Rowing Technique: Adding Pressure to the Drive

Rowing Technique: Adding Pressure to the Drive
by Coach Kasey

The most common rowing error CrossFitters make is wasting energy with an inefficient rowing stroke.  Incorrect rowing technique can tire you out very quickly.  When your technique is more efficient, you will be able to save your lungs and legs for the other parts of the workout.

Once you master the basic flow of the stroke, the next thing to figure out is how to correctly apply pressure on the drive. If you cannot apply pressure going from the catch to the finish, then you will not be maximizing your distance traveled or calorie output.

There are few things worse than coming off of the rowing portion of a CrossFit WOD overly fatigued and still having reps to finish.  You may have experienced this during the final 2015 Open workout, a simple but brutal couplet of rowing and thrusters.


Suffering during 15.5.

Open WOD 15.5 (photo by Mead Jackson)


If you didn’t have proper technique on the erg, your heart rate was probably spiked and your legs most likely felt dead. Getting off the erg after rowing with poor form and then having to do thrusters is a killer. You can make this easier and improve your WOD times by becoming a more efficient and powerful rower.

Here are the basic steps on how to create a powerful drive…

1. Prepare for the Drive

Have the correct set up going into the catch on your Recovery.

The handle will change direction when it reaches the front end of the rowing machine. In case you are not familiar with the components of the erg: The cage is that rectangle box the chain goes through. The handle is connected to the flywheel by the chain. The handle should never touch the cage, but will get close.

There should be a SLIGHT lift in the handle while changing directions to begin the drive.  I mean suuuuuper slight.  Imagine a line cutting the cage in half from top to bottom.  On the recovery, keep the chain just below that imaginary line.  When you start to reverse direction (the drive), make the chain rise just above that imaginary line.  At no point should the chain touch the top or the bottom of the cage. (EVER!)


Here the handle is too high… (photo by Lisa Haefner)


handle too lwo

Now the handle is too low… (photo by Lisa Haefner)



The handle is in the correct position. (photo by Lisa Haefner)


2. How to Get Started with the Drive

Power is initiated at the start of the drive. It needs to come from a very aggressive jump. This is created by pushing through the ball of the foot, and lowering the heel into the foot boards as you move towards the finish.  Even when the heels have made contact, the entire foot should continue to push to finish the drive.



Pushing with the legs before pulling with the arms. (photo by Lisa Haefner)


Think of applying power to the rowing stroke like this: Your car is at a dead stop and you floor the gas pedal. You are applying full pressure, but the car hasn’t gotten to full speed yet. This will be the same feeling you will have at the catch and initiation of the drive during your first rowing strokes.

Once you get the correct sequencing of the stroke, you will then be able to moderate and increase your pressure and stroke rate, without using as much effort because of the correct sequencing of the rowing stroke.

3. Finish the Stroke = Continue to Push with Your Legs!

It’s better to think of the rowing stroke as a pushing motion (of the legs) like the power clean or deadlift. You push primarily with the legs rather than pulling only with your arms to create your power.

Do not get confused with the finish of the stroke where the arms bring the handle into the body. For the majority of the stroke the upper body’s only purpose is to have a solid connection between the handle and the legs. We do this by maintaining tension and stability in the torso and shoulders. Make sure you don’t slouch on the rower. The arms and body swinging back to finish the stroke is used as a follow through after the leg drive.


Still pushing with the legs!

Still pushing with the legs! (photo by Lisa Haefner)


Still not sure if you’re rowing correctly? Our next post will deal with common rowing errors – how to identify and correct them!