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.