Rowing, when done well, can be one of the most challenging and most effective modalities of exercise. It works your legs, core, back, (basically almost every muscle in your body) and your cardiovascular system. Plus, it’s pretty low impact compared to other forms of cardio such as running. The problem with rowing is that it seems so simple, when in reality rowing is an art. It takes a certain rhythm and finesse to master, and most people don’t think of these things when they are in the gym training. Therefore, we often see that form gets lost and that speed is prioritized. The funny thing about rowing is that it’s not about how fast you can move up and down erg in order to be successful. Rowing is about efficiency. It’s about having the same technique every stroke, and making every stroke as powerful as possible.
While rowing should look like one fluid motion, it can be broken down into different segments. Effectively putting all the segments together will result in strong, efficient strokes. So let’s break down the different aspects of rowing that you should be able to identify with every rep.
First Position: The Catch
The catch is essentially the starting position of your stroke. At the catch, your knees are bent, your arms are straight, and your shoulders are in front of your hips. You should sit up tall using your core, so we want to avoid having our shoulders and back rounded.
Second Position: The Drive
From the catch, we move into the drive. Here, we’re focusing on driving through our legs, and keeping our torso and arms in the same position they were at the catch- shoulders are still slightly in front of the hips, and arms are nice and long. The mistake we often see in the drive is that people want to immediately starting pulling with their arms, and try to straighten their legs as fast as possible. Instead, we want to think of the drive as an acceleration, getting as much power out of our legs as possible before our upper body comes into play.
Third Position: The Finish
As our legs are just about to straighten, we want to start to lean our torso back (keeping our core engaged!) and then pull the handle into our sternum using our arms. At the finish, our shoulders are now slightly behind our hips, our legs are long, and our arms are bent. We also want to make sure the lean of the torso isn’t too exaggerated- a good way to think about it is if you think of the numbers on a clock; you want your lean to go from ~1 o’clock to ~11 o’clock. The job of the arms is to carry the handle to your chest, but if you use your legs optimally, the final pull from your arms should feel more like a coast and less of a yank.
Fourth Position: The Recovery
From the finish, the goal is then to work our way back to the catch, and to do so, we really just want to do everything in reverse. First, we’ll release the handle from our chest and straighten our arms. Then, we slightly lean forward so that our shoulders are in front of our hips again. And finally we bend our legs until we’re back at the catch. When it comes to the recovery, the main thing to remember is to let your arms go before your knees bend. When we don’t, we end up having our knees get in the way, and the chain moves up and down, rather than staying level all the way through. The other issue with bending our knees first is that it often means we’re rushing back to the catch. Keep in mind, the fan has to reset between every stroke, and rushing back to the catch isn’t going to make the fan reset any faster. Conserve your energy and take your time during the recovery!
Fewer, more powerful strokes will accumulate more distance overtime than faster, less optimal strokes. And if the goal is to hit a certain distance in a certain amount of time, focusing on the quality of the strokes will be much more important than the quantity. Plus, if you’re rushing up and down the erg, you’re likely going to tire more quickly than if you’re taking slower, more effective strokes. Remember, it’s not about rowing fast, it’s about rowing efficiently!