Wasting Effort On The Rower?

The Rower plays a key role in our style of fitness training, especially in the time of COVID. Not only does it allow for us to incorporate various warmup/conditioning components with controlled social distancing, but it is one of the best full-body exercises out there. But, for many, it's a much hated movement.

And that's likely due to one of a few common inefficiences:

1. Reaching Too Far. Perhaps it's to squeak out a little more leverage. Perhaps it's to compensate for tightness in the Hamstrings. Regardless, there's a point where you can reach too far into the flywheel to be effective and efficient. In Ashley's photo, you can see that the seat is quite a distance away from the pedals and that her hands are almost touching the chain window. This would be like doing Deadlifts or Clean Pulls from a deficit and will require more output from the core, hips, and legs to generate a powerful stroke. But the reality is, most of you who do this also don't have the back position that she's showing. You disengage and round your upper back to reach for that unnecessary inch. The end result is you having to fight to reengage or simply pulling the full stroke ineffectively and inefficiently. Similar to your Deadlift setup, you should have a neutral spine, shoulders/chest vertical, core engaged, and hips and hamstrings loaded to drive.

2. Early Arm Bend. "When the arms bend, the strength ends." This is a popular phrase in weightlifting. When lifting a barbell off of the ground (Deadlift, Clean, Snatch) the arms serve as active straps so that the core and legs can do the actual moving of the weight. If you bend your arms early, then the strength of the core and hips and legs is diminished or negated, altogether. It's no different with rowing. All too often, we see you bend your arms before the legs and hips have extended. What you're left with is just the arms to generate power (and possibly some bicep/elbow pain!). Grab the handles near the outside edge in a full-but-relaxed grip. Extend the arms fully. Rotate the elbows slightly outward to activate the lats and triceps. Then let them be straps as you push the rower aggressively away from you with your legs.

3. Pausing. We totally understand being in control of your stroke rate. Most of our workouts can fall apart with a stroke rate above the low-to-mid 30s. And an easy strategy for that is a momentary pause at the fully-entended moment of the stroke. However, a common fault is to take that pause and keep the handle in the flexed position against the sternum (or the chin, but that's a different issue). Yes, you're controlling your stroke rate, but you're doing it in a position comparable to resting in the triple extension of a Clean. You would never do that otherwise! Instead, think of a release button. As soon as the handle comes in contact with the body, your arms should immediately release again to the extended position and the chest/shoulders to the vertical position. If you choose to return immediately or not in the stroke, that's up to you and your workout. But pausing in the flexed position at 1 o'clock (or worse) is taxing the body more than helping with the stroke rate.

4. Oar Rowing. You've dialed in your starting position. You corrected the early arm bed. And you know not to pause in the triple extension. So it's time to return to the starting position for another effective and efficient stroke. Probably more a rhythm habit than anything, many of you return for your next stroke by scooping down your shins with the handles like you're rowing a set of oars. This puts the hands lower than an ideal starting position, forces a bend in the arms, and creates slack in the chain, all of which must be corrected before the stroke can begin. It also sets you up for the final flaw that's described below. Think of it as a bar path. Would you set the bar down in the wrong spot every rep just to have to pull it back into place while under the clock and fatigue? The likelihood is that you'll have a subpar showing and/or you'll get hurt. Instead, take note of the 2 vertical bolts on the right side of the chain window. Aim to keep the chain straight and between the 2 bolts with each return. This keeps tension in the chain, which keeps tension on the flywheel. It keeps your body engaged properly. And it sets up for an optimal next stroke.

5. Over The Hump. Often a result of oar rowing, but not always, one final mistake is to return for the next stroke by shooting over the hump. Notice in Ashley's photo how close the seat is to her heels and the subsequent position of her shoulders. The stroke is intended to follow the sequence of Brace -> Legs -> Hips -> Arms -> Exhale -> Repeat In Reverse. However, in this position, the hips are already opened slightly. What happens is her legs will drive and push the seat away, straightening her legs (think of doing a Deadlift where the legs go straight before the bar comes up). Or, her torso will continue to push back forcing an early arm bend or just producing a weaker stroke. Think of the times will tell you to keep your shoulders over the bar when you do a Clean; it would be like squatting to depth then trying to generate a powerful Clean from that starting position. You should return to that position where you have a neutral spine, shoulders/chest vertical, core engaged, and hips and hamstrings loaded to drive.

Do you see yourself in any of these common mistakes? There are simple drills to correct any of them. But the easiest might just be that you haven't realized that you do them or how the correct position feels. Take a few minutes before or after class sometime to video yourself. Can you spot the flaw? Good. Now dial it in and get the most out of your rowing each workout. Brace -> Legs -> Hips -> Arms -> Exhale -> Repeat In Reverse. You've got this.