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HowToImproveYourRowingTechniqueIn20Minutes

Introduction

Rowing,likemostoftheexercisesemployedbyCrossfit,isacompoundmovementthatrequires
aptitudeandcompetenceineachofthetencomponentsoffitness(seethefirstCrossfitJournal
foranelaborationofthesecomponents).

Rowingisanexcellentmetconactivity,employingvastamountsofmusclemassandmovingit
throughawiderangeofmotion.Inaddition,themovementrequirescoordination,balance,
rhythmandsynchronisationinordertobeeffectiveandefficient.

Itisarguablyoneofthetoughestsportstocompetein,withwordclassathletesbeingcapableof
sustaininga480wattpoweroutput(or.64horsepower)forasixminuteeffort.Toputthatin
perspective,duringaFranworkout,someonelikeChrisSpealerwillproducearound380watts
(or.50horsepower)forjustovertwominutes.Thisalloutpowereffortiscombinedwithaco
ordinated,highlytechnicalandfinessedstroketechniquethatservestomakeprofessional
rowinganextremelytaxingevent.

Thefundamentalsoftherowingstrokearerelativelysimpletograsp,buttruemasteryrequires
hoursofpracticeandrefinement.Rowingtechniqueiscriticaltoproducingsuccessfulresultson
theergometer.Generallyspeaking,itisnotanexercisethatcanjustbemuscledthroughwith
justgruntworkandthisisespeciallytrueofanydistancegreaterthanabout500metres.Thisis
becauserowinginefficiency(thatis,rowingwithpoortechnique)beginstocompoundas
distanceandeffortextendsbeyondthecapacityoftheshorttermenergysystems(ATPPCand
glycogen).Your500mcapacityisveryoftenapoorpredictorofyour2000mcapacity.

Thisarticlewillattempttogiveadescriptionofthegenerallyacceptedcomponentsofrowing
techniqueandthenspendsometimefocusingonthemostcommonerrorsandhowtheycanbe
overcome.Thelastpartofthearticlewilloffersometipsonhowtoimproveyourergoscores.

FundamentalRowingTechnique

BackgroundandBasicsofRowing

Whendoneproperly,rowingisafluidmovementwithnodistinctbeginningorendpoints.
However,forthesakeoflearningandunderstandingallthenuancesoftherowingstrokeand
recovery,ithelpstobreakthestrokeupintoanumberofsegmentsthatwillbeanalysed
separately.

Thereareanumberofverygoodresourcesonthewebthatgiveanindepthdiscussionofhow
therowingstrokeisexecuted.Ratherthanrepeatthathereverbatim,Iwillreferyoutothree
linksinparticular:

1. http://www.concept2.com/us/training/technique.asp
2. http://www.concept2.com/us/training/muscles_used.asp
3. http://www.concept2.co.uk/training/technique_video.php

Thefirstlinkgivesabasicbreakdownofthestrokewiththefourfundamentalsegmentsofthe
strokethecatch,thedrive,thefinishandtherecovery(leadingbackintothecatchforarepeat
ofthecycle).Thereisalsoasmallanimationthathelpstoclarifythemeaningofthedescriptions.

Thesecondlinkidentifiesthemajormusclegroupsthatshouldbeusedduringeachsegmentof
therowingstroke.IhavefounditusefultotryandremainconsciousofwhichmusclesIamusing
duringeachcomponentofthestroketoensurethatIamrowingasefficientlyaspossible,
especiallyonceIbecomefatigued.Asaruleofthumb,youwanttoprincipallybeusingyourlarge

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musclegroupsasforcegenerators,withthesmallermusclegroupsprovidingasupportingrolein
maintainingthemomentumandforcegeneratedbythelargermuscles.

Thethirdlinkisavideodemonstrationofaprogressiontoafullrowingstrokethatjoinseachof
thesegmentsdiscussedinthefirstlink.Itsusefulintyingeverythingtogether.Rowingis
definitelysomethingthatiseasiertounderstandwhendemonstratedasopposedtojustreading
adescriptionandtryingtoimaginewhatyourbodyissupposedtobedoing.

TheStroke

ImportantAspectstoFocusOn

Whilealmostallaspectsoftherowingstrokecanbeimprovedandendlesslytweaked,therearea
numberofkeyaspectsthatwillassistinimprovingyourefficiencyandresults.Illlistthe
characteristicsIconsidermostimportanttogetrightbelow.

TheCatch

Gettingthispositionrightistremendouslyimportant.Thisishowyousetyourselfupforeach
stroke.Youneedtoensureyouhaveaproperplatformfromwhichyoucandeliverpower
efficientlytotheflywheeloftheergo.Yourshinsshouldbevertical,chestrestingonthighs,arms
straightandyourbodyweightontheballsofyourtoes.

Berelaxedinthispositionitshouldfeelrelativelycomfortable.Insayingthis,becarefulnotto
slouchorcollapseinthisfrontposition.Youaregoingtobeexecutinganexplosivemovement
fromthisposition,soapproachitlikeyouwouldanyweightliftingorjumpingexercise.

Settingyourselfupproperlyatthecatchgivesyouthebestchanceforsuccessintheexecutionof
thedrive.Sogetitright.

TheDrive

Thefirstpartofthedriveisalllegs.Noarmsorback.Yourbackangleshouldremainessentially
constantandunchangedforthefirstonequartertoonethirdofyourlegdrive.Most
importantly,itshouldbeexplosive.Thinkaboutacceleratingthehandletowardsyourbody.
Drivingwiththelegsensuresthatthegreatestquantumofworkisdonewithyourlargestmuscle
groupsquadricepsandglutes.

Asthelegsapproachthehorizontalposition,therewillbeapointwhereitwillfeelnaturalto
openthebackangle.Thistypicallyoccurswhenthelegsaretwothirdstowardsthehorizontal.
Thearmsremainstraight.Thisportionofthestrokeisverypowerful.Thelegscontinuetodrive
andthebackopens.Youshouldfeellikeyouarehangingoffthehandle.Saidanotherway,you
areusingtheincreasingmomentumofyourbodyweighttoeffectivelyleverthehandletowards
youataneverincreasingvelocity.Afterthispointinthestroke,yourabilitytogeneratepower
onthehandlediminishesrapidly.Makesureyoumilkthispartofthestrokeforallitisworth.

Youshouldonlyopenyourbackjustslightlybeyondthevertical.Onceyoureachthisposition,
youcanengagethearms.Ensurethatyouhaveastablebodypositiontowhichyoucandrawthe
handle.Thismeanskeepingpressurethroughyourfeetonthefootstretcher,primarilythrough
yourtoes.Thisallowsyoutocompletewhatisknownasdrawingtallorfinishinginastrong,
soliduprightpositionwiththehandleaimingtofinishjustbelowyourpectorals.Yourarms
shoulddrawflat,withnobendinthewrists.Elbowsdrawpastyourshoulders.Makesureyour
shouldersaredownandslightlyback.

Rememberthisyourarmsrepresenttheweakestlinkintheentirestroke.Theyaretheleast
capableofproducingmeaningfulpoweronthehandleandwillbethefirsttofailifyou
continuallyengagethemearly.UsethemLAST,ALWAYS.Theysimplymaintainthemomentum
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ofthehandlecomingintoyourchest;youhavevirtuallynohopeofusingthemtogenerate
additionalpowerthroughoutthestrokeonaconsistentbasis.Legs,thenback,thenarms.Wash,
rinse,repeat.

TheFinish

Youshouldfeelstrongatthefinish.Yourlegswillbeflat,backslightlyinclined,armsdrawnflat
tochest,shouldersdownandrelaxed.Thehandleshouldbesittingjustbelowyourpectoralsin
thevicinityofthesolarplexus.Maintainpressureonthefootstretchersthroughyourtoes.This
stabilisesyourpositionandsetsyouupnicelyforthestrokereversalthatisabouttocome(the
recovery).Trynottothumpthehandleintoyourchest.Youcanattempttoexecuteatapdown,
whichisashortloweringofthehandleattheveryendofthestroke,justpriortothereversal,
thatassistsinshuntingthebuiltupmomentumgeneratedthroughoutthestroke.Thispartisnot
essential,butbecomesincreasinglyusefulasyourstrokerateincreases.

TheRecovery

Believeitornot,thisportionofthestrokeisanopportunitytorest.Contrarytowhatyoumight
think,itisnotaracetogetbacktothecatchasquicklyaspossible.Eliterowerswillspendmore
than60%oftheirtimeinrecoveryovera2000mrace.Herestheproofatastrokerateof34
spm(strokesperminute),aworldclassrowerwillexecutethedriveandfinishofastrokeinjust
.6seconds,leavingroughly1.1secondsbeforethenextstrokeisdue.Thatisresttime.Useit.

Therecoveryisthereverseofallthemovementsthathavegonebeforeit.Duringthedriveit
went:legs,backthenarms.Intherecoveryitsreversed:armsaway,backfollowsandfinally
yourlegscompress.Thisprocessshouldbeslowandcontrolled.Youdontwanttoberacing
backintothecatchposition.Themorereversemomentumyougenerateduringtherecovery,
thegreatertheloadonyourquadricepsandgluteswhenyouengageforthedriveagainatthe
catch.Tryandbeslow.Ifyoureworkinganywherenearashardasyoushouldbeduringthe
drive,youllbethankfulforthebreakhere.

MostCommonMistakes

1. Rowingwithbentarmsorbentwrists
2. Leaningbacktoomuch,drawingthehandletoohigh
3. Shootingtheslide
4. Openingthebackangletoearly
5. Breakingthekneestoearlyontherecovery
6. Overreachingatthecatch
7. Notbeingrelaxed
8. Notmaintainingadequatepressureonthefootstretcher
9. Apronouncedhandlethumpatthefinish

TipsforImprovingErgoScores

TheRacingStart

Thistipalonecantakesecondsofyourergotimes(especiallyyour500m).

Thefirst5strokeswillalwaysbethehardest.Theeffortrequiredtoovercometheinertiaofthe
flywheelissubstantialanditwillgenerallytakeyouatleast34fullstrokestogettoracepace.It
is,infact,quickerandmoreefficienttocarryoutanumberofshorter,fasterstrokesatthe
beginningofarace.

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Twoofthemostcommonracestartsareasfollows:

1. Full
2. Full

Thesefractionsrefertothedistanceyoutraveluptheslidefromthefinishposition.The
rationaleisthatyouproducebetterpeakpowerfromtwohalfstrokes(orathreequarteranda
half)inshortertimethanyouwouldhavetryingtocompletetwofullstrokes.Forcetimecurves
foreliterowersindicatethatpeakpowerisproducedwhenthelegsandbackareengaged
simultaneously.Thisoccursathalftothreequarterslide,wherethebackanglebeginstoopenas
thelegsarepreparingtoflattenout.Thisisthemostpowerfulpartofthestroke,meaningthat
youwanttoutilisethispositionwhenthestrokesarehardest(i.e.thestart).

HaveaPlan

Goodrowersdonotsubscribetotheflyanddieracementality.Consistencyofpaceisthekey
togoodrowingperformances.Forexample,a1:22first500misuselessifyoucanonlyproduce
1:381:40per500mfortheremaining1500mofa2000mrace.

Workoutwhatyoursplitsneedtobebeforeyougetontheergo.Thensticktothem.

Itistemptingtogoharderandfasterinthebeginningwhenyoufeelfresh,howeveritwillbring
youundoneinthelatterstagesofyourrace.Fora2000mergotest,themajorityofyouroxygen
debtisdevelopedinthefirst6090secondsofeffort.Accumulatingtoohighadebt,tooearlywill
diminishyourperformancedramatically.Inotherwords,goingouttoohardearlywillmeanyou
finishslowly.

Breathing

Gettingyourbreathingintoarhythmcanbechallenging,asyourbodytendstodefaulttopanic
breathingafterabout60secondsofeffort.Themostcommonmethodistoexhaleduringthe
drivephase,abreathandexhalationatthefinishthenanotherbreathduringtherecovery
cominguptheslidebeforeexhalingagainduringthedrive.Breathingisobviouslyapersonal
preference,butfiguringoutsomekindofrhythmtosticktotendstohelppeople.Experiment
withafewdifferentmethodsandseewhatworksbestforyou.

OptimalStrokeRatings

Thisisaveryimportantconsideration.Eachrowerhasathresholdknownasthecriticalrate.
Thisisthepointwhereenergybeingexpendedtobringtherowerquicklybackuptheslideisnot
resultinginacorrespondingincreaseinpowerfromthestroke.Thishelpstoprovethe
importanceoftherecoveryphase.Sometimesrowingatahigherstrokerating(i.e.slower
recoverytime)producesaslowerresultoverall.Thisisbecausetheextraenergythatis
expendedinracingtherecoveryactuallyresultsindiminishedcapacitytoexecutethedrive
sequence.

Criticalratevariesnotonlybetweenrowers,butalsotheexpecteddistanceoftheeffort.For
example,criticalratematterslittleacrossadistanceof500mduetothefactthattheeffectsof
havingusedmoreenergyintheshorttermwillnotbefeltbecausetheeffortdoesnotprogress
beyond90seconds.Across2000mthough,findingyourcriticalrateisessential.Eliterowers
willusuallyfinditsomewherebetween3438spmwhenrowinginaboat.Anergowillbe
slightlydifferent,asthephysicsvaryslightlyfromrealwaterrowing.Mostpeopletypicallyfind
thattheirergocriticalrate,acrossa2000meffort,issomewherebetween28and32.Youllknow
youvefounditwhentherecoveryisnotsuchanagonisingeffort.

Copyright2009MichaelAshcroftAllRightsReserved.ContactMichaelonmike.ashcroft@gmail.com