Row Row Row Your Best

CrossFit Rowing

In all my work with athletes over the past 25 years, the most impressive group I have ever seen in regards to the combination of power, strength, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, overall fitness and body composition is crew athletes. Are you surprised? If so, you may need to spend a little more time on the rower.

As a CrossFit athlete, you were most likely introduced to the rower through an On-Ramp program or at least by a trainer who understands the basic biomechanics of the rowing stroke. The problem is that after the stroke is shown and described, trainers often don’t spend time critiquing rowing technique like they do other CrossFit movements. What can soon result is bad technique adopted by default.

However, maintaining proper technique on the rower works all the major muscle groups of the core, arms and legs in a balanced manner. Rowing with good technique and with high intensity burns a tremendous amount of calories and improves upper- and lower-body power (measured in watts). So what constitutes good rowing technique? Read on.

The Rowing Stroke

The rowing stroke is divided into four parts: the recovery, the catch, the drive and the finish. Compare your technique to the optimal coordinated movement pattern described here.

CrossFit Rowing

1. The Recovery

The recovery is the part of the stroke in which your body is sliding forward from the “finish” position back to the “catch.” It is indeed “recovery” — when you feel little to no muscular tension in your lats or arms.

From the finish position, allow the natural movement of the handle to draw your hands out away from your body (fig. a) until they are almost completely straight. Make sure your arms are relaxed, not locked out (fig. b). As soon as your hands clear your knees, let your knees bend (fig. b) and allow the seat to slide forward. Now you can extend your arms until they straighten.

At this point, as you near the “catch” position (the most forward point in the stroke), pivot from the hips and make sure you are leaning your body forward. How much? Lean so that your upper body is in the 1 o’clock position (fig. c).

As you enter the catch, maintain a tight core and keep your feet flat. (Don’t rock onto your toes.) Your shins should end up vertical, and there should be no space between your thighs and your torso (fig. d).

CrossFit Rowing

2. The Catch

At the catch, body position is crucial. If you enter the drive phase out of position, the muscular force you produce will not be efficiently applied to the stroke. Do a quick body check. Your arms should now be straight with your shoulders level and in front of your hips. Avoid the common problem of hunching your shoulders. Your head should be in a neutral position (fig. a).

It’s important to make sure your shins do not go beyond perpendicular to the floor (fig. b). You should feel that your bodyweight is hanging off the handle and that the resistance you are feeling is the balls of your feet making contact with the footplate (fig. c). Before you start the stroke, you will feel suspended, with hardly any of your weight on your seat.

Now, this is a crucial point. At the bottom of the catch, your lower body must be “engaged and connected” to the handle (fig. d). This means that as you stop your forward motion, you need to let the handle begin to apply tension as it slows to a stop. You should begin to feel your lats and trapezius being “engaged” (fig. e). (The tension in the lats is felt most often just under the shoulders.) If you engage them fully and correctly, the entire stroke will be more powerful and efficient.

At this point, at which your arms are straight, lats are engaged and thighs are against your torso (fig. f),you should feel “loaded” and ready for the drive. When you are in this position, it helps to remember that rowing is a pushing sport, not a pulling one.

Breathing Rhythm

Try to match the rhythm of your breathing to the rhythm of your rowing stroke. Here’s a tip from elite rowers: At low intensities, take one breath per stroke. Exhale gradually on the drive, expelling all remaining air at the finish. Inhale on the recovery.

As you row harder, add a second, shorter, breath per stroke. Exhale as you finish the drive. During the recovery, inhale and then exhale quickly. Inhale again just before the catch.

Perhaps what is most vital here is that you create a breathing pattern that works for you and that you maintain that pattern throughout your rowing workout. The unimpeded and regular supply of oxygen ensures efficient function of your cardiovascular system.

CrossFIt Rowing

3A. The Drive: Early

Keeping your arms straight and maintaining the same torso position (the 1 o’clock position), drive your feet hard against the footplate (fig. a). It’s your powerful quadriceps that provide the force to accelerate the handle. Your shoulders should stay loose and your arms straight (fig. b). Think of your arms during the early drive as being like steel hooks from your shoulders to the handle.

About one-third of the way through the stroke, or when the handle is just in front of your knees (fig. c),you can begin to add to the force of your quads by leaning your body back (extending at the hip) to the 11 o’clock position. Up to this point, your thighs have been against your torso — like they were in the bottom of the catch — but by extending away from your thighs, your powerful hip extensors will begin to work with your continued leg drive.

Remember, the key to maintaining a good stroke rate while increasing intensity is applying a good deal of power during the early drive and keeping your recovery under control. A forceful push or explosion here can set a successful pace.

CrossFit Rowing

3B. The Drive: Late

When your knees are near full extension (fig. a) and your back has reached the 11 o’clock position (fig. b), it’s time to add the final power components to keep the handle accelerating. Up to this point, you have not bent your elbows. Now it’s time to “draw” your hands powerfully into your body (fig. c). Pull your hands directly back to your lower ribs. This brings your lats, brachioradialis, biceps and rear deltoids into action.

A common mistake here is to flex at the wrists. Be careful to avoid that; your wrist flexors are no match for your lats. In other words, make sure your wrists stay flat.

In the final part of this draw, you can begin to add force from your shoulders. Think about retracting your shoulder blades as your shoulders move back in a relaxed, flat plane toward the finish position.

In the two phases of the drive, you can see how maximal power is achieved by the appropriate sequencing of contributing muscles from strongest to weakest. You start first with the legs (quadriceps and glutes), then get contribution from the hip extensors (lower back) and end with the arms and shoulders (brachioradialis, biceps, rear deltoids, lats, trapezius, rhomboids).

CrossFit Rowing

4. The Finish

At the point at which your knees are fully extended, you are at the “finish.” Make sure you have completed the pull completely so that the handle is held lightly at your lower ribs, about solar-plexus level.

Your upper body should be in the 11 o’clock position with good support from tight core muscles. Your head should be in a neutral position, chest high, neck and shoulders relaxed, and elbows drawn past the body with a flat wrist.

Two Factors to Monitor

Even if your technique matches the above patterns, there are still two movement-related issues that can throw you off. First, athletes often have a habit of rushing the recovery. Don’t try to pull yourself forward to the catch in order to speed up the recovery phase. (It’s called “recovery” for a reason!) Even in brief, hard events such as those used in CrossFit workouts, it’s important to give the body a chance to recover before the hard push of the drive.

So how do you know what that recovery pace should feel like? Keep this in mind: Your drive-to-recovery ratio should be 1:2. In other words, your recovery should take twice as long as your drive.

Second, be careful not to grip the handle too tightly. This can become especially difficult to avoid when rowing with high intensity because the natural instinct is to grip the handles with the same level of intensity as the exercise demands. Instead, work on holding the handle in your fingers, not your hands. Throughout the stroke, your grip should be loose and flexible enough so that you feel as if your fingers are hooking the handle.

Bob LeFavi, Ph.D., CSCS, USAW, is a professor of sports medicine at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., and is a 2013 Games competitor in the Master’s division.

Choosing a Damper Setting

Ever wonder what number you should have the “damper” on? A damper (you know — it’s that lever on the side of the flywheel housing that controls how much air flows into the cage) on a rower is very similar to a bicycle gearing mechanism. That is, the damper affects how rowing feels but it does not directly affect the resistance.

The higher the damper setting, the more air is allowed into the flywheel housing. And with more air, more work will be required to spin the flywheel against that air. Not only that, but more air also slows the flywheel down more quickly during the recovery, thereby requiring more work to accelerate it on the next stroke.

A lower damper setting allows less air into the flywheel housing, making it easier to spin the flywheel. It’s like shifting to easier gears on a bike. But do not confuse a damper setting with intensity level or resistance. The intensity of your workout is directly related to how much power you develop in your legs, back and arms to move the handle; in other words, how hard you push. (Notice I did not say “pull.”) Regardless of the damper number, the harder you push, the more resistance you will feel.

Many athletes wrongly assume that rowing on the highest setting will result in their best score. Not necessarily. This is where the performance monitor on the rower can help.

The monitor measures how much your flywheel is slowing down — called the “drag factor” — between each stroke. On each subsequent stroke, the monitor uses the drag from the previous stroke to calculate how much work is being performed. Consequently, your true effort is determined regardless of the damper setting. This measurement is what allows coaches to compare different athletes on different rowers. But be careful. Differences in air temperature, elevation and even how much lint is caught in the flywheel housing can make the same damper settings feel different from rower to rower.

Your fitness goals also affect your choice of setting. For instance, if you’re interested in developing your cardiovascular system, you would want to avoid a damper setting that is too high. A high setting will be more likely to fatigue your musculature before you begin to tax your cardiovascular system. In general, lower damper settings are optimal for workouts aimed at stressing aerobic metabolism, while higher damper settings make rowing more of an anaerobic or strength workout.

Experiment with different settings. You will soon find the damper setting and drag factor that work best for you. Don’t know where to start? A standard recommendation is to start with a damper setting of three to five.

Read More: The Box Mag

Weekly Updates

Revised Labor Day Week Schedule:

RADD Fitness classes will meet Monday 8/25 – Wednesday 8/27. There will be no RADD Fitness classes Thursday 8/28 and Saturday 8/30.

Monday 8/25 – Saturday 8/30: All Group Classes will meet! No classes are canceled.

Open Gym: No Open Gym on Thursday 8/28

Sunday: 8:30 & 9:30 AM classes only!

Monday: Closed

Nicholas Pedone 5K:

All money raised will go to the Nicholas Pedone Foundation.

When: Sunday, September 7th (Race starts at 9:30 AM)

Where: Glen Cove High School (150 Dosoris Lane)

Register: Click Here

Spartan Race:

The race is on Saturday September 6th at Mountain Creek. Mountain Creek Resort is home to the largest ski hill in NJ which makes the perfect location for a Super Spartan. Matt and Erick have already signed up and want you to sign up too!

Register here

More info here

RADD Fitness: 

Monday – Thursday at 10:30 AM

Saturday at 11:30 AM

Email if you are interested in this program. 

CrossFit and Pregnancy

Many people hold strong opinions on physical activity while pregnant, and coaches at CrossFit 806 encourage their expecting mothers to remain active. CrossFit can be scaled for any athlete, so the women modify movements and listen to their bodies as they train. While some have been through multiple pregnancies while doing CrossFit, one woman started the program at eight months along—and they all say it makes them feel great.

“Any movement I did made me feel 100 times better even if it (was) just stretching that first 10 minutes with the class and having the encouragement of everybody around me,” says Holly Brister, who has done CrossFit through two pregnancies.

A knowledgeable coaching staff and a doctor’s advice fuel the baby train at CrossFit 806.

“There are certain things that you have to be aware of when you’re pregnant and exercising; however, it’s better to remain healthy, active and in the best shape you can,” says Dr. George Barnett.

And it’s nothing new, says Hannah Haning, a coach who has done CrossFit through one pregnancy.

“Women have been lifting and doing things during their pregnancy for all of time,” Haning says. “It’s not something that’s just magically changed overnight.”

More: CrossFit Journal

Bad Fads

Health mistakes you don’t want to make…

These days, you can’t turn on the television, listen to the radio or scan the Internet without being bombarded by advertisements offering easy alternatives to achieving a healthy life. Some might offer weight loss, while others promise immediate energy, but don’t succumb to the blissful sounding bull these companies spout. Beware of these fads that are nothing but bad.

Pills: I don’t care what they promise, what color they are or how frequently you take them. They will not suddenly provide you the wellness you so desire. I’m not discounting the uses of legitimate prescription medications. I’m talking about the bottle of magic you can buy online that suggests it can cure all by helping you lose weight, get toned and feel great. Most of these pills are packed with crap you don’t need or want in your body, so don’t buy into the idea that pill popping is a productive means to achieving a rockin’ bod or positive bodily affects. It’s your daily routine and all that goes into it that can get you on track to look and feel great.

Cleanses: Perhaps there is a time and place for a short cleanse. I’m not a doctor so I won’t debate that. But it maddens me to hear radio ads encouraging people to forget about exercise and forget about eating healthy. (Complete Nutrition has one out now that states this word for word). It claims the way to lose weight is a cleanse. Well no sh*t. If anybody has an intake purely consisting of fluids with minimal calories, weight will be lost. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, and that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. Your best bet to achieve a healthy weight and a well body is good food for fuel and regular activity. Kick the cleanses to the curb.
Getting Ripped in Minutes: Here’s the deal. You will not get ripped by doing a three-minute ab video or 10 leg lifts in your living room each night. What the videos and the advertisements neglect to mention is that sweat, heavy breathing and healthy practices in all areas of life are the only real ways to get super lean the right way. Although minimal movement is better than none, don’t let the shredded instructors fool you into thinking a video lasting only minutes is how they got their muscular glutes.

Obvious Oddballs: Although I like to believe the bulk of the population are capable of demonstrating common sense, turns out people will try anything if they think it means results without work. Something to bear in mind on your quest for health and wellness: If it sounds ridiculous, it probably is. Swishing oil in your mouth for 20 minutes is silly. Eating only grapefruit for weeks is lame. And any machine offering miraculous results (weight shaker, thigh master and ab roller) are a waste of money. You’re better off saving that cash and investing in some local organic goods and a fitness regimen that keeps you motivated and accountable.

I’m all for experimentation. CrossFit, for example, would not have come about without somebody branching out and trying something new. But I think the bad fads are fairly easy to identify. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it promises something that seems unattainable, it is. And if it seems like something you can’t maintain, you won’t. Use your noggin and put your energy into things you can control. Don’t take the lazy way out. Instead, put in the time and effort and go after whatever it is you want: a lean physique, healthy habits or just a better life in general. It takes years to develop bad habits, and it may take years to transition to good habits. But bad fads will only delay your journey, so forget them and get started on the path of persistence. There is no substitute for hard work.

Abi Reiland
Co-Owner/Trainer, CrossFit 8035
More: The Box Mag

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