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.

Fake it ’til you make it

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t….you’re right. – Henry Ford

I don’t know about you, friends, but this mentality has gotten me REALLY FAR in my life. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a last-minute situation and had to “play the expert” or “act like I know what the eff I’m doing” when I actually don’t! 99% of the time it works out just beautifully. The other 1% of the time I’ve had to admit that I have no idea what I’m doing and pray to Jesus that someone finds pity on me and helps a sister out!

Faking it moments

I have plenty of funny examples to help you understand where I’m going, but I’ll give you two. First, there was the time I showed up to the first day of graduate school, and they handed me my class list (the classes I was going to be teaching). Exercise Physiology, Chemistry Lab, Intro to Sports Pedagogy…..Racquetball. Wait, go back, Racquetball!? How am I supposed to teach AN ENTIRE SEMESTER WORTH OF CURRICULUM about how to play a sport that I’d never touched, watched, understood or fancied? And to a bunch of 19-25-year-old adults none the less? Oh and classes start tomorrow? Ugh. Cool. I got this. Talk about faking it until you make it!

Second, I used this mindset in basketball all of the time! I remember the first time I got to take a game-winning shot. As I dribbled down the court I told myself that I’d never missed a game-winner before. Technically that was true since I hadn’t ever taken a game-winning shot before. Based on that logic I felt confident that I was not going to miss this one. Anyway, I digress…

The Amygdala Theory

The theory states that “things become true because we are acting as if they already are true.” Think about what that means. Think about how many things in your life and your training could be made better without much effort other than changing your mindset. You could go from being a decent athlete to becoming a good athlete, or from sitting on the cusp of being a great athlete to achieving the status of being considered a great one without even adding one more hour in the gym.

The reason the theory works is because of a tiny part of our brain called the Amygdala. It’s a bundle of nerves in our brainstem that filters information for us. The amygdala is the reason you buy a new car, and then all of a sudden feel like everyone has the same car as you. It’s the reason you learn a new word, and then you start hearing it everywhere. It’s the reason you can hear your name in a room of loud people. Your amygdala takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through and eliminates all other information. Isn’t that cool?

Validating Your Beliefs

In the same way, your amygdala seeks information that validates your beliefs. Meaning, if you believe you’ll hit a lift (within your physical ability of course), you’re much more likely to hit it. Conversely, if all you can focus on is missing a lift, your amygdala forces you to focus on all of the things that can go wrong and you’re most likely, if not guaranteed to miss it.

For instance, have you ever had any of these thoughts –
“This WOD is just not in my wheelhouse.”
“Ugh! Double unders? I’m awful at these”
“Everyone else competing has more experience than me.”
“I just can’t get under my split jerk.”
I could go on and on, but the point is these are all negative thoughts that only serve to make it nearly impossible for you to overcome the task at hand. Like the saying says… Confidence doesn’t guarantee success, but the lack of confidence almost guarantees failure.

Of course, in reality, these things aren’t as easy as I’m making them sound. However, I do believe that you can train yourself to think more positively, visualize what we want and then let our subconscious and conscious minds work together to make it happen! The science is already there to prove the positive mindset theory, and now it’s up to you to change your amygdala filters.