Todd vs. the C2 Rower

By Todd Widman and Bruce Kocher

In Rowing, Videos

August 16, 2009

Video Article

“We’re going into battle,” Bruce Kocher of Concept 2 tells Todd Widman. Todd’s challenge is to row 500 meters in less than 1:20. Bruce warns: “This is maybe one of the toughest things you are going to do athletically. So get nasty with it. You’ve got the training. You’re plenty fit.”

In this video by Again Faster the story begins on the first day of a Level 1 cert at CrossFit New England. Todd sat down to pull a 200 meter piece. But with about 30 meters to go, he lifted himself too high and fell off the seat. Frustrated, Todd returned the next day to get some one-on-one instruction before attempting to go sub 1:20 for the 500 meters.

The instruction focuses on finding the right cadence and keeping the hands up on the return. Bruce recommends only a slight forward lean for Todd and other CrossFit athletes. The body angle should be maintained throughout the stroke. Fast hands out of the finish and a stroke rate of 35-36 a minute could work well, Bruce tells Todd. Cues range from “quick hands” to “stretch it out” to “quick drive.” Bruce advises a fast start even though “you just might fall off the cliff into the hell of anaerobic debt.”

In the end, Todd falls short. He rows 500 meters in 1:23.9. But he says of the 1:20 goal: “You’re right. That’s possible. It’s gonna happen. Just not today.”

16min 14sec



32 Comments on “Todd vs. the C2 Rower”


Russell Berger wrote …

Todd, you're a monster man.


wrote …

Todd, great job.


wrote …

"falling off the cliff into the hell of anabolic debt" is possibly one of the best descriptions i've ever heard. :) great job, todd!


wrote …

That was inspiring

I'm curious - What damper setting was used?


Herm Blancaflor wrote …

That was strong, Todd! I'll bet if the first 500's start was combined with the efficiency of the 2nd piece was combined, you'd have a sub-1:20 for sure.


Patrick Cummings wrote …

Ian, I'm pretty sure Todd was at a 5 or 6 damper setting.


wrote …

I would have to say he's got a much better time in him; I rowed just over 1:24 in April and I was completely wasted afterward. He got up, walked around and was able to communicate soon after so I'm thinking he could have gone way harder. I actually was thinking his stroke rate could have been faster, especially nearer to the end, because it almost looked to easy!

Nice work, Todd, have you re-tested lately?


wrote …

Good fast row, Todd. Set your damper on 10, and use deeper catch with more legs and you can go sub 1:20 with a lower SPM (28 - 32). Watch Bruce's leg bend and catch depth vs. yours.


William Davidson wrote …

Great Video, Great advice. Thanks also Craig.


Brian White wrote …

Todd, thats pretty damn good. On your practices you come out so hard. Very impressive. My best is 1:25:7.


wrote …

That was great work Todd! You're going sub 1:20 very soon. Once you have it dialed in, and you aren't worrying about floating off the seat, it's going to happen. I hope it's on video when it does :-)


wrote …

I wish the description didn't say that he didn't make it. AWESOME EFFORT TODD. That was excellent. I found myself rocking in my office chair with each pull, as if somehow I could give just a little more power! Ha. Well done!


wrote …

Craig Howard's advice is spot on. A longer, smoother stroke and a higher damper (assuming he was at 5 or 6) will get him there easily. I've done a 1:20 at 10, so I'm guessing at 5 or 6 I'd be around 1:23, maybe even slower! It's only 80 seconds of pain, crank that damper up!


wrote …

No question he has a sub 1'20" in him. I've only done a couple 500's for time and managed a 1'28.8" and it was pretty ugly afterwards, but a 2K piece is a different creature altogether. I was on a quest for a sub 6'30" and ended up with a 6'46" before lower back issues sidelined me. Somewhere near the end of that piece I lost my hearing and started getting tunnel vision. When finished I rolled onto the floor and gasped for at least 5 minutes with a stupid grin (grimace) on my mug.
I would love to see some of the Crossfit elite rip into a 2K.


wrote …

todd vs 2k!


wrote …

it feels like people are starting to embrace rowing more and more. anyone can run 500m but u have to be willing to bleed for a 500m row (dont even get me started on a 2k). the erg can abuse you like nothing else and is very unforgiving.

OUTSTANDING job Todd! that is just SICK!


Dale Saran wrote …

That's my boy, Todd. Please update us when you break 1:20, Marine.



wrote …

this is a pretty weak example of using the erg. the guy is obviously jumping the slide on the pull through because he is rowing a 1/2 stroke. i had to quit watching it after the second time. this happens frequently in boats at the start of races when you row a few (like 3) 1/2 or 3/4 slides. it happens because it is easier to "stand up" on the foot strechers using a partial slide, and you jump over the seat and back onto the slide on the shortened pull through. if you intend to row this way, then get used to it.

speaking of partial, i thought CF was about full range of motion anyway. i think i'll start doing my squats going 1/2 way down. CF athletes have weak technical ablilities on the erg anyway, and to sacrafice good technique to get a fast 500m time, accomplishes very little. try rowing this way to get a high stroke rate for more than 500 or even on a second or third piece. good luck. you will be left with the bad habit long after.

erg races are filled w/ sub 1:30 500's by high school lightweights. i assure they arent doing them with a 1/2 stroke. and i also assure they arent as strong as the man on this erg. it is all technique.


wrote …

Harry, I dont think Todd was being coached in that range to get a faster rating. Bruce explained some of the reason that he didn't want Todd to lengthen out as much as a rower would at the catch was to do with lower back posture. This guy is training for general fitness and he's used to pulling with his back in extention and driving his feet straight down from his hips, not horizontally away from him.

Yes his rating was crazy especially at first but Bruce was making inroads with that and technique takes time. Like most of the crossfitters watching Todd is a novice rower. Remember these guys are training for general fitness. Striving for technical mastery of all the different skills practiced in crossfit is a goal and one of the things that keeps crossfit interesting and helps encorage continued improvement long term, in the meantime what Todd got was a safe effective workout (what most crossfitters are probably after) and a bit of an illustraition about not rushing the slide and the finnish of a stroke.

You may have missed the point by not watching the whole video, I doubt Todd was supposed to be an example of how to row well technically. One of the strengths of the erg is that you can take ppl who havent yet dialled in there technique and still give them a heck of a workout with comparatively little danger, something that can be alot tougher when you're throwing barbells around or attempting the tougher bodyweight stuff. I'd say its a testament to the general ready state that crossfitters are training for that Todd was able to row a time on par with even those high school athletes who have had significantly more exposure to the technical aspects of rowing.


wrote …

Hey Todd....I was rooting for you the whole time. Way to pull, buddy.


Chris Worden wrote …

Harry, you've clearly missed the point. I'm also pretty sure that you haven't seen many lightweight teenagers pull a sub 1:30. Go to the Concept 2 website, check the global online rankings. In 2009 there were 5 teenagers who pulled a sub 1:30 in the whole world.


wrote …

I got butterflies in my stomach watching that. Damn nice rowing Todd.


Chris - I echo your reply to Harry's. I was curious just how good a 1:20 500 piece is and I looked at the mid-Atlantic Erg championships (I couldn't find 2009 Crash B results - I can't remember from my days at BU, but isn't that a fall event?). Todd's 1:23 would have netted him like 3rd in the Men's open division behind a 1:20.9 and 1 other. And the listings were college alumni or some rowing club. Those guys are, if not "professional" rowers, fairly experienced rowers. Todd pulling what he did and being capable of going near 1:20 is a significant athletic accomplishment, despite Harry's claims. I agree, Harry, maybe he'll suck in the boat - but what it indicates, for a guy who doesn't row at all (Montana not known for its tremendous rowing programs), is an incredible physical capacity. And I'll also go out on a limb and make the claim that Todd probably rows a pretty respectable 2K time, as well. Not world class, but it's not his sport. He's a CF trainer, not a rower.
All in all, I continue to be impressed at the capabilities of CF'ers who just sort of "pick up" a sport and get some technique and then can compete at a pretty high level because of the broad capability they have from CF'ing. It's a testimony to the programming and I think that's the point of the video.


Joe Stephens wrote …

great job todd real good video. i just held a small charity rowing event 500m fastest man wins, one got 1:30 dan cleal (not a rower) and 1:46 from a guy who is 64 yrs old, it was a great day.

you could get 1:18 i'm sure go get it man!


wrote …

Harry, how about something righteous and hopeful.... The negative waves....


wrote …

Great work Todd!!! I think that you are almost there, you will do it.


wrote …

Doesn't Bruce's suggestions to keep the low back arch oppose what was suggested to Jon Gilson when he visited Concept 2? Does the pursuit of "general fitness" really dictate that one must sub-optimal technique on the erg?


replied to comment from Benjamin Moskowitz


Good question. I addressed this issue some in the video. Sub-optimal technique is in the eye of the athlete and coach. Chris Wilson is an unimpeachable voice on the topic of rowing technique and she's my boss. If Chris sez soften the shoulders and reach out then by god I'm going to do it. My perspective with CF athletes is that they tend to do this naturally but if they don't start from an energized, more engaged, familiar DL/SDLHP/Clean back position, the athletes get very round in their backs and put the rest of their fitness at risk of lower back strain.

My personal $0.02 is that CF athletes can and should view the rower on the same training continuum of standing pulling movements like those listed earlier. The posture for maximum structural integrity is not really debatable. The difference between the Deadlift and the erg is range of motion. If you want to maximize your score and are structurally sound and not too tired to hold form and not putting the damper on or near 10 then I would say that your optimal technique would be to reach as far forward as possible. If you are new to the rower and using it in a circuit like workout and likely to be at the edge of consciousness before you sit down (see fight gone bad) then I propose that optimal technique is to sit up, engage the lower back, keep your head and hands up and take the score that gives you. Just my $0.02 any inconsistencies, inaccuracies or stupidity is strictly my own.


wrote …

Thanks for the detailed response Bruce! The two examples given really elucidates your concept of the training continuum. By the way, how does one reach far forward while not getting too round in the back? Is it a matter of rounding the thoracic spine while maintaining a lumbar curve?


replied to comment from Benjamin Moskowitz

Benjamin: More good/tough questions. How and how far to reach forward is one of the most difficult technique issues to define and coach, at least it is for me. Fundamentally, if you are reaching out and compromising the spinal position of max structural integrity then you are doing just that 'compromising' or weakening your posture in order to gain length in the rowing stroke. Back to the Deadlift: Relatively short range of motion and generally a very, very heavy load. The rowing stroke can be a much longer range of motion and depending on damper setting, stroke rate, speed etc., a relatively light load that may not require max structual integrity to keep your spine and supporting musculature safe.

Rowing also rewards relaxation and efficiency and any energy that you save by not holding tension can be put to good use during whatever training you are putting yourself through on the erg. The difficulty is to find the balance between relaxed upper back and shoulders and floppy, loose core that is going to set you up for an injury.

Chris Wilson does a great job of explaining this in her video with Jon Gilson. I could try to paraphrase but she really nails it. If I was your coach I would use cueing like 'relax the shoulders', 'level chin', 'hands up and level', 'don't let your head dive down at the catch'. Not that you are making any of these errors but as you reach forward and fatigue these are common problems.

How far to reach forward without a coach's eye to rationalize the activity is unfortunately like punching yourself in the face. You know when you hit yourself too hard and your lower back will tell you when you are over-reaching. The downside of over-reaching is that you may not get the lower back feedback until after you get off the machine and depending on the depth of your sin against your connective tissue you could be taking some time off to rehab.

I say err on the side of caution and think strong core thoughts throughout the time on the machine. Apologies for the long post but as I said it's a complex question. Regards, Bruce


wrote …

Thanks again Bruce for improving my knowledge of rowing and the erg.


wrote …

plenty of rowers dont bother with indoor erg comps and I'll confirm that when I was rowing at high school here in Aus a sub 1:30 was nothing particularly impressive for us. so lets not be too quick to rag on harry. todd still did a good job, plenty of heart of course, but the c2 site cd be misleading we dont need to use scewed info or exaggerated claims to confirm he did a good job in context.

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