How to Improve Your Rowing Technique for Crossfit

Rowing is a vital skill for all Crossfitters to master. Use these techniques to improve your abilities.

Get comfortable on the rower

If you have never used a rowing machine before, you should at first get comfortable sitting on one. We’ll cover the right posture in a minute, but it is also important that you adjust everything to your own height and especially the size of your feet. Sit down on the rower and put your feet into the appropriate mount. You can adjust the mount to your feet and fasten the strip, so your feet are safely attached to the mount. Don’t shy away from playing around with the mount for a bit, so you get the right feeling for it. It is necessary that your feet stay straight in place, because during the rowing you will use your legs a lot. It can be quite unnerving if your feet are moving around in the mount while rowing.

 It’s all about the right technique

Rowing is all about technique: You can be strong and fast as hell, but if you’re not using the rowing machine the right way, you won’t ever get a decent finishing time. Therefore, always keep an eye on posture, sequence of movements and pace. Try these tips from top coach Ben Bergeron.

Establish a Decent posture: Neutral back

Your back plays a very important part on the rower: You should be sitting upright, but not arched in any way inwards or backwards. Just think of your back in its natural straight position without being excessively hollow. If you have problems getting into the right position, try to make yourself tall and push your shoulders backwards. Try to imagine that you are bending the handle you’re holding and your shoulders will go back by themselves. Also, look straight forward. Remind yourself of this while rowing.

Use your legs

When I first started using a rowing machine and knew nothing about the right technique, I mostly rowed with my arms. After a 5k row, they would feel totally destroyed. But this should not be the case. Rowing is about using your legs, not your arms and this is only logical. Think about it this way: The muscles in your leg are naturally much stronger than your arm muscles. Therefore, you will be able to row with much more power if you keep using your legs. For the right technique, follow these steps:

  • Start in a position in which your knees are bent, but your arms are straight, holding the handle in front of you
  • Push away from the front of the rower with your legs
  • When your legs are fully straightened, pull the handle towards right below your sternum by bending your arms
  • Straighten your arms again and let the handle pass your knees, then (!) bend your legs and start over again. This may feel a bit counterintuitive at the beginning, but don’t feel disheartened. You’ll get used to it pretty fast and then it will seem natural

Timing is key

In opposition to what you may believe, rowing is not about going as fast as you can. You may have seen lots of people at the Box who are pulling the handle like crazy. Don’t be one of them. The key to good rowing is timing. The reason for that lies in the mechanics of the rower: If you pull fast, you loose a lot of the power you get by every pull. It’s a bit like riding a 21-gear bike downhill and only pedaling using first or second gear.

Instead, pull slowly, but with as much power on every row as you can give. You may need some time to find the right pace; this also depends on what kind of workout you’re doing: Going really hard can be the way to go during a Tabata-workout, but if you’re doing a 5k, you should probably go a bit easier.

If you’re having problems with finding your pace, try to align your strokes with your breath. This will help you getting to a consistent stroke pattern.

A few parting words

At this point, you know the basics of how to properly use a rowing machine. But before you get started, we have a few last tips for you that should make your first workouts on the rower more enjoyable:

  • If you are used to doing cardio-workouts only and don’t have very well developed back and leg muscles, you should consider doing some strength training. Bodyweight excercises like air-squats and planks pose very little risk of injury, but can work wonders for your posture and leg strength
  • Think about getting the right music for your workout: Rythmic sounds may also help you finding your rowing pattern and can also motivate you to „pull through“
  • Don’t go all out until you’ve learned the right technique. If you aren’t sure about your posture, record yourself rowing and review your technique. Make yourself comfortable, so everything feels natural, before you try out longer workouts on the rower

Do you have any questions or other tips for beginners? Let us know in the comments below.

For a great rowing workout, try Jackie.

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About The Author

When I am not working on my PhD in history, I am spending my time as a freelance writer and Crossfit enthusiast. I found Crossfit in August 2015 and have been almost living at my Box. Before I tried many different sports and finally got into weightlifting in 2013. At around the same time I discovered paleo, which helped me get back on track with my bad eating habits. Since then I have imbibed loads of information on the subjects and try to help others ...

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