Learning How to Row With an Olympian: Part 1

By Erin Cafaro and Rory McKernan

In Rowing, Videos

March 17, 2011

Video Article

Join Rory McKernan of CrossFit HQ Media as he receives some rowing tips from Rowing Seminar trainer Erin Cafaro, who won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing in the women’s eights event.

Cafaro coaches McKernan through a rowing session on a Concept2, and her first instructions focus on the set-up.

“Every time you sit on an erg, you want to kind of personalize it for yourself,” she says as she sets him up on the footpad and explains the damper setting, which varies by altitude.

“This lever is never very reliable, based on erg to erg and location to location,” she says. She shows McKernan how to find his personal number using the drag factor of the rower.

To analyze his rowing stroke, Cafaro sets the rower to display the power curve.

“You want it to be kind of like a bell curve that means that your power curve is nice and even. If you see any little loop-de-loops in there, that means there is a loss of energy,” she says.

Finally, Cafaro coaches McKernan on his rowing technique using drills to help improve his power and efficiency. One of the insights she provides is on not opening up the hip angle immediately after the catch.

“You want to keep your stomach and your midline really tight to connect the power that you are producing from your feet all the way to your hands,” she says.

12min 23sec

Additional reading: Why Indoor Rowing? A Quick List by Greg Hammond, published Feb. 1, 2008.



12 Comments on “Learning How to Row With an Olympian: Part 1”


wrote …

Great questions! These questions have come up in our box multiple times. Nice to get a specific answers. This may be too late, but I would be interested in people thoughts on the following:

Does the technique of indoor rowing differ from the technique of rowing a boat outdoors? For example, things like you stroke rate. I could imagine that an indoor rower would tolerate a more violent / explosive technique and perhaps a faster stroke rate.

I often wonder if the rowing instruction I hear is geared towards an athlete that is using the C2 rower as a training tool for outdoor rowing. For most of us, the C2 Rower is the beginning and end of our rowing experience. Our primary concern is how fast we can finish.

Thanks again for the great video!


wrote …

Great video!


wrote …

I had the fortunate opportunity to watch Erin teach a group of CrossFit's best at the Again Faster Competition Team Summit in February. Erin amazed me with her presence and mastery of the sport of rowing. Her attention to detail and focus on speed and power reminded me of the great teaching style that Coach Burgner uses, and it works. She is an awesome coach and athlete, and a wonderful part of the CrossFit family.


Sean Villagracia wrote …

Amazingly informative! This video opened up my eyes to so much! I can't wait to get back on the rower. I'll definitely try this when I get into the box tomorrow... that is... after WOD #1...


Jan van Delden wrote …

Rowers try to get max efficiency from the C2, so do not worry about that. The technique (= the movement) is not really different from rowing on the water. The feeling is different.
In the boat the seat and the foot stretcher( + boat) both move. The C2 has a fixed foot stretcher, so the body has to move all the way to the catch. This means, that on the ergometer your body mass is moving over a larger distance, than it does in the boat. In the boat you also pull the foot stretcher (and the boat) to your seat, your body mass is higher than the weight of the boat. ( a mens eight weighs around 100 kg, eight heavyweight rowers weigh 750 kg). The speed of the boat is highest during the recovery phase.
The new model C2 has a moving seat and foot stretcher, this ergometer will feel more like rowing on the water.
On the C2 it is very important to to control the movement (body mass) to the catch. Just moving back and forth over a long way costs a lot of energy. You only want to spend energy on the stroke, and the recovery phase should be relaxed and effortless.
Moving to fast forward, or accelaration of the bodymass towards the catch makes it harder to change the direction at the catch.

On the video: When Erin holds the handle, she could not see exactly what Rory was doing. She felt the pressure that was on the handle, and feeling was ok.
But..... Rory was making overextension with his spine, instead of engaging only quads and his posterior chain, and hold the spine neutral (or even a litle rounded). His first movement is overextension when he changes the direction at the catch, instead pushing from the footstretcher and hang on the handle with his bodyweight and active hips


replied to comment from Scott Bolan


There is a lot more technique/finesse required to be effective on the water (feathering the oar, balancing the shell, quick catches, and clean releases. . What Erin and other rowing specialists teach is the common requirements between water/erg for efficient, effective application of force in order to maximize power. In the case of the erg, useful power is measured at the flywheel.

The effect of inefficiencies are amplified on the water. The technique required to minimize these inefficiencies has been forged on the water and translated back to the machine for us by an elite, Olympic-medal-winning athlete (how awesome is that)?

To put some value on improved rowing efficiency: let's say an athlete typically score 20 at the end of her second round of Fight-Gone-Bad and then 15 wallballs at the beginning of the third round. If she learned some simple corrections to her rowing mechanics she might still target 20 for the row, not get so gassed, and hit 25 wallballs in round three. Your athlete just hit a PR by 10 by moving a little closer to virtuosity then she was before.

Thanks Erin for a great tutorial. I hope people recognize what a huge accomplishment it is to do what you've done in the sport of rowing--esp. at 5'9". We're lucky to have in the CF community.


wrote …

Loved this video. Learned a lot from this than the previous rowing video. It is real easy to look up rowing workouts, but harder to find exactly how to maximize power and being more proficient.

since i am a shorter and lighter crossfitter, i struggle with the row. I can go side by side and the taller athlete will rack up more meters/calories in the same time frame. it gets very frustrating.

plus erin is real easy on the eyes :)


wrote …

Just curious if a lack of flexibilty and/or having the heels come off the platform with the hamstrings turned off could lead to plantar fasciaitis? I put in a lot of rowing in the fall and developed a bad case in my left heel but since I started doing light running and removed the rowing I've started to feel a little better.


Gabriel Haas wrote …

Great video! I had never rowed before CrossFit and find it very challenging to do properly. This helps a lot. I'm excited to row next time I'm in the gym (and I'm never excited to row). :)


wrote …

Erin runs an excellent course that is jam packed with information to make both athletes faster and coaches better. I highly recommend it. Thanks for bringing so much to the CF community, Erin!


wrote …

Wondeful video! Thank you for posting.


wrote …

Another Great Video !

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