we go from catch (when you’re all the way forward in your stroke) to extension needs to be thought of as a LEG DRIVE, as opposed to an arm pull. You’ll know you are pulling if your biceps get more fatigued than your hamstrings!

The drive through the legs should be so forceful against the erg that you can almost feel your butt pop up off the seat. In more precise terms, the force you push against the erg should take approximately 10-20 pounds off of the chair.

Just like we wouldn’t yank a deadlift off the ground with our arms, we need to initiate our movement on the rower with our legs. Our arms are simply there to guide that handle to our chest as we drive through the extension.

  1. Chill out! – or relax your grip

Loose grip! Tension in the upper body is not only a waste of energy, but it also leads to incorrect positioning through the stroke.  It is entirely unnecessary to white-knuckle the handle.

Instead, it is more beneficial to keep a relaxed grip on the handle and let the thumbs hang down. In addition to a comfortable grip, it is also essential to keep the shoulders and arms loose. If the arms are tensed up, we are much more likely to revert to an upper pull than a lower body drive.

  1. HINGE

Once the leg drive is complete, and you have pulled your handle to your chest, the next step in the stroke is called the recovery. Before initiating the recovery, the seat should slide back just slightly before it begins to slide forward. This motion should be the same sort of hinge pattern you see in a hang clean – it even serves the same purpose! By pushing your butt back first, this loads the hamstrings through the recovery, which sets you up for a powerful and explosive drive.

If you set up for recovery efficiently, your next drive will be powerful.

I don’t think we spend enough time practicing this. It takes time and intentionality to get better at the rower. Take 10 minutes every day to perform good stroke patterns at a low intensity.  This practice will train your muscles and body to move with rhythm and better movement patterns.

The Overlooked Organ – Part 4

Control Your Food Environment

Given everything we’ve talked about and what I’ve studied and learned first hand, if I had one piece of advice to give someone for either weight loss or preventing weight gain, it would be to control your food environment.  What does it mean to control your food environment?  It involves creating a home and living space that doesn’t contain calorie-dense tempting food. I urge you not to allow those foods to enter your house. First, it makes it physically harder to eat the foods when they aren’t within arms reach. Second, you won’t experience the same motivational drive to eat because your brain isn’t receiving cues that the chips are four steps away from you.

Please don’t hear me say that you should never be around these foods and never watch TV because of commercials. I’m just saying if you decrease the amount of time you expose yourself to the temptation of unhealthy foods, the better chance your brain has of winning the food and ultimately weight battle.  If the bad foods aren’t in your house, then your brain doesn’t go crazy with cravings to eat it.

Using Your Brain for Weight Loss

In summary, our brains are powerhouses that need to be considered major players in the battle of weight loss.  Create situations in which your brain can win against high caloric, high reward foods.  Do this by avoiding those foods in the first place, prioritizing quality sleep and creating healthy environments in your home.  Enjoy the occasional indulgence when you go out rather than bringing things into your home that will tempt you and undermine your progress.  Use your brain to avoid temptation, reward yourself with things other than food, sleep more and create a healthy environment at home.

The Overlooked Organ in Weightloss

Do you know what organ we completely over-look in weight loss?  I’ll give you three hints:

  1. It’s an organ you can’t live without
  2. It’s an organ that can be manipulated and changed
  3. It’s an organ that’s responsible for controlling voluntary and involuntary functions within your body.

Did you guess?

Your brain!

I spent a long time studying metabolism in graduate school because I had an insatiable desire to understand why we get fat. I wondered why our bodies grow, change and age the way they do. After a couple of years of studying food intake, food quality, and metabolic pathways, it became undeniably evident that the brain is the organ we need to be looking at when it comes to body fat regulation and food intake. It makes sense right? Since the brain is the source of all behaviors, including what you choose to eat, how much to eat, how much you move and exercise, then we should start with the brain to change our mindset and ultimately control weight loss. The brain also regulates our physiology which means it directs what organs get which nutrients, what’s going in and out of your liver, what gets digested and what gets excreted.

Work with Your Brain

So how do we work WITH our brain to lose weight? We focus on these four areas to impact our success.

1. Avoid foods with high caloric density.

2. Avoid high reward foods

3. Sleep

4. Control your environment

How Do You Avoid Foods with a High Caloric Density?

Caloric density is the number of calories per unit weight of food. A better way for you to think about it is “calories per bite.” Example: a bite of an apple is less calorically dense than a bite of pizza. Your stomach has sensors in it that detect the volume of food that you’ve eaten. They send a signal to your brain that says “You are physically full so stop eating.” Let’s use the same example while keeping calories consistent. You eat a big apple – the ones about the size of a softball. Your stomach tells your brain that you are full and can’t fit more. It’s worth 110 calories, and you feel satiated for the time being. For the same 110 calories, you consume five bites of a piece of pizza. Your receptors don’t get activated because it’s such a small amount of food, so you continue eating until those receptors do go off. They don’t go off until you finish four pieces of pizza and by then you’ve consumed 795 calories. “Yeah Jen, I hear you, but have you met me? Ain’t no apple big enough to keep me full for longer than a big pizza”. I do hear you, but in that statement, you’ve already convinced yourself (before you even start) that you will fail because apples are not as delicious as pizza.  The other thing about calorically dense foods (pizza/ice cream) is they contain the perfect chemical mix of sugar, fat, and salt to feed the reward center in your brain and cause you to desire more.