by Gemma Arnott

A couple of weekends ago, we had the pleasure of hosting Front Range CrossFit rowing coach Jon Kissick for an instructional rowing clinic. ‘Big Jon’ is a two-time collegiate national champion in Rowing and a five-year member of the US National Rowing Team. Jon has two Pan Am Games gold medals, a bronze and a 5th place finish at the World Rowing Championships, and a Gold Medal from the Goodwill Games. Thank you to all of our athletes that came out to learn from Jon; if you missed it, fear not! Our coaches and interns learned a lot about how to better coach rowing, and we’re going to share some tips here with you now.

First of all, why row?

Very simply: rowing is a highly effective aerobic activity. Jon shared with us that when Olympic athletes are tested for cardiovascular & respiratory endurance, time and again the top performers are cyclists, cross-country skiers and rowers. Rowers have greater muscle mass than cyclists and skiers, and thus closely resemble CrossFitters. Using rowers in metabolic conditioning will increase our CrossFit capacity across the board.

So, how do we row properly?

Many of us avoid or dislike rowers because it wears us out or hurts our backs. If done properly, rowing is very low impact work with low risk of injury. Before getting into the step-by-step, there are a few key points to remember even if you forget everything else.

-- Never, never arch your back or lose proper lumbar curve. This is what causes the low back irritation; your rowing will improve immensely if you remember to keep a proud chest.

-- Similarly, never pull from your back. Just like a deadlift, clean, press, etc., all of the power in rowing comes from the legs. Always tighten your quads and fully extend your legs before your back ever moves.

-- Your butt should be further back on the seat than you may be used to, so your spine stacks right over your ‘sit bones’. The front of the seat should cut right across your hamstrings.

-- The feet pads may also need to be higher than you’re used to: the strap should go across the middle of your foot, or the bottom of your laces on most shoes.

Here we go!

  1. Begin in the ‘catch’ position, with your butt and feet in the positions described above. Keep a wide grip on the handle.
  2. Keeping your back straight, arms straight, and eyes forward, move the seat and handle in unison.
  3. Fully extend and engage your legs. At this point your back is straight, but your hips are folded over and arms are hanging.
  4. Pivot hips backward, keeping arms long.
  5. Finally, once legs are fully extended and hips are more open, pull the handle to your lower ribs. This is the finish position.
  6.  To return to the catch, extend the arms first, pivot the hips forward, and bend the legs last. This is a recovery position, to save energy before you pull again.

In short: legs-pivot hips-arms-chest-arms-pivot hips-legs. (See video below)

CATCH Front of stroke where shins are vertical and reach is complete. (Notice that he is NOT fully compressed.)

DRIVE Power phase of stroke from catch to finish or release.

FINISH End of stroke, where handle is pulled to the bottom of the rib cage.

RECOVERY Relaxation phase of stroke from finish to catch.

And that’s it! This may seem like a lot of information, but we know you’ll all get the hang of it in no time. Our coaches learned several different types of drills to improve rowing, and would love to share them. If you want some additional rowing instruction, just ask!

Additionally, here are some technique videos and instruction:

Another decent video for building a visual image:

A very good technique video by British Rowing coach:

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