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Row, Row, Row, and Row Better

I wish I could take credit for the awesome information below but I can’t!  Our own CFC member Debbie rowed competitively through college.  I asked her for a few tips to help explain mechanics and rowing technique and this is the awesome info she put on paper.  At the end of this blog there is a video from Row WOD with a bit more detailed tips for a 2k specifically!  Check it out!  And thank you Debbie for these tips!

(1) The catch.  The catch refers to the moment on the water when the oar ‘catches the water’.  This is important because the rowing machine was designed initially to help college crews train indoors when it was too cold on the river in Boston.  The catch in a boat happens when the boat is starting to lose momentum.  The erg approximates that by forcing you to have a strong connection with the machine at the moment of the catch.  In truth, success on the ergometer/rowing machine is how well you are able to connect your power (mostly legs) to the machine.  This comes down to the catch (the beginning of every stroke).  You should hold your body as tense as you would for a deadlift: strong and ready to receive the load but not stiff. Think of your back and arms as conduits for the power of your legs.

(2) The Order of Operations. Pushing off the footboards with your legs is the first and most explosive part of the stroke.  This is called the drive.  Your mantra needs to be: legs pushing (drive), back swinging, arms to your body. The recovery portion of the stroke is: Arms away from the body, back set, controlled legs to the catch.  Do not try to find length in your stroke by laying back as that is a very weak body position.  

(3) Pace yourself.  In the top right corner of the ergometer, there is a number that indicates your strokes per minute.  While this might seem more like an interesting fact than of strategic use, if you think of it similarly to pace in a running race, it makes more sense.  You have a much different idea of the speed you want to go for a 200 m sprint than a marathon.  With the sprint, legs are churning and it’s basically balls to the wall.  The longer your race is, the more controlled your pace needs to be.  I’m not saying you can’t ever go full speed.  

When you control your tempo and don’t rep out, you have more control of when you ‘hit your wall’ aka the dreaded aerobic threshold.  With a slightly lower stroke rate, you can push this very painful eventuality off.  Make sure as you lower the stroke rate you keep the intensity up and slow your time up the slide (recovery) instead.  A great drill to work on controlling stroke rating is to start at a 16 stroke rating and move up 2 beats every minute. (Minute 1=16 spm, Minute 2=18 spm, Minute 3=20 spm, Minute 4=22 spm and so on until Minute 10=34).  You will see by the end of this drill exactly why it is in your best interest to control your stroke rating.

2K Tips

(1) Have a goal split.  If you don’t know what your average 500 meter pace was for your last 2k, divide your total time by 4.  This will give you an idea of your speed.  Try to keep your split around this during the 2k.  If you have a lot of nervous energy prerace, you will consciously need to remind yourself not to go too fast.  Aim to hang around that average for the body of the race and then empty the tank as you come into the last 400 meters or so.

(2) Think hard about your drag factor.  Can I be honest though?  The extreme ends of the drag factor are probably not for many people.  At a drag factor of 1, the flywheel inside the erg (rower) basically does not stop spinning.  Many people will find it challenging to engage at the catch.  At a drag factor of 10, the flywheel inside the erg is slowing down very quickly and your strokes will be very ‘heavy’.  Most people belong somewhere in the middle.  I typically do my race pieces around a 7 drag factor. For me that is a good balance of being able to be explosive off the catch but to be able to connect well with the load of the machine.

(3) Expect the 3rd 500 to suck.  It just does.  Try to think of a mantra to help you out of this headspace.  It is best to have a plan for the whole 2k and to write it down.  Give this plan to the partner you’re competing with and you can ask them to cue you at various times.  That can get you out of your own head.

The big takeaway is this: the 2k is tough, but you are tougher.  As a CrossFitter, you’re often asked to do things that are hard but eventually we get to do another thing that is a little easier.  But a 2k row forces you to work hard every single stroke.  But that’s ok because you’re up to the challenge!

If you’re willing to spend about 15 minutes, this is a really good walk through of how to prepare for a 2k race.

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Krysia Angle

Physical Therapist

Krysia grew up in the Northern Virginia area. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dance at Towson University, and her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree at Old Dominion University. In addition to physical therapy, she has certifications to teach yoga, and the Pilates method. Her husband’s Navy career brought her to San Diego. She has worked with many athletes and artists throughout her career. She enjoys helping people use movement as a way to heal, and get back to doing the activities they love.


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Alyssa grew up in Missouri and received her undergraduate degree in Athletic Training at Missouri State University and then got her Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her husband’s career in the Navy brought their family to the San Diego area. Her career focuses on helping kids and adults recover from orthopedic injuries to accomplish their individualized goals. She has worked with athletes from many different sports and levels from little leaguers to Division 1 athletes to weekend warriors. Her passion is to share her love for movement and help others reach their potential to live a healthy, active life.


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Melissa has always had a love of sports that led to her career as a Physical Therapist. She was born and raised in Michigan and attended Central Michigan University to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Her husband’s career in the Navy recently brought her to San Diego. She has been practicing for 13 years with an emphasis on sports related injuries and rehabilitation. She has a passion for helping people achieve their goals and live their best lives.


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