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.

Rowing Technique: Dial in Your Damper Setting

Concept2 damper settingHow many times have you walked over to the rowing machine at the gym and found the damper set at 10?  Experienced rowers, and certified indoor rowing instructors, know this is the way to create a rowing workout that’s a slog, and one that most likely will be the absolute opposite of fun or energizing.  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 World Indoor Rowing Championships and you’ll find many machines set much lower, anywhere between 2 and 5.  Generating power on the rowing machine is all about connecting the parts of the stroke, NOT about creating more resistance just because you can.

There are a couple of exceptions to that:

1) Very heavy people (weight-loss or muscle-bound rowers, for example) may need a higher damper setting in order to be able 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 is the ticket to a great sweat.

2) Rowing at a higher damper setting – for short periods and ONLY at a low stroke rating – is also a useful way to teach any rower to develop power through correct engagement and to help them dial in their rowing technique.

Want a rowing workout that will help you play with damper setting and connect these dots?  Try this:

Chad Row

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.

For more reading: Concept2 damper setting page
                                      Find a certified indoor rowing instructor
Get certified to teach indoor rowing

What questions do you have about damper setting?  Post them to the comments and we’ll answer!

Beat Boredom With a Playground Rowing Warm Up

Warm up your workout with hopscotch and skipping

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.

 

 

Try a Playground Warmup

Option 1:

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.

Option 2:

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!

 

Your Rowing Technique Mantra: Legs, Back, Arms – Arms, Back, Legs

Slave ship daily schedules cartoonIndoor rowing gets a bad rap.  Too often people make it 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.

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 will meet you where you are in terms of your fitness, and then take you as far as you want to go.  Yes, you can work your technique forever, and the pursuit of the perfect rowing stroke is just as elusive and constant as that of the perfect golf swing.  But the basic motion is pretty simple, especially when you learn it from someone who’s been trained to teach you.

I was reminded of that when I read this great review of rowing at Rowbot Fitness in Atlanta.  Meghan was getting ready to run a half marathon, and stopped in to try a rowing class for some cross training (rowing is GREAT cross training for running, cycling and triathlon).

She was lucky to find herself in the very capable hands of Certified Indoor Rowing Instructors Charles and Aubrey Anderson, who gave her the mantra “legs, back, arms – arms, back, legs” to help herself 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, and only then (once you feel resistance on the chain) 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.  There are some great drills that will let you practice this yourself, or with your rowing class, and we’ve got a video of rowing technique drills already set up for you:

Legs, back, arms — arms, back, legs.  If you can just stick with that, as Meghan did in her intro class, you’ll be well on your way to erging like the pros — and having the physique to prove it.

 

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.

 

Chain Drive the UCanRow2 Newsletter is Here!

 

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 info@ucanrow2.com.

Of course, you can’t get the newsletter if you don’t sign up, so please subscribe to our newsletter.

TRAINER TIP: Close Your Eyes for the Cooldown

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.

Introducing Personalized Indoor Rowing Technique Reviews

UCanRow2/Concept2 master instructor Terry Smythe gives personal rowing technique reviewDo 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 info@ucanrow2.com.

Flywheel Frenzy! Indoor Rowing Training for Home Users and More

Fine tuning Web technique with Concept2 master instructor Terry SmytheIf 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.

Registration fee: $115

Here’s the location for the course:

Owens Community College Toledo Campus
Alumni Hall
30335 Oregon Road
Perrysburg, OH 43551

Questions?  Post them to the comments.

Ask the Coach: Correcting Others’ Bad Rowing

UCanRow2’s Terry Smythe, an indoor and on-water rowing coach with nearly 20 years of experience, answers your questions about rowing technique, rower workouts, teaching rowing and training for rowing.

Q: I row at my gym, and the “erging” technique some people have is driving me batty! I don’t want to offend anyone and I’m no expert, but how do I tactfully correct their form so they don’t get hurt and I don’t have to watch it anymore?

A:  This is the downside of the growth in indoor rowing’s popularity.  People see rowing on TV or featured online, and want to try it themselves.  The basics of rowing technique are pretty simple, but yes there is a trick to it.  People who jump on the rowing machine at the gym often don’t know enough about proper rowing technique to get the most from the machine.  As a total-body exercise, rowing is a fabulous way to make that slimmer, fitter you a reality.  You’ll get there faster with the right technique.

If you see bad rowing happening, approach the facility’s staff and ask if they have certified indoor rowing instructors who can intervene. If they do not, as a facility member you should encourage them to get their group fitness instructors and personal trainers certified to teach rowing. Certified instructors are much better equipped to provide workouts that are safe, fun and effective, and it’s the best way for the facility to make sure it gets the most from its investment in rowing equipment.

There’s more information on our rowing certification here, and our latest listing of trainings is always available on our rowing certification calendar.

Got another sticky question you’d like our coach to tackle? We’re game! Post it below in the comments and we’ll get back to you.