4 Fundamentals All Rowers Should Be Working On This Winter

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You’re going to get slower before you get faster.

That’s something you’ve probably heard before when talking about making a big athletic technical change. And this statement is mostly true, because making a big change in your technique, foundation, or structure requires you to break old habits, develop the physical strength to apply new ones, and then build the neural pathways to maintain them.

There is an expenditure of energy involved in changing your behavior or movement patterns, and this is where motivation comes in. And in our opinion, this is also where a big set of cajones comes in. You need to have a pair to face the fear of going backward before you move forward. But if you don’t start now, when will you? Bad habits will become more deeply ingrained, which makes breaking them more challenging, and reaching your full potential more difficult.

This winter, we challenge you to work on your fundamentals. To start the journey toward breaking some old habits, and build a better foundation for rowing this spring. Here’s where we think you should start.

1. POSTURE AND SHOULDER CONTROL

It’s incredibly common for rowers to have tight chests, tight shoulders, and bad posture. Sitting for hours, hunching over a computer, and staring at our phones all contribute to poor posture. The fact is, a rounded back is not optimal for creating power, and it can leave you open to injury. As we work toward correcting our rowing posture for the long haul, here’s where you can start.

One of the exercises from the Crossover Symmetry activation protocol

One of the exercises from the Crossover Symmetry activation protocol

Rowfficient Prescription: Crossover Symmetry has created a banded shoulder program that takes 5 minutes a day to complete. We’ve seen it improve countless athletes (used by MLB, PGA, swim, and CrossFit pros) and we don’t travel anywhere without our set. These strategically designed exercises build on one another to create the best possible activation protocol before you hop on the erg or in the boat. We specifically use this system to minimize the risk for rib stress fractures, because a solid shoulder leads to less upper body strain.

Rowing Application: Now work to maintain the scapular control and posture you’re developing with Crossover Symmetry while you’re rowing.

2. CORE STRENGTH

Throwing in sit-ups and planks at the end of a workout is a good start, but that doesn’t develop functional core strength. Rowers need to have a strong enough core to withstand the load of the rowing stroke, over and over, and at intensity. As the accomplished Great Britain coach Robin Williams puts it, “Your legs can only push as hard as your core can withstand.” When your core is very strong, you can maximize the leverage of your body weight against the handle rather than using your muscles to pull the blade through the water.

Rowfficient Athlete Andrew Campbell training the Deadlift

Rowfficient Athlete Andrew Campbell training the Deadlift

Rowfficient Prescription: Start adding Front Squats and Deadlifts into your strength routine. The bottom of a front squat and the initiation of a deadlift both require a lot of core strength. Does this position look familiar? Learn to handle a heavy load on the barbell and you’ll see a great improvement in your catch and mid-drive position, especially under fatigue. Once you establish solid technique (a trainer’s eye is very helpful), we suggest high weight and low reps.

Rowing Application: Now work to maintain this core position while on the recovery and drive of the rowing stroke. A tall chest and engaged core will allow you to use your body weight when creating power.

3. GLUTE ENGAGEMENT

The majority of rowers we work with are quad dominant, meaning their glutes and posterior chain could be doing a lot more work. These huge muscle groups (low back, hips, glutes, hamstrings) should be utilized to create power, but you have to get them firing and strong in order to make this happen consistently.

Rowfficient Prescription: Start working on knees out in any position that requires hip compression: sitting down onto the couch, standing up from your seat, sitting down on the toilet, walking up the stairs…you get the idea. Knees out, knees out, knees out. Warm up for your workout with some banded walks, and practice our Banded Knee Drill on the erg.

Rowing Application: No more knees together rowing. Use your knees out position to create torque though your hips. This will help turn on your glutes and activate your posterior chain.

4. MOBILITY

Tight hips and ankles can prevent us from getting into an ideal catch position and from engaging the large muscle groups during the drive. If we can open up these areas, we reduce risk for injury and open the door for more potential power.

Rowfficient Hip Prescription: Give The Couch Stretch a try --  Start with a pad against a wall and some sort support that you can put your weight through out in front of you.  Get one leg out in front of you while you get your other shin onto the wall behind you making sure that your knee is TOUCHING the wall.  Slowly start to slide your body towards the ground making sure that your chest stays low and your knee maintains contact with the wall.  Once you make it to the ground, slowly start to pick your chest up into the air by walking your hands up your leg that is out in front. Once your chest is vertical with your butt touching your heel, gently squeeze your glutes to increase the stretch more proximally (closer to the hip).  

Rowfficient Ankle Prescription: Start with a band attached to a pole/rig/squat stand so that it is all the way to the floor and a small (6 inch) box a couple of feet away from the rig. Put your foot into the band, facing away from rig making sure that the band is at the CREASE of your ankle, NOT above it. Place your foot on top of the small box and attain a lunge position with your opposite leg in a comfortable position. Start to lean your body weight forward, pushing your knee forward of your toes and sliding back to 90 degrees.

You will feel 1 of 2 things: either a pinch in the front of the ankle or nothing. If you feel a pinch in the front of the ankle, keep sliding your weight back and forth until the pinch goes away attempting to relax the ankle as much as possible. Once this pinch goes away or if you never felt a pinch to begin with attempt to drive your knee as far forward as you can, using your body weight to help drive your knee forward and hold this position. After roughly 90 seconds, you will start to feel a nice stretch come into the Achilles Tendon and calf. Hold this stretch for 2 minutes/side.

Now let's get to work! If you're looking for guidance this winter, join our Rowfficient Starting Line team -- weekly fitness, strength, skill, and mobility tips.

Project UP featured in Sports Illustrated

Yesterday was a fun day when we received our issue of this week's Sports Illustrated, turned past the cover featuring Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles, and found ourselves hiding inside!

Over the past Olympic cycle, both Mike and I feel that we have experienced substantial personal makeovers. Not only has our approach to training and rowing shifted, but our lifestyle choices have changed. We prioritize sleep and diet because when we take care of these areas, we feel better and are more productive. We have tried to grow our self awareness and openness to change so that our pride doesn't get in the way of new potential opportunities. We try to run toward scary situations rather than away. When we are faced with "failure," we try to find the silver lining rather than wallow in the disappointment.  

Putting everything we had toward Rio and coming up just short taught us more than we could have ever anticipated. We feel lucky to have been able to share our story with Sports Illustrated, and we hope you take a look! Check out the digital version of the article here.

Why I Am More Proud Of The Olympics I Failed Than The One I Succeeded

 

by Sara Hendershot, 2012 Olympic Rower and Co-Founder of Rowfficient

5 minute read

 

Go ahead, tell me that I failed.

It’s been a week since the rowing team has been named, and my heart sinks every time I hear the word OLYMPICS. I dedicated four years of incredibly hard work, but still came up short.

You might say that the decisions I made this Olympic cycle were bad ones, because ultimately they ended in failure. And as far as my Olympic campaign goes, that’s true. But in my eyes, this cycle was a greater success than the one where I actually made the team. I chose to forge my own path in my second Olympic effort; a training journey that was unconventional and disapproved of by many, including the head US Olympic Women's Coach. But the experiences that came with it have prepared me to give back more to the world than just my rowing performance, and I’m incredibly proud of where I am now.

Taking Control

The beginning of this Olympic Cycle was a frustrating one. I returned home from London hungry for another chance and ready to put in the work. I saw early success in my fitness and on the world stage, but was quickly deflated by injury. I struggled with this nasty injury cycle for over 12 months before I realized it was time to make a change, or retire.

What followed was an uncharted path toward rowing fitness, health, and an Olympic bid, all while training outside of our structured national rowing program. While this unfamiliar territory was completely terrifying, it also allowed me to build a training program that fit my individual needs. And it required a lot of scary decision making.

When I compare my first and second Olympic cycle, I realize that I’ve trained in two completely different environments -- one where every single decision was made for me, and another where none of them were. I quickly learned that making decisions, and good ones at that, is a skill. A skill I had to practice to get better at, but once I got the hang of, I didn’t want to give it up. Making strategic decisions, and then having to live with those choices, gave me a huge sense of empowerment and ownership over my process. I felt myself grow from an order-following soldier into an independent, confident athlete, with assurance that spilled over into many other areas of my life. Doing it my way was terrifying…and addicting.

Nailing down our team

With the ability to make choices came the responsibility of building my team. If there’s one big lesson I learned, this is it: we are strongly influenced by the company we keep, for better or for worse. If you want to improve in your sport, surround yourself with people who are better than you, who know more, who perform better, who push you. If you want to be a better person, why not approach it the same way? Surround yourself with those who value the same things, who push you, who change you. I want to be a thinker, a fighter, a challenger, so I choose to be around people who bring me closer to those goals. My husband and coach, Mike, and my rowing partner, Sarah, are the rocks of my squad and I feel lucky to have shared so much of this journey with them.

The 90/90 Rule

Over the last four years, many people have come in and out of my life. There have been teammates, coaches, business partners, and friends that have come and gone. I’ve realized that some will be with me forever, and some relationships weren’t meant to last. I’ve learned to appreciate people for who they are, what makes them unique, and how we can positively influence each other right now. A sport psychologist I worked with taught me the 90/90 rule – if you’re not 90% sure that a partnership will work after 90 days of testing it out, you’re better off parting ways.  And I think at its core, this is a beautiful principle. Accepting that a person might not be right for you in the long run doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate them in the moment.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Most people have a hard time taking criticism, even if it’s constructive. When you’ve reached the pinnacle of your sport and someone tells you that you’re doing it wrong, it would be easy to say, “No thanks, I’m all good.” When one of my coaches told me I needed to start over and completely relearn how to move, I wasn’t sure what to think. Looking back, I’m glad something made me listen and I let myself be vulnerable. I was put into incredibly uncomfortable situations, in training, in racing, and in life. The mental and physical discomfort wasn’t easy to embrace, but it’s where the magic happened. The more comfortable I became with being uncomfortable, the easier it became to make positive change.

I really don’t need sh*t

Over the course of the Olympic year, we lived in 7 different cities. Mike and I got rid of almost everything we owned, put the rest into storage, and traveled around with two suitcases. Newport Beach, CA --> Boston, MA --> Sarasota, FL --> Chula Vista, CA --> Cambridge, New Zealand --> Sacramento, CA --> Chula Vista, CA --> Princeton, NJ. Phew, I'm tired. One year later, I barely remember what’s in that storage unit, and I don’t think we need much of it anymore. This was another incredibly important lesson we learned -- the company we kept and the experiences we had were so special that it became pretty obvious our “stuff" wasn’t all that important. In a weird way, we established a new minimalist hierarchy of needs. For us, that looks like: love, shelter, food, and fitness. I know this might sound ridiculous, but for us to thrive we need these four needs met to be our most productive selves. So I guess this journey either taught me to live simply, or it’s an awesome excuse for a brand new wardrobe.

Trusting my gut

There were so many people along the way who told us this wouldn’t work. You won’t be able to support yourself without a USOC stipend. You won’t have access to the necessary equipment. You won’t find quality coaching. Your mental game is weak. You can’t be fast and train outside of the Training Center. You can’t get fit without volume training.

Although our results didn't end in an Olympic bid, we did solve all of those problems, and then some. We sought out and signed with an incredibly generous and supportive sponsor, West Coast University. Their support allowed us to purchase top of the line equipment and hire coaches. Our flexibility outside of the training center allowed us to work with multiple world-class coaches that helped us improve not only our rowing, but also our general movement patterns, strength, and mental game. We trained alongside World Champions and Olympians from other countries who taught us big lessons and pushed our limits daily. We achieved huge personal best times following a training plan with about 50% of the typical rowing volume and prioritized our health and skill. And ultimately, we showed our speed at the National Selection Regatta where we finished ahead of many of the women who will be racing in Rio this summer.

The only reason any of this was achievable is because the voices in our heads were louder than the voices of the haters.

Now I know what I want

Without a doubt, this is what I’m the most thankful for -- I now know what I want. Simply put, that’s the desire to pass it on. The improvement I’ve seen in myself has been so rewarding that I hope I can help others to do the same. Using rowing (and fitness in general) as a vehicle for self-improvement is what I’ve enjoyed the most about this whole process, and I’m excited to work with people who are ready to change their own lives.

So is the result of this quadrennial a disappointment? Hell yeah. I wanted to be in Rio this summer. But I’ll tell you this -- I am far more proud of myself for the things I’ve accomplished and the lessons I’ve learned over the last four years than I was when I made the Olympic Team in 2012. Sometimes you set out to achieve a goal and fail, but what you gain along the way is far greater than what you originally hoped to accomplish in the first place.  

 

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