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October 13, 2014 Comments (0) All Posts

Shane Farmer’s Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Rowing

How to Be Better at Rowing and Save Precious Energy

No doubt you’ve seen the trusty singular rowing machine sitting in the corner of your regular gym, slowly collecting dust. Or maybe you do CrossFit who sees the stack of rowing machines in the corner and silently shivers every time you see rowing written on the white board.

There are fewer things which can solitarily incite such emotional response as this machine. Often known for it’s masterfully expounded lessons of inefficiency, the “erg,” as it’s known to the rowing community is a tool to be used for cardiovascular capacity work.

Meant to mimic the motions of the rowing stroke for times when an athlete is unable to get into the boat, or for when a coach needs a measurable response from his athletes, the rest of the fitness world has recently taken notice to the unflappable ability for the machine to provoke rapid utilization of whole body engagement for athlete’s and beginning movers alike.

It’s for this very reason that I’d like to help anyone on that spectrum get the most out of their workouts with 3 easy to utilize tips to help you realize your full potential.

Be sure that your body is in the correct position on the erg

The catch is at the front of the stroke

The catch is at the front of the stroke

1. Correct position at the front of the stroke is critical to going fast. It’s called the “Catch,” and by really focusing on good body organization you’ll set yourself up for HUGE gains through the stroke.

Try this:

  1. Pause yourself at the catch position. Start by extending your back as if your mother were judging your posture. Then push your hips back so your torso reaches a 1 o’clock angle if you were the hour hand on a clock. Keep your heels down and slowly bring yourself closer to the machine without letting your hips shift underneath you, or letting your back round. The ideal amount of compression will have your shins reach vertical with your heels still grounded on the machine. Finally, your arms should be fully extended in front of you with your hands nice and wide on the handle, keeping a relaxed hold. Feel that tension in your ankles, shins, hamstrings, and back? THAT’S PERFECT! This means your primed and ready to wreak havoc on the stroke.

Gaining speed using an efficient stroke

2. Speed comes from your ability to engage and aggressively push the machine away from you, not from speeding through the system and taking lots of strokes. Have you ever felt like a hamster on an out of control hamster wheel when you’re rowing? You know the feeling of not having any connection to the handle and feeling like you’re just spinning your wheels? That’s what happens when you trade calm, organized, and aggressive strokes for lots of poor strokes. It’s choosing quantity over quality. By taking each stroke as it comes, with a properly loaded catch, you’ll be able to transfer all of that beautiful tension you’ve built up directly to the handle which is where all the power comes from. Your new task is to know how to properly push the machine away, this is called the “Drive.”

Try this:

  1. Go back to the catch position you established. From here, you’re going to brace your stomach as if you knew someone was going to come at your torso with fists of fury. This is task one. With that accomplished, you’re going to keep your torso rigid and extended at the 1 o’clock position while you begin by pushing the machine away with your legs. With the torso still at a forward angle, wait for the knees to near extension AND THEN aggressively swing your hips open to an 11 o’clock position while actively squeezing your butt cheeks as if you were trying to make a diamond out of a piece of coal. Once the torso nears the 11 o’clock position, you’ll finally break at the elbow and aggressively end the drive by bringing the handle as close to your sternum as possible without hitting yourself. Thus concludes the drive.

Practice relaxing through the recovery

It's important to relax through the recovery

It’s important to relax through the recovery

3. Half of the stroke is called the “Recovery,” because we actually let the body recover from the work you just did. Learning to relax through half of the stroke will save you time and energy. Remember how aggressive and active the drive was? Well to take the next stroke, all you have to do is reverse course but in a much more relaxed manner.

Try this:

  1. The recovery is now a mirror image of what you just did during the drive. The drive was aggressive, explosive, and started with the legs, then the torso swing, then the arms. The recovery starts with a push of the arms, closing the hip angle, and then letting the knees bend all while letting your body relax while taking 2 – 3 times as long as the drive took. As your arms finish the drive, don’t stop the handle, simply let the handle move into your body with the arms, but then immediately push them away again without a pause. As the arms near extension, keep your back straight (remember, Mom is watching) and fold your hips. Once the body nears the 1 o’clock position again, you’ll let the knees bend but keep them relaxed. You want to think about gliding back to the catch at this point, NOT pulling yourself with your toes. This will bring you back to the catch where we start the whole process over. All in all, you should be thinking about the drive taking 1 second, and the recovery taking 2 – 3 seconds. By allowing your body to relax through this part of the stroke, you’ll save lots of energy throughout your workout.

So go forth, enjoy your new rowing body and get some work done. If you want more instruction, or to find video on this topic as well, go to for a video library that breaks down many of the nuances of rowing.

Finding the time to work on each of these concepts individually will reap huge rewards in the speed department as well as your ability to get a great workout. Don’t try to work on everything at once though, rowing can be a complex movement. Try to focus on too many things and we risk not being able to see the forest for the trees.

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