There’s nothing we love more than getting a juicy question in our social media DMs or blog comments. Like this one:
“I’ve been rowing for a while and I know I’ve developed some bad habits that I need to shake. Help!”
Does that one resonate with you?
If it does and you’re feeling a little “meh” about your rowing stroke, know that you’re in good company!
We all feel this way sometimes, or even a lot of the time.
Congratulations, you’re a rower!
Just like in golf, get a bunch of rowers around a table and, most likely even before the first pint of beer is empty, the conversation will make its way to technique.
From novice to Olympian, it’s “I’m not getting my hands away fast enough at the finish,” “I want to connect better at the catch,” etc. etc. [Actual statements heard from the mouths of super-seasoned veterans.]
3 EPIC TIPS TO HELP YOU ROW LIKE A BOSS
That’s awesome, you may be saying, but what do I actually DO??
To answer the question of how to fix a broken rowing stroke we called in an expert: UCanRow2 / Concept2 Master Instructor Cassi Niemann, a 20-year rowing and coaching veteran, trainer of rowing instructors and creator of our RowReady course.
Whether it’s your stroke you’re working on or your students’, the right approach is to go back to the basics.
What rowing technique question do we get most often? Right up there towards the top 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 UCanRow2 founder Terry Smythe, one of the best in the business, as she rows below. She was a veteran of the US national rowing team and spent 30+ years teaching indoor rowing so she knew her stuff. 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!
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
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.”)
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!
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How many times have you walked over to the rowing machine at the gym and found the damper set at 10, or put it there yourself? If rowing seems like a whole lot of pain and very little gain, that may just be why.
Who needs that, especially when it’s not the least bit necessary??
Take a walk around the rows of ergs at the C.R.A.S.H-B rowing championships and you’ll find many machines set much lower, anywhere between 2 and 5. You see, generating power on the rowing machine is all about connecting the parts of the stroke. It’s NOT about creating more resistance just because you can.
Damper setting video
UCanRow2 Master Instructor Cassi Niemann explains it beautifully in this video:
when a high damper setting makes sense
There are a couple of exceptions to the low-damper rule:
1) Larger or heavier athletes (weight-loss clients or muscle-bound rowers with big thighs, for example) may need a higher damper setting in order to feel some resistance from the machine. This is because at a lower setting their own bodyweight does most of the work so they don’t have to put in any extra effort to move the flywheel. In these cases, a higher setting that adds more load can be the ticket to a great sweat.
2) To teach power application: Rowing at a higher damper setting – for short periods and ONLY at a low stroke rating (below 20 strokes per minute) – is also a useful way to teach any rower to develop power through correct engagement and to help them dial in their rowing technique.
When you row at a high damper setting, you’re essentially picking up a dead flywheel every stroke. Doing this without risking injury requires you to have impeccable technique: You need to make sure that you’re using your legs and not your back to initiate the drive.
Want a rowing workout that will help you play with damper setting and connect these dots? Try this:
Warm up then do 2-3 rounds of the following:
Damper Time SPM
10 6 mins 18
8.5 5 mins 20
7 4 mins 22
5 3 mins 24
3 2 mins 26
1 1 min 28
3-minute paddle rest between rounds. Remember to focus intently on your technique and posture – let the drive come from your legs and core engagement.
Does the sound of yet another 3k rowing warm up make you want to stick needles in your eyes? Or has your usual warmup turned into a chatfest because your students are getting a little too comfortable with the steady-state routine?
Boredom is the enemy of progress, even in the warmup. Mix it up! Try getting outside and back on the “playground” for your next rowing workout warm up.
Off-erg warmups in general are a super smart – and super fun – way to get your athletes prepped and sweaty for a good SkiErg or rowing workout. A fast-paced round of moves like jumping jacks, skipping and hopscotch will get your students’ blood pumping and warm up the key muscles used in rowing. These moves also offer some important work on balance, agility and coordination, which are critical as we age. practice. That one is especially important if you’re doing senior fitness, but really everyone can use it.
We are fortunate at the UCanRow2 Bodyshop to have a 450-meter loop around our gym. To do this warmup, walk or jog the first loop. On the second time around break it up about every 25 meters with moves including air squats, jumping jacks, backwards walking or running, lunges or hopscotch.
If you want to ramp it up, use dumbbells and do a lap with farmer’s carries, waiter walks, etc. It helps that the Bodyshop loop ends with a deceptively challenging hill, but even on a flat track you could make this a great warmup.
First do a few minutes of jogging or walking to get loose. Then set up a 25-30-yard course. Do the following moves, in order:
2 lengths heel-to-toe steps (rolling up on the toes, practicing balance)
2 lengths high knees touching opposite elbow to knee
2 lengths side shuffle, tagging the ground at the end of each length
2 lengths karaoke, touching the ground at the end of each length
4 lengths run backwards, sprint forwards
2 lengths frog jumps
On with the workout!
What’s your favorite warmup, playground or otherwise? Tell us in the comments and we’ll share!
The rowing machine is finally getting its due. Hallelujah! Where once it was the Rodney Dangerfield of the fitness world, sitting sad and lonely in a corner of the gym, the machine that on-water rowers have used for decades has become the IT home and gym fitness machine.
Today, with the arrival of indoor rowing in studios, gyms, CrossFit boxes and homes around the world, people are starting to pay a whole lot more attention to this wonder of a total-body fitness machine. That growth is a great thing, but it also means that there’s a lot of bad rowing technique out there.
At UCanRow2 we’re on a mission to stop bad rowing, in part by helping to demistify it. Yes, you can absolutely become a complete rowing nerd and analyze every little bit of your stroke. Rowers and coaches alike at facilities like the Craftsbury Outdoor Center love to do that. Indeed, it’s a great part of the sport: the relentless pursuit of the perfect stroke.
how to simplify the rowing stroke
Too often, people make indoor rowing sound much harder than it has to be, both in terms of the effort required to get good results and the technique needed to get there. Sure, there are plenty of finer points to rowing technique that can make it challenging. Golf is the same way. But both are fun, even if you don’t have everything mastered.
Yes, you can use the erg as your personal torture device (ask anyone who’s ever rowed 2000 meters for time) but the rowing machine is good for so much more than that. Whether you want to row hard or just take it easy, the rowing machine is there for you. It will meet you where you are, and then take you as far as you want to go.
Your 6-word rowing technique mantra: Legs-Body-Arms, Arms-Body-Legs
Our Certified Indoor Rowing Instructors preach a mantra of “legs, body, arms – arms, body, legs” as a quick way to remember the flow of the rowing stroke and which body parts move when.
More specifically, from the catch you drive back with the legs, then begin to swing your back towards the rear of the machine, until your torso is roughly at an 11:00 position on a clock. Then and only then (once you feel resistance on the chain) do you start to pull back with the arms.
On the recovery, you first release your arms out, then swing forward to 1:00 with your back, and begin to move your legs, only after the handle is past your knees. We call that “boxing out,” or creating a frame for your knees to pop up into.
the relentless pursuit of perfect rowing technique
You may be concerned that your rowing technique isn’t “perfect.” Congratulations, you’re a rower! The pursuit of the perfect rowing stroke is as elusive and constant as that of the perfect golf swing.
Remember how we said that you will hear rowers all the way from novices up to Olympians discussing the stroke’s finer points and what they’re working on? That’s your cue to stop worrying about having perfect technique. Work on one technique element at a time and have oodles and oodles of patience.
INSTRUCTORS: The same applies to your indoor rowing students. Give them just one technique thing to work on at a time. Otherwise you risk overwhelming them, and then they won’t come back. First and foremost, rowing class has to be FUN.
Most of us grew up walking, running and biking but NOT rowing. So it makes all the sense in the world that getting the technique down would take practice. No worries! We’re working on ours right along with you.
For a visual breakdown of the stroke and the technique mantra, watch UCanRow2 Master Instructor Cassie Niemann, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel:
Legs, body, arms — arms, body, legs. Stick with that and you will be well on your way to erging like the pros — and having the physique to prove it.
NEED A rowing workout Plan?
It’s one thing to sit down on the machine and start pulling on the handle. It’s another to have a plan that’s been put together by the experts. The Meter Monster and Flywheel Frenzy workout programs are designed to help you stay consistent with your workouts and give you a plan to follow, whether you row solo at home or the gym, or you teach rowing class.
Got questions about your rowing technique? We have a bunch of training tips you can check out, or post your question below and we’ll get a master instructor to answer it. Want to find a certified rowing instructor in your area, check our list. Want to become one yourself? Hop on over to our instructors page and find out how.
Can’t get enough UCanRow2? Never fear, Chain Drive, the UCanRow2 newsletter is here! All things indoor rowing, delivered right to your email inbox. Workouts, playlists, technique tips, upcoming trainings, marketing advice, basically the best of the best of what we can find to help you get the most out of your erg or ergs, and be the best rower or rowing instructor you can be.
We’ll start off on a quarterly schedule, and will move to a more frequent schedule if or when that seems like a good idea (We hate clogged inboxes as much as you do.). Got ideas of what we should include in Chain Drive, or a particular workout or playlist you love? We want that too! Leave a comment here or email email@example.com.
Here’s a tip to help your rowing students get better flow in their rowing stroke: The cooldown of a workout is a great time to focus in on the zen of rowing. Use that time to close your eyes and feel the motion.
Remind your students to FEEL the connection of the stroke, from the drive to the finish to the recovery. Hands away, body over, slowing the slide. Allow your body to feel the fatigue but also the discipline of good technique, even when you’re tired.
How’s your rowing workout been lately? Would you like to get more of the benefits of rowing machine workouts? We hear all the time from people who say they’re not performing as well as they’d like. They want to get their times down and their meters up but they’re not sure how to do that.
The difference between a good workout and a great one is in how you apply power on every stroke. That’s true whether your goals are getting a PR on your next 2K, losing 20 lbs. or simply making the most of the time you have on the machine.
In this video, UCanRow2 founder Terry Smythe shows you how to use your monitor to gauge your power output. She also gives you a drill that will help you get faster and stronger on the machine.
Do you have a Concept2 indoor rower at home, or use one at your gym? Are you a competitive indoor rower who’s interested in improving your performance on the machine? Maybe you’ve been rowing for a while and would like to brush up on your indoor rowing technique or get new rowing workout ideas.
A new offering from UCanRow2 may be just the ticket: Personalized rowing technique reviews from anywhere in the world with a UCanRow2/Concept2 master instructor via Skype, video or in person.
“Often just a few simple tweaks to a person’s rowing machine technique can make a major difference in the results they get – whether their goals are weight loss, fitness or a personal best in a 2k race,” said UCanRow2’s Terry Smythe, a UCanRow2/Concept2 master instructor. “Not everyone is able to attend one of our full-day Concept2 Indoor Rowing Basic Course trainings,” she added, “and not everyone wants to learn to teach indoor rowing. We’re excited to be able to offer this affordable, convenient alternative to people who want to row better and are not looking to teach classes.”
Technique reviews will be led by a UCanRow2/Concept2 master instructor. In addition to teaching the Indoor Rowing Basic Course trainings, the master instructors all have years of experience teaching people at all skill levels to row on the water and on the rowing machine. Reviews can be done either via live video (Skype, OoVoo, etc.), by submitting a video clip of your rowing technique or at an in-person session where the master instructors are located (Currently Washington, D.C. area, Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, CA, and Houghton, MI, and coming soon to several other major US cities).
One-hour technique reviews are available for $65 and can be arranged by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re a home or gym user of the Concept2 rowing machine, we’ve got something new coming just for you: A half-day training that will get you tuned up and ready for new (or renewed) action on the world’s #1 indoor rower! The workshop is part of our Flywheel Frenzy event at Owens Community College in Toledo, OH on April 12-13.
Join us for Indoor Rowing Foundations for Home Users from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday, April 13. You’ll spend a comprehensive morning tuning up and learning new ways to make the most of the Concept2 Indoor Rower. We’ll focus on:
– Optimizing your rowing technique, including personalized video critique
– Showing you how to keep your machine in tip-top working order
– Showing you new things you can do with the monitor
– Giving you a slew of new workouts, and
– Taking you on a tour of the Concept 2 website’s resources.
– Bonus: Meet the SkiErg!
Registration for the course is $95. Just note your course and fee on the registration form.
Want more? Join us the night before for a master class with Concept2 Master Instructor Terry Smythe from 6:30-8:30. You’ll spend two hours in OCC’s fitness playground, combining the rower, SkiErg and indoor cycling with other equipment like TRX and free weights.
Register now: $45 ($15 for students) Note your course and fee on the registration form.
And for those who are teaching others or working with clients on the rowing machine, we’re offering our Programming Intensive on Friday afternoon from 2-5 pm. We’ll show you how to set yourself apart from the competition by mixing up your workouts with on/off erg work. Combine ergs, TRX straps, free weights and more to create a fat-blasting workout your members will rave about. Have your rowing technique checked by an expert. Learn how to use social media to get people into your classes – and keep them there.