Get More Power from Rowing

I'm a rower – on the water and in the gym. I regularly observe rowers and coaches who exercise on their rowing machines with growing frustration. Why am i frustrated?

Because they could get much better results if they only knew one key technique.

Master the rowing machine

If you go to the average gym, CrossFit, or rowing club, you will see a lot of great athletes using the rowing machines.

What difference does it make?

They are different by an order of magnitude. Somehow, those rowers on the water seem to be luring more and more out of a rowing machine, leaving most of the gym rowers for dead.

Two reasons why this happens:

  1. Rowers on the water who use rowing machines understand the concept of relationship and rhythm. This way they can rest more with each stroke and are therefore stronger because they get less tired.
  2. Rowers on the water know how to recruit extra muscle for their endeavors. The more muscles that are put into the strength phase, the faster the flywheel accelerates and the better the numbers.

The basic rudder stroke

Rowing consists of two main parts::

  1. The strength phase – in which you press against the footboard and accelerate the handle and chain in your direction.
  2. The recovery phase– You will rest and return to a compressed posture with your legs bent with the chain retracted in the machine.

An effective strength phase uses the legs, back, and arms to accelerate the handle and chain. So far so good, but I don't see that in the gym.

Most gym rowers don't use their back muscles to speed up the handle and chain.

This is a critical difference to the rowers on the water. I teach that to my customers.

Add back power to your rowing

First, learn which muscles to activate. Finding them and feeling those muscles and knowing how to activate them is probably the hardest part of this technique improvement.

Then I want to show you how to recruit them for your rowing stroke cycle and give you an exercise to practice that will help you build your back muscles into your rowing stroke.

Body Swing Rowing only

Rowers on the water learn technique and effective strength through exercises and exercises. And so I'll show you a drill called Body Swing Only Rowing.

  • Let's start by sitting on the rowing machine.
  • Take the handle and sit with your legs straight, arms straight, and your body leaning forward.
  • The key is that your shoulders are in front of your hips (use a mirror to check this) and that your neck and shoulders are relaxed.

Rowers on the water call this position the catch position. This is achieved by folding through your hips with a straight back. If you have tight glutes and hamstrings, this can be a challenge.

If you can't reach this position, don't do the exercise. You won't gain anything until you can stretch forward in this pose.

Stage one

  • Swing backwards until your shoulders are behind your hips.
  • Keep your legs and arms straight. Then swing back and forth again, using the handle and chain to move the flywheel as you swing.
  • Try not to lean back more than 5-10 degrees.
  • Now make the flywheel spin faster by grabbing your abs just before the backswing.

A strong middle section will help you connect your back swing to the handle and chain without slipping.

Stage two

  • Add the arms to the backswing.
  • As you did in Stage 1, swing your back alone, then add a pull of your arm to speed up the handle and chain as the handle approaches your body.
  • Then straighten your arms and swing forward from your hips.
  • This order is important – arms before body swing.
  • Keep working with a strong core to prevent chain slippage so that the chain will instantly accelerate the flywheel when you start moving. Note that you can do a little backswing before you begin pulling the arm.
  • This is important for activating the back muscles. When rowing, larger muscle groups (legs and back) have to work before smaller muscles (arms).

This is an important skill in developing punching power.

Level three

  • Half the leg drive.
  • Add in half a leg drive. Rowers call this a half slide, and when your legs are 50% straight.
  • Usually this is when your elbows are above your knees.

Stage one is the back. Add stage two, that is, the arms, and then stage three, the legs.

You are now moving the handle and chain faster because more body parts are accelerating the flywheel.

The critical component is the transition from one body part to the next.

Keeping this smooth, keeping the chain taut, and continuing to speed up will get the best results.

Focus on legs-back-arms and do the reverse as you return for another punch.

When you learn this, the big muscles will be strengthened before the small muscles rule.

String it together

Do the exercise with 10 strokes in each phase. Then move to the full sled and use a full leg drive. Try to make the second half of your power phase as if you had done the exercise.

Use the mirror to check your posture. The first half of your strength should only be used with your leg drive. Check that your upper body is sloping forward from your hips with your shoulders. This is an unnatural posture and needs to be learned – but it reinforces the rule of big muscles before small, and therefore it's effective.

The last thing you can practice is rowing while trying to get your legs, back, and arms ready. This is an exaggeration from the normal rowing technique – but it's a great way to get a seriously powerful end to the rowing stroke. And a great way to keep practicing or do a 10-stroke power boost during your workout when you want more strength and the breakdown starts to wear off.

Next we learn the second … relationship and rhythm. But we'll leave that for another day.

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