17 Tips for Getting Better at Rowing

Follow this list of tips and you’ll be a more efficient, less injured, and happier rower. You’ll have more left for the other elements in your workouts, too.

Years ago when I first started training in CrossFit, I hated rowing. In actuality I just didn’t know how to do it correctly, so I was horribly inefficient and, therefore, unhappy with both my experience of rowing and my performance.

The 17 Commandments of Rowing

After a couple years of whining, I decided it was high time to get over myself and learn how to row. I started training with Josh Crosby in his indoor rowing classes and everything changed. I learned the technique inside and out, my conditioning went through the roof, and I was having a lot of fun. I actually, dare I say, fell in love with rowing.

For those of you still in the hate phase of your love-hate relationship with the ergometer, here is what I call The 17 Commandments of Rowing. If you follow this list of tips, you will be a more efficient, less injured, and happier rower.

1. Don’t Grip Too Hard

Don’t hold on so hard to the handle. Keep enough grip to not lose the handle, but also not so much that you wear out your hands, have achy forearms, and tear up your palms.

2. Drive With Your Legs

Rowing is mostly about your legs. Despite your natural instincts, your legs are far stronger than your arms and should be doing the vast majority of the work. Your quads and booty should be toasted after a hard rowing workout.

3. Imagine You’re Doing a Clean

If you don’t know how to perform this lift properly, don’t imagine this. Imagining doing a clean won’t help in that case.

4. Legs, Hips, Arms, Arms, Hips, Legs

This is the sequence of rowing. If you reorganize this list, it doesn’t work.

5. Drive Straight Back

If you feel yourself lift off the seat, or tragically, you pop off the seat and land on the rail, it is because you are pushing up instead of back. Push straight back.

6. Don’t Let Your Butt Go Solo

Don’t shoot your butt back first. Keep your core engaged throughout the stroke. The angle of your back should not change as you drive with your legs. Said another way, the handle should travel in sync with your seat for the initial leg drive portion of the stroke.

7. Don’t Pull With Your Arms

Keep your elbows straight as you drive your legs. Remember, it’s about your legs, not your arms. As soon as your arms bend, you’ve lost the ability to translate power from your legs.

8. Keep Your Elbows Relaxed

Don’t lift up your elbows at your sides. Don’t artificially tuck them in, either. Keep them relaxed at a natural angle and don’t make chicken wings.

9. Don’t Shrug Your Shoulders Up

Don’t pull your shoulders up into your ears as you drive back in the stroke. Instead, imagine you are pulling your shoulder blades together behind you.

10. Pull the Handle to the Bottom of Your Ribs

For the ladies, you want to pull the handle to the bottom of your sports bra. For the men, pretend you’re wearing a sports bra.

11. Sit Up Tall at All Times

Hinge at the hips and keep good posture, like a good morning or a deadlift. Lift your chest up. Don’t let your lower back or shoulders collapse. Be relaxed, but with good posture.

12. Imagine Your Upper Body Like a Pendulum

Okay, maybe an upside down pendulum. More like a needle ticking back and forth between 11:00 and 1:00 on a clock face. At the catch, or beginning of the stroke, right before you drive back, you should be leaned forward at the 1:00 position. At the finish, or far end of the stroke, when your legs are fully extended, you should lean back to the 11:00 position.

13. Feel the Connection Through Your Feet

The whole way through the drive you should feel a solid connection between the balls of your feet and the footplates. Your heels will lift up at different points during a rowing stroke, but you should always be transmitting power and connection through the balls of your feet.

14. Don’t Re-Bend Your Knees Too Soon

As you start to return forward in your stroke, your knees need to remain straight until the handle is above your mid-shin. Hinge at the hips, sit up tall, and wait (just like with a deadlift) until the bar has passed your knees to re-bend them.

15. Don’t Slam the Seat Into Your Heels

As you continue to move forward and return to the start of the stroke, you should stop when your shins are perpendicular to the ground and your heels are curled up off the footplates, but your seat should never run into your feet.

16. Breathe Properly

Exhale as you drive back. Inhale as you recover forward. One count back. Two counts forward. If you’re having trouble breathing, it’s probably because you’re rushing forward and shorting yourself on your inhale.

17. Focus on Consistent Steady Movement

You are the master of the numbers on the computer screen, not the victim of them. Steady consistent movement will be more efficient. Remember you are on the “water” – smooth movement is rewarded. Smooth movement is fast and efficient. Jerky movements make waves and flip boats.

Good Practice Makes Good Flow

Remember, this is what you’re doing.

The truth is, when you increase your proficiency and technique at rowing; when you pump up the music, close your eyes, and drive off hard, imagining your boat lifting up out of the water, and that the air from the fan is the ocean breeze; when you imagine yourself in sync with a boatful of unstoppable forces, and you are the master of the moment…

Well, when that happens, rowing is pretty awesome. Hopefully these tips help you find that moment.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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