By Hannah Dykstra
If you step into any CrossFit gym or watch most CrossFit competitions, you will most likely see a Concept 2 rower used within the programming. Rowing is an exceptional form of aerobic work because it recruits almost every major muscle group in the body – quads, lats, hamstrings, glutes, abs, obliques, lower back, shoulders and arms. As with any movement pattern or exercise, there’s a proper technique in rowing for both efficiency and safety. There are essentially four components to a row stroke:
In simple CrossFit translation, we can compare this position to that of the starting set up for a clean. The catch is commonly known as the beginning or complete end of the stroke. In this position, arms are completely extended, back is erect, hips are in a closed position and all posts of contact within the feet are on the footplate. Tension is maintained through the lats and entire posterior chain. A common fault is when people enter this position with their heels up which disengages the posterior chain causing a lack of power initiation for the drive and over use of the quads.
We can compare this phase to the clean as well. Keeping the chain as close to your body as possible, violently drive the footplates away and extend the legs in order to gain momentum to completely open up the hips. Just as in the clean, if you cut short the extension of the hips, you are missing out on a lot of power converting to a loss of an efficient stroke. Once the legs are completely extended, and the hips are completely open (with the torso straight up) then, and only then, can we pull with our arms. The violent hip extension will have created enough momentum so that the pull becomes more fluid. The pull should be mostly recruited with the lats, so driving the elbows back with forearms parallel recruited by violently by pinching the scapulas back and sinking them “into your back pocket”. A common fault is the hit of the handles to the chest. When you do this, you essentially make a moveable object immoveable, meaning you break the transfer of momentum from the drive to recovery.
The finish phase should be a triple extension, meaning extension of the ankles, knees and hips with the arms contracted, lats engaged and torso straight.
The recovery phase can be described as the opposite of the drive phase. Where the order of the drive is legs, hips (or torso), and arms, the order of the recovery is arms, hips (or torso), and then legs. A common fault in this phase is rounding the back and losing tension throughout the core. Keep your back erect and maintain pressure on all three points of contact in the feet.
Now that you understand the phases of the row, here are some additional tips to maximize your efficiency:
Establish a consistent cadence – Big, aggressive pulls with a slower recovery rate will more often than not lead to faster distance travel and a greater number of calories achieved. The point isn’t to pull more “reps,” but to improve the quality and timing of each pull.
Establish consistent breathing – The breathing becomes the rate of your row rhythm, so consistent breathing rate creates consistent stroke rate. Pick a number of breaths and speed and stick with that rate the entire time – your body will follow that rate.
All this information might be wasted without a workout to test it out, so here’s one to try:
Row 8-10k with a damper setting of 1 and aim for a stroke rate over 30. Your goal is for your split to be as slow as possible while the stroke rate remains over the target. This will allow you to practice breathing and body mechanics and master your efficiency on the row as you decrease intensity.