Top 3 tips for beginners learning to row

By Chris Heron

There is no doubt that rowing requires a lot of skill. In the lead-up to the launch of The Engine Room I have searched out many of the leading experts on the subject and some of the best rowing coaches in the business. With all this in mind I have put this guide together to help you learn this quickly and in the long term have a better rowing stroke.

1.0 Rhythm

What I see in gyms is that a lot of people use, what I like to call the ‘metronome,’ approach to rowing, in, out, in, out, in, out, but this is not the optimal way to row. I think this is because most people are using the machine for a quick warm up and just want to start their workout. Rowing should be fluid and continuous and learning to extend the recovery phase will help you build a great engine! Rowing correctly is not about trying to gas yourself as quickly as you can, it’s about keeping your power as you pull consistent and taking more time on the recovery phase (as you move towards the screen). I like to explain it like you are learning to recover whilst moving. So, with this in mind, make sure that your recovery phase of the stroke (this is as you move back towards the machine/ screen), is longer than your drive or effort phase of the stroke. Now because everyone is made differently this may not look exactly the same from person to person, but over time you get a ’feel’ for this skill and it just becomes something you do without too much thought, automatically, like driving the car. I have heard coaches use a 2:1 ratio to describe the rowing rhythm, but, in my experience if you can start by getting yourself into a rhythm that suits you and one that allows you to have some time to recover after every stroke and before you begin the next you’ll be onto a good start.

Practice, practice, practice, they say to make something a habit it takes 21 days.

2.0 Connection

After Rhythm comes connection, connection to the machine, what this basically means is how well, from the start of the rowing stroke, (the catch), you keep a ‘connection’ to the fan mechanism. This is one of the biggest errors I see in gyms and health clubs. So there are a few tell-tale signs you are doing it wrong. With the SkillRow, there is an app available that can virtually show you how well you are doing this, every stroke. It shows you a picture of the stroke and is a graph of the power output through the stroke. What you are looking for is a ‘bell curve’ shape from start to finish. So how do you achieve this? There are a few different and simple drills to help. Firstly I recommend rowing with your feet out of the straps, this will ensure two things, firstly it will teach you to ‘amplify,’ the pressure through your feet, so you ensure you get a good start, tension through the body, starting at the feet, keeping an upright posture and holding the upper body strong as you drive out through the legs. Secondly, as your feet and no-longer bound down by the straps, if you lose connection at the end of the stroke you are likely to fall off the seat, so this helps you automatically regulate the length of your rowing stroke that you are able to keep ‘connected’ to. What I mean by this is that from the ‘Catch’ which is where you pick up the tension at the start of the rowing stroke through to the end of the ‘drive’ phase you keep ‘connected,’ to pulling the fan.

There are two common errors to look out for. One, leaning back too early, usually this can be sorted by rowing without your feet strapped in. As a guide keep your shoulders slightly forward of your hips until your legs are straight and then pull with your arms and lean back slightly towards the back of the stroke.

Another good tool to use is adding and taking away resistance quickly at the catch phase, you will obviously need someone else to help you with this, but it helps you get a good connection from the start of each stroke. We cover all of this and more in our Row 101 class at The Engine Room, so if you are in town book in here.

3.0 Relaxation

Once you’ve got the rhythm and connection it’s time to relax! Yes, I said relax, you should be learning to force relaxation during the recovery phase of the stroke. This will help you recover slightly with every stroke and as you learn to build your fitness engine this will become more efficient and you will experience improvements in your power output and the capacity to sustain higher power outputs. I like to use different techniques to help this work, one of which is to know what your plan is before you row, know your numbers, this helps you visualise how things are going to go and tell yourself that it’s easy, make it look easy, effort, relax. At specific stages in a rowing workout try and use a trigger, for example a distance at which to focus 10,15,20 strokes on the relaxation phase of the stroke more. If you look any of the greatest athletes, they look relaxed as they move. Keep the rowing stroke fluid and long and regulate the breathing.

If you have any questions then please feel free to drop in and see me or drop me an e-mail at chris@theengineroomlondon.com

Click here to learn first hand at a ROW 101 class

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