The Guide to Better Rowing, Part I

To get the best results from the erg, you must be efficient and pay close attention to technique. It like every other thing we do in the gym in that regard, because if the sequence and positioning are thrown off, then everything else that follows it will be incorrect, as well. Rowing on the erg is one of the best ways to build strength and conditioning since it requires strength in our legs to create drive, and strength in our upper body to create finish. Throw in the demands of either aerobic or anaerobic endurance depending on the piece, and it’s a great skill to have in your training.

Basic Vocabulary

Let’s start with some basic vocabulary so that we are all speaking the same language.

  • Stroke: One full motion consisting of the Catch, Drive, Finish, and Recovery.
The Guide to Better Rowing, Part 1

Catch, Drive, Finish, Recovery

  • Catch: The phase of the stroked where the rower is in their strongest position. Arms away, tall body, right before beginning the leg drive.
  • Drive: The phase of the stroke where the rower pulls the chain using the legs, back and arms.
  • Finish: The phase of the stroke after the drive where the handle meets the sternum in the layback, before the quick motion to release the arms.
  • Layback: Term for how much you lean back at the finish. Not too upright, not too far back, handle at the sternum.
  • Recovery: The phase of the stroke from Finish to Catch, when the rower moves back up the slide towards the screen. It should usually be a 1”:2” stroke to recovery ratio, at least.
  • Split: The time to row 500m on an Erg.
  • Erg: The machine that the athlete rows on.
  • Piece: Another word for the length of the rowing portion, i.e. 500m row = 500m piece.

Cues & Notes on Technique

A Loose, Wide Grip

Similar to that of a push-up, we want to avoid the arms “bowing out”. Keeping the arms closer to the body, and the elbows pulled in tight (approximately 45 degrees), allows for a more productive and powerful stroke. The arms will also be less likely to break on the drive and rather keep the shoulders in a strong position, holding the body in place.

Common Mistake #1: A narrow grip with hands towards the middle of the handle, and elbows flaring out to the sides.

Row Grip

CORRECT: Wide, Loose Grip, FAULT: Narrow, Clenched Grip

Corrective →  Think about the fingers as hooks, not clamps.

Don’t Flare or Pin the Elbows

At the end of the layback, the elbows should be 45 degrees off of the body. When we elevate and drive the elbows way up and out, we waste energy and time bringing them back down to start the recovery, and we engage and fatigue our traps when they should have minimal involvement in the movement. We also don’t want the elbows to be pinned directly to the side.

Common Mistake #2: Elbows flare even if the proper sternum height is achieved. Make sure elbows stay ~45 degrees off the body.

Row Flared Elbows

CORRECT: ~45 degrees, FAULT: 90 degrees, flared

Handle to Sternum and a Straight, Level Chain

Pulling the handle any higher than your sternum, or bra line, wastes a valuable part of your stroke. Rather than wasting energy on pulling high, add another inch to your layback. When the chain stays in a straight line of travel, your ability to have “fast arms” will be achieved more easily and consistently. The chain should stay level on both the drive and recovery of your stroke.

Common Mistake: Rowing to the neck (too high) or belly button (too low).

Row Sternum

CORRECT: Handle to Sternum, FAULT: Handle to Neck, FAULT: Handle to Belly

To get the best results from the erg, you must be efficient. We’ll back next time with part two where I’ll address sequencing and recovery.

Pacific Beach Gym Viv Smith Coach-Vivianna Smith
NCAA Rower, Coach