“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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.