Rowing Tips From Coach Hillary

by Hillary on January 7th, 2016

The 2016 Row'd Royalty competition has launched, and it's not to late to join some of your fellow Arena Ready members and coaches in the fun!  Just in time, here's Coach Hillary with some rowing technique wisdom... 
Make it stop!
So now that Rob's let on that I have some rowing experience and can work miracles for your erg times I thought I'd share what I know and quickly bring you all back to Earth on that dream of having a sub-6 min 2k (That's rowing lingo for the standard distance of crew races: 2000m and is the erg test time that people ask you about if you say you're a rower, akin to the "Fran" time in CrossFit).  I rowed for 8 years through high school, college, and coached Novice Rowing at a Division III school for a year exclusively in the Northeast so I've spent a lot of time on ergs with Winter limiting time on the water.  I've been out of the rowing game for some time now though so what I can share are the basics of what I've found helpful over the years and encourage you to ask our awesome coaches/athletes crushing rowing WODs for feedback.

CrossFit from the early days has embraced erging as one of the main monostructural exercises to test cardio-respiratory fitness.  And like any movement in Crossfit, technique can be utilized to keep you safe, get you fit, and hitting PRs or can be forgotten, lead to injury, and make peoples eyes hurt (see video above).

Thankfully most everyone at AR has a good technique base and just need some understanding of the mechanics, drills for refinement, and time for reinforcement.  

Here's three main concepts that have been drilled into me through the years that have stuck with me:
1) Muscle Sequence
Just like many of our barbell movements in CrossFit, proper sequencing of the major muscle groups in rowing is key to optimal force.  Legs, back/chest, then arms, does that sound familiar? Rob and Sarah have posted a great resource here that walks through the correct sequencing and positions through the drive and recovery so I won't rehash that but it's worth a review before we work this with drills.

2) Suspension on the Oar/Handle
This one doesn't get talked about as much from what I've heard in CrossFit but was one of my Coach's favorite things to harp on and was key for some of us getting our legs to drive first before engaging our trunk.  She'd yell "HANG ON THE OAR" and have us do drills where we'd practice standing up on the foot stretchers so that we'd have all our weight hanging on the oar with our glutes off the seat for a split second.  The idea was if you're not feeling that suspension, there's some slack in the system that leads to inefficiency (Think of not being on tension when doing a barbell lift = not pretty and no fun!).

Here's a snippet from a pretty good article (though super nerdy) that helps explain this a bit more.

"There are three distinct forces that act on the rower: forces exerted at the foot, the seat and the hand. Force is generated directly at the foot stretcher and the rower acts as the mechanical link between the force exerted at the foot stretcher and the force transferred via the hands into the oar. The force transitioned into the oar via the hands is dependent on the force exerted on the foot stretcher and the acceleration of the body  (Baudouin & Hawkins, 2002)."

So think of standing on that foot stretcher as well as pulling on the oar.  If you're lost, don't worry, we'll show you what we mean in person.

3) Stroke Length and Pacing
Force = distance/ time so the longer your pull is the more force can be produced (yay for tall gangly people/sorry minis!).  While this may seem intuitive, it can be one of the harder things to do when we're trying to set PRs and compete with the person next to us, the natural tendency during high intensity is to speed up the stroke rate which leads to a shorter pull and ultimately less force as we can't maintain the pace that would result in the same force at a lower rate.  Here's more on why this happens from the same article linked above:  

"As suggested, technical efficiency decreases as stroke rate increases. This occurs for a number of reasons; physiological demands increase at a higher SR, transfer of mass from bow to stern (finish to catch) happen faster and technically demanding aspects of the rowing stroke occur more frequently with less time for consideration of the rower."

Good news is there's a Stroke Rate number on ergs so this is something you can work easily once you're aware.

If you can master all of these concepts, you'll be in great shape to set some PRs and show the CrossFitters what's up at your next competition.  I look forward to seeing it happen!  Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't share what the real sport of rowing looks like.  It's a bit long but here's the US Womens 8 winning the 2015 World Championships for a record 10th straight year beating out Canada with a lower Stroke Rate :)  

WOD for 01-08-15

2 Front Squats + 1 Split Jerk:
5 Sets of (1+2)


AMRAP 9 Minutes:
200m Run
9 Double Kettlebell Front Squats @ 53/35 lbs (per side)
18 AbMat Sit-ups

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with no tags


Leave a Comment
Arena Ready CrossFit

CrossFit Journal: The Performance-Based Lifestyle Resource

Log your Progress

Equipment for CrossFit


Body & Mind Maintenance

Mobility WOD

follow on
follow on
follow on



no tags