Andrea is a great coach. After I worked with her, my rowing technique improved dramatically. I no longer "row it like I stole it..." Andrea wrote this article just for the One World site. I love that she refers to CrossFit Slop. Everyone should hate on the slop!!! Technique is everything.
The other day someone told me that the One World posts have been "really long" lately. Sorry... I want to bring good information to you all. This is a really good read. Take a few minutes and check it out.
******************************I have never quite understood the sharp disconnect between CrossFitters and the indoor rowing machine, feelings which range from mild reticence to outright hatred. True, it’s technically a cardio machine, but you would think that an activity so intimately associated with high intensity and nausea would appeal to this crowd. Still, a lot of you avoid this machine like the plague, only to flail all over the place when actually forced to use it in a WOD. Those of you to whom this hits home are missing a huge asset from your exercise arsenal.
There are a number of things you need to understand about the rower, particularly with respect to CrossFit: One, rowing “slop” is just as scold-worthy as other sloppy technique. Two, if you’re rowing just to survive that part of a WOD, you’re setting yourself up for a huge disadvantage, regardless of what the rest of the workout involves. Three, in addition to exercise benefits, the rower can be extremely helpful in recuperation, provided you have spent enough time with it to know how to make it work for you.
You’ve all either been or been around the person who flies back and forth, seizure-like, in a 500 meter row, whose rower physically ends up 5 feet in front of where they started. This is just sloppy. You are all accustomed to learning new movements, and you know that if you are weak in an area, you have to spend some time working on it if you want to improve. Just because bad rowing technique isn’t as visually shocking as bad lifting technique doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t hurt you. Some people (often guys) who maintain poor, “reachy” posture to make up for a lack of hip and hamstring flexibility end up with lower back injuries. Spastic strokes can turn into pulled muscles. It might sound silly, and not in line with being “hardcore,” but do you really want to end up with a preventable injury because you were too lazy to use proper technique? Especially on the rowing machine??
While this is not to get into an in-depth discussion of the finer points of rowing technique, there are some bullet points that should resonate with other exercises used in CrossFit. There are essentially two moving parts to the stroke - the drive (the pulling action, moving away from the monitor/fanwheel) and the recovery (the forward return to the next stroke). Your power in the drive comes from the use of your big muscles (back/legs), which smoothly transitions into the smaller muscle groups (ie arms, core) to finish off the stroke. In many ways, it’s the same idea as a clean. Then, your recovery is ideally just that - sequentially setting you up for an optimum next stroke while letting your body get a brief breather. The rowing stroke is certainly NOT a segmented heaving motion, which makes the fanwheel sound like a truckload of sand being chucked off a cliff, followed by a rushed “recovery” that forces you to slam into your foot stops just to repeat the motion again. This is wasteful at best, potentially dangerous at worst, ineffective regardless.
To put it bluntly, if your technique sucks when you’re feeling fresh, it’s just going to deteriorate as you get tired. Which leads me to my next point. No matter how strong you are, if you can’t row effectively, you are only holding yourself back.
If you have a rowing piece in a workout (think NorCal qualifier WOD “A” from last year) and you are completely spent post-rowing due to inefficient stroke management, you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage in slogging through the rest of the workload. This disadvantage is set before you can even try to gauge how much power and efficiency you’re losing. If you’re doing an FGB style workout, you either force yourself to burn out on each rowing interval, or you inevitably say “Screw it” and forfeit a decent score on that exercise in order to save yourself for the rest.
Even if you’re a big, strong person, and you feel you can “fake” your way through a rowing piece (which is in itself just a mind trick) without falling off the pace, you completely zap yourself for anything else that’s on the menu.
The bottom line is, why would you let a completely manageable movement for people of all strengths and sizes be your downfall?
Finally, even if your only acquaintance with the rowing machine is doing the “CrossFit Shuffle” (a term I wish I could take credit for) in a WOD, you are missing out on a fabulous recuperative tool should you find yourself overtrained or injured. You probably know that rowing can often be used as a WOD sub for running, but that’s not everything. The next time you’re feeling drained and in need some active recovery, try rowing 50-60% pressure at 16 strokes per minute for a bit. Often, some overuse injuries can be rehabbed by rowing (acute low back/spine injuries obviously excluded). But the point is, you have to know the stroke intimately to know how to accommodate your body, healthy or injured. Personally, there’s no way I could have rehabbed an acute knee injury as expeditiously as I did if I hadn’t had these tools at my disposal.
So I’ve gratuitously thrown around a number of admonishments. But what exactly should you do to improve? First, spend time working on your rowing stroke. Make it a priority on your next skill day. There are fabulous resources on the internet and in person, including your trainers. You get better at rowing by rowing. You need to learn how to row effectively at different stroke rates, different resistance settings, and how to pace yourself through various common time/distance intervals (ie, 500m, 1000m, 10x250m, 20 sec. on/10 sec. off, etc.) to best gauge how to be effective when you’re forced to do it in a WOD. Remember, you must put a premium on technique in order to row efficiently. Bending your arms early in a rowing piece is every bit as detrimental to the task at hand as bending your arms early during a clean, since this is a movement you’re doing potentially hundreds of times in one sitting.
Also, are you naturally better in the strength or endurance department? Typically, strength athletes prefer rowing harder at a lower stroke rate, while endurance athletes see their best split times at sustained high stroke rates. These are just a few of the details you’ll discover when you spend time working on your stroke with the resources that are available to you.
It’s up to you to get over your resentment of the rowing machine. Whether you’re big or small, tall or short, there are no excuses for rowing sub-optimally. It’s something everyone with at least four functioning limbs and half a brain can enjoy.
Strength (Week #1 of 5-3-1):
- Set #1 is 5 reps @ 65% of your "working" one rep max.
- Set #2 is 5 reps @ 75%
- Set #3 is 5 reps (or more) @ 85%
Row 2000m for time. Time to work on the technique so you can get a great time!!!