Rowing Technique: The Stroke

Rowing Technique: The Stroke
by Coach Kasey
(Photos by Lisa Haefner)

This is going to be the first of a series of articles on Rowing. I will focus on explaining the basics of the rowing stroke.  Most CrossFitters struggle performing this technique if they do not have any prior experience with rowing in high school or college.

If done correctly, the rowing stroke is very simple and only consists of two true components:

1) The Recovery: This is the movement to the front of the stroke also known as the Catch.
2) The Drive: This is the movement from the Catch to the Finish, also known as the back of the stroke.

The recovery of the stroke should be much slower than the drive. For instance, a ratio of 3:1 is extreme but a good jumping off point for learning.  Meaning, it takes you three times as long to return to the front end of the rower then it did to perform the actual pull.  If you can figure out how to recover properly, all you need to do is perform each step in reverse to get back to the finish from the catch.

While the stroke only consists of two true components, one can learn the position of the recovery and the drive by thinking of three simple cues, in this order from the Finish Position (Photo 1).

1. Arms Away
2. Body Over
3. Legs Up

This is the sequence the body must move to be in the correct position at the Catch to perform a correct Drive.  If you are out of sequence (for a variety of reasons to be discussed in following posts) then you will not be able to generate power effectively.  Or in general terms, you’ll be working really hard to not go very far on the rower.

What’s most important to remember: once the correct sequence is established, then power can be applied. It is best to think about the drive as a push with the legs instead of a pull with the arms.  The leg drive begins with a jump off of the foot boards (where you strap your feet in), and then the stroke is finished by allowing the arms (and handle) to come in to the sternum at the end of the stroke.

To illustrate these positions, from the back end of the stroke to the front:

1. Finish Position aka Back End of the Stroke
Legs are pressed down, posture is held with a slight lay-back (about 5-10 degrees), handle is pulled into the bottom of the sternum. Everything is repeated in the inverse order to get from the catch (front of the stroke) back to the finish.



2. Arms Away

Handle floats out until arms are straight. Traps stay down – do not shrug the shoulders up.



3. Body Over
Upright posture is maintained while shoulders come in front of the hips. You will pivot over the hips, feeling a stretch in the hamstrings – not bending or stretching through the spine. If your back has a C shape in this position, it’s wrong; you are not setting yourself up to have a good position in the front end.



4. Half-Slide
Legs have started to bend. Heels are still down on the foot boards. Nothing about the body positioning has changed from the Body Over position (3) except that the knees have bent and the seat has moved forward.  The hips are still behind the shoulders in this position.  Letting the hips get in front of the shoulders is one of the most common errors in the stroke, resulting in the seat hitting the heels and a loss of power during the drive.



5. The Catch
Shoulders stay in front of the hips and posture is maintained while the handle reaches the front of the stroke.  The heels come up, but you do not come up onto the toes. Not only is this the end of the recovery, but the beginning of the drive.  It is probably the smallest and shortest part of the stroke, but one of the most important.  There needs to be a quick turn around (switching direction from forward to backward) and an immediate feeling of connection in order for a full pressure stroke to be executed properly.



6. The Drive
Everything is repeated in the inverse order to get from the catch (front of the stroke) back to the finish.

Thinking  about your rowing stroke technique from the Finish Position (1) rather then with the Drive (6) can make it easier.  This is very similar to the concept of working from the hang position down to the floor with Olympic lifts to learn the correct positions before add speed to the movement.

Any questions about Rowing? Please post your questions to comments – they will be featured as topics for future rowing articles.