Rowing Technique: Perfecting the Stroke

What rowing technique question do we get most often?  Right up there at least, it’s gotta be: “Can you just show me what a good rowing stroke looks like?”  You asked for it, we’re happy to provide.  Regardless of your effort level, your stroke should always look smooth.  Legs first, then body, then arms on the drive; Arms, body, legs on the recovery.  That’s your rowing mantra, stroke after stroke after stroke.

Watch Master Instructor Terry Smythe, one of the best in the business, as she rows below.  She’s had her butt on an erg or in a boat since the 1970s, so she’s pretty much got this down.  Spend 30 seconds watching the rowers at your local gym and you’re likely to see anything but this.  Just because people are doing it doesn’t make it right!

 

via GIPHY

 

keys to perfecting your rowing technique

Some things to notice in Terry’s rowing stroke:

  • The torso swings from an 11-o’clock angle at the finish to 1 o’clock at the catch – no more, no less
  • Knees stay down on the recovery until the handle has passed them
  • The hands never stop moving, BUT (see below)
  • There is a slight pause of her torso at the finish while her hands start moving away from her body, back towards the flywheel
  • The handle moves pretty much straight back and forth, in just a slight ellipsis (think of your fingertips running across the top of the table on the drive, and your knuckles scraping the bottom of the table on the recovery)
  • The shins come to vertical at the catch – no more, no less
  • There is a 1 X 2 ratio between the drive and recovery (Say “Woof!” on the drive, “Meow!” on the recovery)
  • Toes maintain contact with the foot stretcher throughout the stroke
  • The damper is set at 3 (Not 10!)

HOW TO get better at indoor rowing

If your rowing technique doesn’t look like this don’t worry!  Rowing is a lot like golf, the relentless pursuit of the perfect stroke.  Everybody’s always working to improve some element of it or another.  And we do mean EVERYBODY.  It’s just part of the deal.  Walk into the dining hall at Craftsbury Sculling Center (our favorite place to learn sculling).  You’ll hear everyone from newbie rowers on up to Olympic medalists chatting about the finer points of their strokes and how they’d like to improve them (“I’m not getting my hands away fast enough,” “I’m not pivoting enough at the hips.”)

So, if you’re stroke’s not where you want it, you’re in good company.  Start where you are, and keep working at it.  Get some help from a certified rowing instructor if you have one in your area.  If not, contact us, we can help you over email or Skype.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your stroke to Terry’s or anybody else’s.  We don’t start off knowing how to row, nor do we usually learn how to row at a young age the way we learn to ride a bike.  Good rowing technique comes in time though, and the results are well worth the effort!

Got a question about this?  Or just want to rant about the crazy technique you’re seeing at the gym (Handle pulled up over the head anybody?)?  We hear ya!  Rant away below in the comments.

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7 Comments

  1. Graham Cawood

    Suggest you layback at the catch by pivoting above the hips. This will reduce the load on your lower back. Now you move ‘back, legs, arms’. Arrange that legs and arms finish together. Legs – not held down – immediately rebound so get hands away quickly. Don’t fully straighten the arms in the recovery until they are pulled straight by the chain at the catch. They rebend a little as they catch the chain. Use a 1:1 work to recovery ratio always. Don’t straighten the back- trying to do so can harm the lower back. Take 2 breaths per stroke – out at the catch and release always. Put near 20mm blocks under your heels so they don’t lift. Relax your calf muscles. Elbows out at the release with about 90′ between the forearms.
    I do a 30 minute erg daily at 2.08 split, 26spm. 69 yrs old, 5*bypass op. a year ago, new hip 2 years ago. Feel great!!
    Have fun!

    1. UCanRow2 Post author

      Thank you for the thoughts, Graham, and congratulations on your daily erging! We’re convinced the rowing machine is the Fountain of Youth.

      You point out some good things to look out for in one’s technique. One place we’ll respectfully disagree, though, is in the 1:1 ratio from the drive to the recovery. As is common here in the US, at least, we teach a 2:1 ratio, or even 3:1 if the athlete is aiming for a very low stroke rate.

      As Concept2 notes in this article How to Row Faster, the recovery is the rower’s chance to take a breath and, indeed, recover more energy before taking the next stroke.

      It’s always good to have different perspectives, though, thank you so much for providing yours. Row on!!

      1. Graham Cawood

        Greetings,
        Look at any video of the top rowers. They all do close to 1:1, and most use 2 breaths per stroke – out at the catch and release. If you have 1 second to make the recovery you can do it with no pause, and a smooth acceleration and deceleration, or more jerkily, and usually with a pause. I suspect the 1:1 ratio is also the most economical, and I certainly find it very comfortable.
        Regards

  2. cathy

    you have the drive and the recovery mixed up in the first paragraph!

    1. UCanRow2 Post author

      Ack!!! Thank you for catching that! It’s fixed now. 🙂

  3. Ed St. John

    Glad to see the newsletter is back and thanks for the great video!
    How can I get some of those stomp out bad rowing stickers?
    Ed

    1. UCanRow2 Post author

      Hi Ed! The stickers will be in our store very soon. How many were you looking for?

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