Recently in Rowing Category

Back in February of 2007, Concept2 co-founder Peter Dreissigacker wrote an article in the CrossFit Journal (issue 54) about how to prepare for an indoor rower test. That article concentrated mainly on the type of workouts to include in a training schedule in the final few weeks leading up to a race. It also touched on the basics of how to construct a race plan.

Over the years I have witnessed many people who have failed to race to their potential because they didn't pace the race correctly. This is either because they didn't know how to, or because they got carried away by the excitement of race conditions. Having the right race plan--and sticking to it--makes a big difference both for your performance and for your enjoyment of the experience of indoor racing. In this article I will look in more detail at constructing a race plan and how to avoid making costly mistakes.

I will use the 1000-meter distance in the examples below (in part because at the CrossFit Games this July there will be an opportunity to win an indoor rower by taking part in a 1000-meter race), but the same basic principles could be applied to any race distance.

Your pace The first question you need to answer is what time are you realistically capable of for the given distance? If you have never raced over 1000 meters before then you will need to use the results of your training sessions and performances over other distances to approximate a time. If you have ever raced over 2000 meters, then a reasonable starting guideline is that your pace (that is, your pace per 500 meters as shown on the monitor) over 1000 meters should be around five seconds faster than your pace for 2000 meters.

Alex Dunne works with international markets for Concept2. He is a former English lightweight oarsman who rowed competitively on the water throughout the 1990s. Alex plays a variety of sports and he continues to compete on the indoor rower. In 2006 he won the 2000-meter race in the Master Men's age 30-39 lightweight category at the C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championships with a time of 6:44.5.

Greg Hammond of Concept2 Rowing continues the rowing lesson and troubleshooting he started in video articles in January's and February's Journal issues. In this installment, he works with an audience member on the finer points of an already-strong stroke, focusing on keeping a slow but powerful and consistent stroke rate and cadence, maintaining good head position, moving the handle and seat in sync, avoiding "diving" into the catch, getting the elbows in the best position, and so on. He goes on to answer questions and explain additional points such as the technique for starting from a dead stop to get up to speed quickly and safely and how to determine the damper settings for various kinds of rowing pieces and body types.

Greg Hammond has worked for Concept2 Rowing for 11 years, most recently as a liaison to the CrossFit community and to fire and police departments and moto/action sports groups. He has a bachelor's degree in health science and formerly owned and operated a fitness business called Hammond Corporate Wellness. He was a crash rescue firefighter for the Air National Guard for 8 years and was a longtime rugby player until he took up the safer sport of motocross/enduro riding instead. He has used indoor rowing as part of training for his sports for the past 17 years.

In this video, Hammond mentions a video clip on the CrossFit website in which Angela Hart explains stroke rate in greater detail, using a bicycle wheel to demonstrate. You can find that at

In rowing, the "catch" is the transition between the recovery and the start of the drive. If you were rowing on the water, this is when you would place your blade in the water. Once the blade is in, you would feel the resistance of the water against the blade as you start to push with the legs. On an indoor rowing machine, there is no resistance from water but there is a similar resistance from the flywheel. In either case this transition of moving from the recovery to the drive, if not done correctly, can take away from the power of the drive and make your rowing stroke less eficient than it could be.

Transitioning from the recovery to the drive is like running wind sprint indoors. If you run full speed toward a wall, you know that you need to slow down (decelerate) so that you don't crash into the wall. If you decelerate smoothly, you are able to stop yourself without feeling your momentum continuing toward the wall and then spring off the wall and change direction. If done right, it feels coordinated and powerful. Another example is squat jumps, where you need to control the landing so that you can spring up again. Landing without control makes it harder to do the next jump. You won't be able to go as high and it will seem slow. When you row, the same principles apply. It is all about control and applying the power at the right moment.

Tom Bohrer has over 20 years experience rowing and coaching. He is a two-time Olympic silver medalist (1988 and 1992) and a three-time medalist at the World Championships. In 1989, he was voted U.S. Rowing Athlete of the Year. He is currently the head rowing coach at the Union Boat Club in Boston, where he trains rowers of all levels. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). You can send questions to Tom at or go to his web site for more training information.

Greg Hammond of Concept2 Rowing continues the rowing lesson he started in last month's video article. Here, he offers tips on efficiency and troubleshoots a full slate of common technique problems.

Being able to see the problems and corrections in video makes them easy to understand and correct. Some of the key takeaways that Hammond demonstrates:

  • The first couple inches of the drive, beginning at the catch, are the most important part of the stroke. You need to generate drive power right off the bat.
  • The body is like a pendulum, with the torso beginning in forward inclination, swinging over the hip, and ending with a slight backward lean. The recovery phase traces the same pattern in reverse.
  • The recovery should be slower than the drive. Think of compressing the body like a spring: the recovery phase is a controlled compressing of the spring, and then it explodes back out from the catch.
  • The back will be slightly rounded throughout the stroke, not fully upright and erect.
  • Keep the chain straight, taut, and level, moving back and forth in a straight line at all times.

Hammond also demonstrates and explains how to correct one of the most common and ugliest problems on the rower--arcing the hands up over the knees on the recovery phase. The hands should move quickly, and straight forward, out of the finish position, leading the body toward the front. The knees do not bend until the hands pass over them.

Greg Hammond has worked for Concept2 Rowing for 11 years, most recently as a liaison to the CrossFit community and to fire and police departments and moto/action sports groups. He has a Bachelor's degree in health science and formerly owned and operated a fitness business called Hammond Corporate Wellness. He was a Crash Rescue Firefighter for the Air National Guard for 8 years and was a longtime rugby player until he took up the safer sport of motocross/enduro riding instead. He has used indoor rowing as part of training for his sports for the past 17 years.

Compared to the complexities of rowing a boat on the water, indoor rowing presents few technical challenges. There are no balance issues to contend with on the erg. You don't have to feather or square your blade. There is no splashing water or risk of capsize; the coach can be standing directly next to the athlete; and everyone stays nice and warm rowing inside. All this gives you a wonderful opportunity to really get hands-on, back to basics work on the fundamental body positions and mechanics for rowing both on and off the water. If you're coaching rowers, you can have them row in front of mirrors or take video and show it right away so they get an image of what they are doing right or wrong. Show them how to relax their shoulders and how to engage their lats as they start the drive. The possibilities are nearly endless. However, in all the things I talk about in the stroke, I think I spend most of my time talking about the feet, which are so often overlooked in discussions of rowing technique.

Once I realized myself how important it is to keep contact with the feet on the foot stretchers for the final push at the finish, what it feels like to have your weight low in the feet compared to the upper body, and how to push off the balls of the feet at the catch--and how this can improve your rowing tremendously--I began to coach this to my rowers.

I am often asked, "What makes the indoor rower any better than other forms of equipment for metcon [metabolic conditioning] training?"

The typical measure of aerobic exercise is elevated heart rate, which increases blood flow, bringing oxygen to power the muscles, and of course, a lot of heavy breathing. All this elevated activity of the lungs and heart trains and conditions the cardiovascular system. Rowing, though, has some unique advantages over other forms of aerobic training that are often overlooked.

More muscle mass
The advantage of rowing is that more muscle mass is used doing the activity than while running, walking or biking. Your legs, glutes, abdominals, back, shoulders, and arms are all being worked. Of course, as with anything, the actual amount of work being done, and the amount of power being generated, relates to how hard you push yourself. Even on a rowing machine you can just paddle easily, or you can train like an Olympian.

Greater range of motion
Rowing puts all your major body parts through a large range of movement. This is not true of many other forms of aerobic activity. In every stroke, rowing requires full compression and full extension of the arms and legs. Consider the joint rotation during the rowing movement: the ankle rotates through 70 degrees, the knees 130, the hip 80, the shoulder and elbow each about 100.

In this video article, Greg Hammond of Concept2 Rowing coaches the basics of technique on the indoor rowing machine. He works with two quite different CrossFit athletes in front of an audience to demonstrate rowing fundamentals and corrects their various mistakes in real time, with obvious positive results.

The point is clear: Faster rowing doesn't come from faster movement (i.e., higher stroke rate). It is the result, rather, of more power transfer and increased efficiency. In short, better, faster rowing (i.e., increased output) comes from better technique. (Maybe you've heard this argument before, in a few other contexts...?) Hammond and his volunteer models explain some of the specifics of what that really means when you're the one in the seat.

Greg Hammond has worked for Concept2 Rowing for 11 years, most recently as a liaison to the CrossFit community and to fire and police departments and moto/action sports groups. He has a Bachelor's degree in health science and formerly owned and operated a fitness business called Hammond Corporate Wellness. He was a Crash Rescue Firefighter for the Air National Guard for 8 years and was a longtime rugby player until he took up the safer sport of motocross/enduro riding instead. He has used indoor rowing as part of training for his sports for the past 17 years.

Some of you may remember reading Peter Dreissigacker's article here last winter about training for a personal record (PR) in a 2000m indoor rowing time trial. He also described the CRASH-B Sprints, a.k.a. the World Indoor Rowing Championships, held each February in Boston. Well, it's almost indoor rowing race season again, and this time we're giving you some lead time so you can fine- tune your 2K PR in time to test yourself at the nearest official satellite regatta.

There is a whole series of satellite indoor races held around the U.S. and Canada leading up to the CRASH- B's. These races are open to everyone; no qualifying time required. They all offer the 2K race distance; some also offer longer or shorter events, and some run relays as well.

Every year, up to four qualifiers are identified from each satellite race to receive funding from Concept2 for the trip to compete at the CRASH-B's. Qualification is based on meeting a pre-established qualifying time for your gender, weight class, and age group. The full list of qualifying times can be found on Concept2's CRASH-B page.

Up here in northern Vermont the weather is finally getting warmer. The ice left the lakes at the end of April, and the water temperature is now into the 60s and climbing. If you're a rower, this means you are no doubt starting to feel the irresistible urge to get back on the water. Indoor rowing is terrific exercise, but it will never be quite the same as skimming across the surface of the water in a narrow streamlined racing shell entirely under your own power, feeling the boat surge forward with every stroke you take.

But what is so great about rowing on the water? In reality, indoor rowing offers a number of key advantages even for the hardcore on-water competitor. For an athlete using rowing as a tool to achieve superb fitness, is there really any reason to get on the water? In this article we'll explore that question by addressing the similarities and differences between these two variations of the samesport, and the different benefits they have to offer.

Then you can decide whether to take the plunge and see if real rowing floats your boat, as it were.

Rowing Workouts

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Once you’ve mastered the essentials of rowing technique, you can work to improve your rowing piece times and your score on CrossFit workouts that include rowing, such as "Jackie," "Fight Gone Bad," and "Tabata This." The ultimate goal is to generate maximal power on the rowing machine and maximize the number of calories or watts you can row in a set amount of time, with the lowest possible 500-meter pace times. Time spent on the rowing machine will accomplish both goals in addition to continually improving technique and efficiency.

In addition to training on the rower alone in various time and power domains, you can use rowing in nearly infinite combinations with other exercises to create workouts that cover a broad range of training modalities and goals. Here are some workouts incorporating rowing to get you started.

People often ask us at Concept2 what the damper on our rower does and where to set it for the best workout. The damper setting is important, but it does not determine how much actual work you are doing when you row.

Selecting a damper setting is not like selecting how much weight to put on a bar. In the case of the bar, if for one workout you load it with 100 pounds and lift it 10 times, and for the next workout you put 110 pounds on for 10 reps, you have clearly done more work in the second workout. The rower, or "erg," is different. It does not determine how much work you do; rather, it responds to the amount of force you put into the exercise. The more force you put into each stroke, the more resistance you will feel.

Rowing on the erg is really about producing power, and here I would like to clarify what I mean by power. Power is often confused with force, and, although related, they are different. Force applied over a distance yields work. Work integrated over time yields power. By this definition, lifting 10 pounds two feet is the same amount of work as lifting 20 pounds one foot. And if both those lifts are accomplished in one second, they require the same amount of power. Obviously, the speed movement of the two-foot lift would be greater than the speed of the one-foot lift if they both take one second.

Would you like to hone your indoor rowing training to target the specific areas where you need it most?

There’s a powerful source of international training data available on the Internet. Since 1999, rowers all over the world have been entering their personal best times for a variety of race distances on Concept2 rowers into a database called the Online World Ranking. The tests range from a 500-meter sprint to the 42-kilometer marathon, and the age groups range from under 18 to over 80. Men, women, lightweights, and heavyweights have all been submitting their times. There are now thousands of data points collected here. The database is easy to access, free, and searchable, so it’s easy to pull out just the data that you want.

OK, great. But why should you care about someone else’s rowing results? How can other people’s data help you to become faster and fitter?

There are a number of ways that you can use this data to improve your own fitness, from setting goals to monitoring progress to analyzing strengths and weaknesses.

Competition is an incredible motivator. But even when the on-water season is over and rowing moves indoors for the winter, there are plenty of opportunities for competition, both against others and with yourself. In February of 1982, less than six months after Concept2 made our first rowing ergometer, a group of Olympic oarsmen in Boston organized the first "fun" indoor rowing competition. A friend called us and said, "We are going to hold a race on six of your ergs. Come on down and have some fun... Oh, and can you bring some T shirts for prizes?" I only wish I had come up with the idea. Today, rowers all over the world gather at these indoor rowing events, the largest of which involve more than 2000 people, many of whom have never rowed on the water. They come to test themselves in an atmosphere that literally pulls their best performance out of them.

I will be participating in this year’s C.R.A.S.H.-B (Charles River All-Star Has-Beens, named by and for its founders in 1980) international world indoor rowing championships at the end of February in the 55-to-59 age group. At 55, I regard being on the young end of that range as just more pressure to do well. This is a 2000-meter race, but my take on how to approach a race would be the same for a 500-meter or 30-minute test.

Rowing, obviously, is a speed sport. The rowers who complete 2000 meters in the fastest time take home gold medals. When you train on an indoor rowing machine, speed is critical, but power output is equally important. Assessing speed and power combined gives a more complete picture of the athlete than measuring speed alone.

In CrossFit workouts, we often have participants of varying sizes competing against each other for space on the white board. Obviously, having a larger mass is beneficial and enables the athlete to pull faster times, cover more meters, and burn a greater number of calories. (This is one of the reasons that on-the-water rowing competitions divide athletes into lightweight and heavyweight categories.) To make results as comparable as possible—and as meaningful as possible in terms of power output and intensity—we can calculate each participant’s power ratio, which is the total wattage he or she generates divided by body weight (in pounds).

Rowing Technique

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What makes rowing popular with elite athletes and CrossFitters is exactly what many in the general fitness population dislike about it: your weaknesses cannot be hidden on the rowing machine. It is a human polygraph of physical and mental performance. Stroke for stroke, you are provided with feedback that both reveals any weak spots and very visibly demonstrates the relationship between performance and proper technique. If you want faster times, better scores, and superior performance, work to improve your rowing technique so you can harness your full potential.

Rowing engages all the major muscles of the body and works multiple joints through a large range of motion in a natural, powerful sequence in a no-impact manner. However, proper rowing technique is not an innate skill; mastering it requires instruction. The rowing stroke is very similar to a deadlift. In the drive (work) phase, the legs initiate the power, and arms remain straight. Then the hip flexors and torso muscles maintain the power through the leg and hip drive. Finally, the arms finish the stroke with an accelerating pull toward the torso that completes the smooth handoff of power from lower body to torso to upper body.

Rowing ergometer times are dominated by heavier athletes. Check out the Concept II rankings for lightweight and heavyweights at every distance. Ergometer rowing is a heavyweight’s game!

The reasons for this are a complex blend of physics and physiology, and the influences differ from one type of ergometer to another and from shorter to longer distances. In fact, the science of rowing and ergometers gives ample opportunity to brush up on a lot of basic physiology, physics, and mathematics.

Tim Granger of Cambridge University has developed an algorithm that allows us to compare rowing scores at different weights. There are some inherent limitations, and Tim explains these on his site, but overall this is an excellent method to handicap rowing scores so that we can compare achievements.
For instance, using this algorithm we find that a 220-pound (100-kg) male with a 7-minute 2,000 meters equates to a 165-pound (75-kg) male rowing a 7:30 2,000 meters.

Our purpose here is to show specifically how a simple goal, like rowing a seven-minute two thousand meters, can not only be systematically and deliberately approached from multiple protocols, but can generally encourage similar thinking in pursuing other fitness milestones.

Set the rowing ergometer for two thousand meters, row, and note the time at completion. Repeated regularly, the time to complete the two thousand meters will fall. Eventually, you may pass under the seven-minute mark and become one of the “better rowers.” This is one obvious and common approach to training for a 7 minute 2K on a rower (2K/7).

Let’s look at another approach. Set the rower for seven minutes and row, and note the distance on completion. Gradually, the distance for the seven minutes will increase. Eventually, you may pass the two thousand meter mark and become one of the “better rowers.”

The two approaches, “distance priority vs. time priority,” represent distinct yet converging processes for reaching the 2K/7.
These two approaches suggest a third: hold the rate constant for as much time or as many meters as possible.


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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Rowing category.

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